Hundreds of thousands of British expats are set to be granted the right to carry on living on the Continent after Brexit after the majority of European Union countries signalled they were ready to do a “reciprocal rights” deal with the UK.
Senior Government figures have told business leaders that only “a few” of the 27 EU member states are left to agree the outline of a reciprocal rights agreement for Britons in the EU, and EU nationals living in this country for when Britain leaves the EU.
The Government said no deals had yet been struck, but the closeness of an informal understanding is leading to speculation that any deal will be announced at a key EU summit in Brussels next month.
It came as Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, delivered a significant rebuke to David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, following their first meeting.
David Davis, the Brexit secretary Credit: Tom Nicholson/REX/Shutterstock
Mr Davis on Monday travelled to Brussels in a bid to help “lay the groundwork” for negotiations before Britain formally triggers Brexit.
However, in the wake of the meeting, Mr Barnier, who previously suggested that negotiations should be conducted in French, said it had been a “courtesy visit” which was “at his request”.
He said: “No negotiation without notification. My work is now focused on EU27 [the EU’s countries].”
There are an estimated 3.3million EU nationals living in Britain, and roughly 1.2million Britons living in the 27 other EU member states.
Poland has the most EU nationals living in the UK (883,000) followed by Germany (297,000), and Romania with 229,000.
The EU countries with the most Britons living there are Spain (309,000), Ireland (255,000) and France (185,000).
Theresa May, the Prime Minister, has refused to say if the rights of EU nationals in Britain will be guaranteed after Brexit, because of concerns that it might damage the UK’s negotiating position.
However, twice in the past week she stressed that a deal guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK after Brexit will be struck quickly.
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Mrs May told business leaders at the CBI on Monday: “I want an early agreement on the status of UK nationals in Europe and EU nationals here, so that you and they can plan with certainty.”
Westminster sources said Mrs May had raised the issue of reciprocal rights for Britons overseas and EU nationals in this country in her talks with other leaders in recent months.
Earlier this month Lord Bridges, a minister in the Exiting the European Union department, left open the possibility that informal agreements had been struck with other EU countries.
The minister was asked by Lord Green of Deddington, the chairman of MigrationWatch, which other EU governments had “publicly indicated that the existing rights of British citizens resident in their territory will be preserved after the UK has left the EU”.
Lord Bridges replied: “We are not aware of any member state reaching a formal view on this issue.
At every step of these negotiations we will work to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of the United Kingdom.
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, parliamentary adviser to Conservatives Abroad which has campaigned on voting rights for expats, said suggestions that a deal was close was fantastic news for them, their family and friends.
He said: “It will allay a great deal of anxiety. It is only right that Europeans who are legally here and doing a good job of work for this country should also have the reassurance they can stay as well.”
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Josh Hardie, deputy director general of the CBI, said the suggestions of a deal were really good news and encouraging to hear that it has been prioritised.
It was a vital issue for people trying to make big decisions about their family life, such as where to send their children to school.
A Government source: “We hope and expect to guarantee the reciprocal rights of EU and British citizens, but this is premature and wrong. No deals have been struck, formal or informal.
The Government has been clear that it wants to see this issue resolved, as long as that can be done in both directions.