The Government is poised to announce a liberalisation of rules on EU nationals’ residency in the UK to allay concerns about their status after a possible no-deal Brexit.
It is understood that free movement rules will be replaced by a three-year leave to remain scheme for any EU citizen arriving in the UK and joining the settlement register before the end of 2020.
The change, to be announced by the Home Office as early as Wednesday, would effectively allow citizens of any of the 27 remaining EU states arriving before the cut-off date to stay in the UK until 31 December 2023.
It represents a significant scaling down of earlier proposals to end free movement altogether on 1 November in the case of no-deal.
The government was forced to back away from the plans floated by Home Secretary Priti Patel amid fears that they might be vulnerable to legal challenge from some of the 3.5 million EU nationals already resident in the UK.
The Patel plan was branded "reckless" by pressure group The 3million, which said it would result in millions of people who were legally resident in the UK but had not yet applied for settled status finding their positions thrown into doubt overnight.
The EU citizens had previously been told they had until the end of 2020 to apply for settled status which would allow them to live in the UK after Brexit, and only around 1 million are believed to have obtained it so far.
In response to reports of the new scheme in The Spectator magazine, a Home Office spokesperson said only that “our plans will be set out in due course”.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokeswoman Christine Jardine said: “The Liberal Democrats have long been warning that Brexit will create another Windrush-style scandal for EU citizens. Kicking the can three years down the road will not prevent it.
“Instead of taking away the rights of the 3.6 million EU citizens in the UK at the end of 2020, the Conservatives now want to take away their rights at the end of 2023. That’s hardly much better.
“This plan will only cause huge confusion and uncertainty. How will employers – or even the Home Office – be able to tell who was here before the end of 2020 and who moved here afterwards? That’s why EU citizens are so worried.
“If Boris Johnson really cared about keeping his promise to EU citizens in the UK, he would pass the legislation the Liberal Democrats have put forward to guarantee their rights permanently in law.”
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