The initiative, outlined by the prime minister during the EU summit on Thursday, will grant the so-called “settled status” to those EU citizens who have lived in Britain for five years. This status will allow them to stay in the country and access health, education and other benefits.
Reuven Ziegler described the initiative as “the start of recognition by the prime minister of the need for unilateral guarantees” that are not contingent on the outcome of the Brexit talks with Brussels.
“This is a very late, although a very welcome step,” Reuven Ziegler said.
When asked how Theresa May and her Cabinet are going to deal with EU citizens who have lived less than five years in Britain, Dr. Ziegler said these people will be allowed to stay on, but the requirements for their stay are not yet clear.
“I think the bigger issue is what will happen to those who arrive after the ‘cutoff date,’ if these people will be forced to leave. This is the risk, which is already facing those who would like to come to Britain,” he added.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has described the outlined plan as “a good start”. However, she stressed that there were still many other questions about Brexit and a lot to do on the matter.
Dr. Reuven Ziegler said that these might concern the EU laws that regulate the status of its citizens across the bloc and which the UK government now wants to do away with.
He added that this could be the ‘red line’ the EU will stick to in its negotiations with London and could become a major bone of contention between in its further talks with Brussels.
Speaking about other stumbling blocks that could come along, Ziegler said that this could be the so-called “exit bill” the EU wants London to pay as part of its financial obligations. These could also be related to the EU Customs Union, membership of the single market, the status of Gibraltar and other issues.
He added that despite the government’s desire to control immigration, the UK still needs immigration from the rest of the EU for certain types of jobs.
“When the UK economy does well, it needs migration as new jobs are created and the UK becomes attractive,” Ziegler noted.
Several top EU officials have stated that the EU door remains open to Britain and hoped that Britain would choose to stay in the bloc.
Reuven Ziegler said that even though this prospect now seems unlikely, any change of heart in London about its decision to withdraw from the EU would be very welcome in Brussels.
Cross guarantees for over three million EU expats living in the United Kingdom and a million UK nationals in 27 EU nations have been a thorny topic for negotiators on both sides as they began the long-awaited Brexit talks this Monday.