Theresa May has been clear she wants to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in Britain to stay, so long as Britons abroad are given the same guarantees. The question being considered by Number 10 is the date at which this right to remain ends. Three possible dates have been looked at as a cut off point after which EU migrants’ rights are no longer guaranteed: the date of the referendum, the triggering of Article 50 and the date of exit itself. Each of these options has its difficulties.
Awarding the right to remain to new EU migrants up until the date of exit would likely lead to a surge of new EU immigration over the coming months. Thousands of Romanians and Bulgarians rushing into Britain while they still can is not going to go down well with voters. It would be gold dust for UKIP. Next week’s immigration statistics will focus minds in Downing Street.
What about using the date of the referendum? Removing the right to remain from EU citizens before we have formally begun the departure process has obvious legal difficulties. If the government backdated the right to remain to 23 June 2016, Remainers and various EU partners would kick up a fuss and there could be consequences for Britons abroad. This option is probably popular if tricky.
Some prominent Leavers like Gisela Stuart have suggested using the triggering of Article 50 as the cut off date. This has the advantage of preventing a surge, as well as being more reasonable for EU countries. It is an option being considered by Number 10. They know that the longer they leave it, the less likely it is Theresa May will be able to ease the public’s fears on immigration before the election…