After a year of prevarication, it has emerged that the Prime Minister has agreed to offer permanent residency to all EU nationals who were living in Britain. Under current rules, anyone who has been here for five years can apply for permanent residency status: not quite the same as citizenship, but it confers the same rights as UK citizens enjoy. Two-thirds of our EU migrants are covered by this. What’s new is that no one will be booted out (which would anyway be illegal) but it seems that those who hit the five-year mark, say, in 2022 will also be able to apply for permanent residency. Her offer is conditional on reciprocity – but the EU has already said it would reciprocate. Hopefully, the question can now be closed.
There are a few unanswered questions – about the cut-off date and family reunification rights, for example. At present, Brits need to earn £18,600 a year before bringing a spouse in from overseas but no such restrictions apply to EU nationals. An anomaly that will need ironed out. Also the EU is trying to make sure the rights of its citizens are overseen by the European Court of Justice, which is an obvious try-on: Theresa May has already said no to the ECJ and the EU ought not to try to use this issue to extend its legal writ.
And is it all doable? I was part of a British Future commission whose report looks at all of this in great detail. It’s doable, it’s the obvious thing to do – and it’s long overdue. A great many people wrote to The Spectator to make this point last year. There might be a devil in the detail but it seems that the Prime Minister has finally recognised the need to rejoin the political mainstream. Every senior Brexit campaigner wanted to give assurance to the three million EU nationals that this vote was not about them or their status, that we value them, we want more of them, they can stay. Even Ukip agreed. The only people who demurred were the BNP and Theresa May. It was appalling.
I argue in the Daily Telegraph tomorrow that the Vote Leave vision of Brexit was more open than the one Theresa May ended up adopting – to her detriment. It has taken an unforgivably long time but she is, finally, doing the right thing.