Theresa May has refused to rule out the deportation of EU nationals living in Britain after the country leaves the European Union, amid fears that guaranteeing their rights at this stage could lead to a “huge influx” of migrants during the Brexit negotiation phase.
It comes as the Home Secretary, who has emerged as the clear frontrunner in the race to succeed David Cameron as Conservative leader, said today that although she wanted to “guarantee the position” of EU citizens currently living in the UK she admitted their future could be up for negotiation.
A source close to Ms May told The Independent: “She [Ms May] was saying it’s unwise to promise right now that all EU nationals living in Britain should be able to stay indefinitely. The reason for that is if we did that the same rights would have to apply to any EU national who comes to Britain before we leave the EU.
“If we made that promise you could just see a huge influx…of EU nationals who would all want to come here while they have that chance.”
The source also made clear that the issue was a “negotiating point”. They added: “It would just be a bad negotiating position because we shouldn’t guarantee the rights of EU nationals without having any guarantees the other way about British nationals living in EU members.”
Ms May said during her leadership campaign launch last week in London that there was no mandate to accept the free movement of people in its current state. She could, therefore, use EU nationals living in Britain as a “negotiating point” if she attempts to maintain access to the single market with restrictions.
Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday Ms May, the longest serving Home Secretary in 100 years, who is hedging her bets as the “unity” candidate in the Tory leadership contest, said: “What’s important is there will be a negotiation here as to how we deal with that issue of people who are already here and who have established life here and Brits who have established a life in other countries within the European Union.