LONDON – Some European Union citizens may not be allowed to stay in Britain after the U.K. leaves the bloc, the U.K. minister in charge of negotiating the divorce has said.
Brexit Secretary David Davis told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that he wants “a generous settlement for EU migrants here now and a generous settlement for British citizens in the EU.”
He dismissed suggestions the estimated 3 million EU nationals in Britain might have to leave, but said if there was a surge in arrivals before the deadline, the British government may have to set a cutoff date.
“We may have to say that the right to indefinite leave to remain protection only applies before a certain date,” he said. “But you have to make those judgments on reality, not speculation.”
A desire to reduce immigration from other EU nations was a key reason many Britons voted last month to leave the EU. Under the bloc’s rules, EU nationals can move feely among member states, and Britain has seen its population swelled by hundreds of thousands of new EU arrivals in recent years.
British Prime Minister Theresa May has been criticized for refusing to guarantee the right of EU citizens to remain in Britain after a British exit – something that is more than two years away. She says she needs to ensure that hundreds of thousands of Britons living in other EU countries get the same right.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU has unleashed political and economic turmoil, as people and markets absorb the uncertainties about the country’s economic future as it leaves the 28-nation single market of 500 million people.
Davis said he believes Britain will be able to retain access to the single market while opting out of the EU’s right to free movement. EU leaders say that’s impossible, that the free movement of people is a key right, but Davis said “everybody is taking starting positions.”
“Of course they are talking tough,” he said. “If I was negotiating to buy your house or your car my first offer wouldn’t be my final one, would it?”
Meanwhile, the government is seeking to reassure Britons that the U.K. can build strong and profitable trade ties outside the EU.
May said she spoke Saturday to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed a desire for a free trade deal with Britain as soon as possible.
“It is very encouraging that one of our closest international partners is already seeking to establish just such a deal,” May said – although Britain can’t make any new arrangements until it actually leaves the EU.
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