03 Mar 2017, 37 mins ago

Theresa May’s Government has suffered a setback in its plans to enact the so-called Brexit Bill. On 1 March 2017 The House of Lords voted by 358 to 256 in favour of an amendment to the EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill seeking to guarantee the rights of EU nationals residing in the UK. 

The Lords’ amendment stated: “Within three months of exercising the power under section 1(1), Ministers of the Crown must bring forward proposals to ensure that citizens of another European Union or European Economic Area country and their family members, who are legally resident in the United Kingdom on the day on which this Act is passed, continue to be treated in the same way with regards to their EU derived-rights and, in the case of residency, their potential to acquire such rights in the future.” In practice, this would preserve the existing rights for any EU national lawfully resident in the United Kingdom at the time Article 50 is triggered.

The Government had previously signalled its intention to invoke Article 50, which will commence the process of the UK leaving the EU, on 15 March 2017. Having been defeated in the Lords, the Bill will return to the House of Commons for a further vote.

On triggering Article 50, the Government will begin two years of negotiations with the EU prior to leaving the EU in 2019.

Some have speculated that the decision of the House of Lords may cause a delay to the Government’s current Brexit timetable. The Government, however, is convinced that the Commons will reject the proposed amendment and maintain that they will trigger Article 50 according to their current timetable.

The Lords’ amendment, if accepted, would require Ministers to make proposals within three months of Article 50 being triggered to ensure that EU citizens currently living in the UK are able to remain here post-Brexit. 

Supporters of the amendment are seeking clarity for the many worried EU nationals who currently reside in the UK as soon as possible. The Government, on the other hand, maintains that giving such a guarantee could weaken their hand in the Brexit negotiations and could potentially have an adverse effect on the rights of British citizens currently living abroad. 

EU nationals who are worried about their continued status in the UK will hope that the Commons will support the proposed amendment and that the rights of EU nationals will be secured before Brexit. Most political commentators expect the Government to force through the Bill in its original form and leave the issue unresolved.

It remains an uncertain time for EU nationals residing in the UK. Precise advice regarding the status of EU nationals in a post-Brexit Britain remains uncertain. Given the number of EU nationals residing in the UK (and of course the number of UK nationals residing abroad) this remains a key negotiating point and most observers expect that the issue will ultimately be resolved, thereby securing residence rights for EU nationals residing in the UK in compliance with the law. The question is how the Government will decide who can remain and what the cut-off date will be. 

Given this continued uncertainty, it is advisable for any EU nationals in the UK to take the necessary steps to secure their status and comply with the law to maintain it. EU nationals who have lived in the UK for a continuous period of five years and comply with the appropriate rules can apply for a Permanent Residence Card confirming their right to live in the UK. EU migrants who have been living in the UK for a period less than five years who comply with the appropriate rules can apply for a Registration Certificate.

If you are an EU national currently residing in the UK and are concerned about Brexit please do not hesitate to contact a member of our team to explore your options.