London: European Union citizens will be free to continue claiming benefits in the UK after Brexit, British Prime Minister Theresa May has announced.
Outlining her plans for protecting the rights of EU nationals on Monday, Mrs May revealed they will also be able to continue sending benefits to family members abroad, despite David Cameron’s promise to ban the practice.
The former prime minister won a concession from the EU in 2015 to allow the UK to curb the amount of money paid overseas according to local rates, but the offer was withdrawn after the EU referendum was called.
Addressing the House of Commons, Mrs May said: “I know there has been some anxiety about what would happen to EU citizens at the point we leave the European Union.
“I want to put that anxiety to rest. I want to completely reassure people that, under these plans, no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU. We want you to stay”.
The rights will allow EU citizens access to benefits, education and public services. They do not give the holder the right to a British passport, but those with six years’ residency can apply for citizenship and get one.
It means millions of pounds of UK taxpayers’ money can continue to be paid to children living in other EU states, at the same rate as British families. The announcement came as part of a plan to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK after Brexit.
Anyone who has built up five years of continuous residence will be granted “settled status”, and will also be free to bring family members to the UK as long as they do so before the UK leaves the bloc in 2019.
The rest of the approximately 3.2 million people living in the UK but who were born in the EU are likely to be given settled status eventually.
A two-year grace period, during which every EU national will be granted a temporary status after the UK officially leaves, will allow time for people to apply for their new rights, Mrs May said. An ID card system could be introduced and on Monday night there were fears about how the Home Office would cope with processing more than 4000 applications a day.
She added that the cut-off date, before which EU nationals have to be living in the UK in order to qualify under the new rules, will be negotiated with European leaders but confirmed it will be between the date for triggering Article 50 in March this year and the official exit date in 2019.
However, fears were raised that thousands of EU nationals could decide to move to the UK to win settled status. John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Child benefit is set at amounts based on the cost of bringing up children in the UK, so to send the same amount of money to countries where the cost of living is lower isn’t fair to the British families paying the bills.”
Guy Verhofstadt and Michel Barnier, the two chief negotiators for the EU, indicated the deal does not go far enough.
Mr Barnier said that “more ambition, clarity and guarantees” were needed, and Mr Verhofstadt claimed that a “number of limitations remain worrisome and will have to be carefully assessed”.