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May outlines plans on rights of EU nationals but shuts door on ECJ

By Andrew Woodcock

No EU national currently living lawfully in the UK will be made to leave on the day of Brexit under proposals outlined by Theresa May to her European Union counterparts.

The Prime Minister told a European Council summit in Brussels that she wanted to offer "certainty" to the estimated three million EU expats in the UK and ensure that families are not split up by Brexit.

But she made clear that the proposals would be adopted only if the same rights are granted to UK citizens living in the remaining 27 EU states.

And she set up a series of probable clashes with the EU by suggesting she could set an early cut-off date for residency rights and rejecting a Brussels demand for the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to retain powers to enforce rights following Brexit.

Under Mrs May's plans, EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years by a specific cut-off date will be given the chance to take up "settled status", granting them rights to stay in the country and receive healthcare, education, welfare and pensions as if they were British citizens.

Those resident for a shorter period will have the opportunity to stay on until they have reached the five-year threshold.

Those arriving after the cut-off date but before Brexit will have a "grace period" - expected to be two years - within which to regularise their immigration status with a view to later seeking settled status.

The cut-off date is yet to be set.

Speaking over dinner at the Brussels summit, Mrs May told leaders of the other 27 EU nations: "The UK's position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society."

But European Council president Donald Tusk spoke of his "dream" that there could still be a U-turn on the Brexit decision before the expected date of withdrawal in March 2019.

Quoting John Lennon, he said that when people asked him if he thought there was any possibility of the UK remaining a member, he replied: "The European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve.

"So, who knows. You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one."

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