Health and social care leaders have welcomed the prime minister’s proposal for European Union citizens living in the UK to be able to stay following Brexit, but have called for more details about the cut-off date for the entitlement to remain.
According to media reports, Theresa May told an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels that she wanted EU nationals to be able to gain “UK settled status” if they had lived in the UK for at least five years – giving them access to health, education and other benefits.
“We welcome the steps put forward by the prime minister”
Although the proposal is dependent on EU states offering the same rights to British people living in Europe.
The UK’s deadline for leaving the EU is March 2019. But it is not clear when the cut-off date would be for those who would be eligible for the right to remain.
Ms May said it would be no earlier than March 2017, when the UK formally began leaving the EU by issuing the Article 50 notification, and no later than March 2019.
In addition, those EU nationals who arrive after the cut-off point, during a “grace period” – expected to be up to two years in length – would be able to use that time to build up five years’ worth of residence.
This would entitle them to “settled status”, also giving them the same access to health, education and other benefits.
It is understood that the grace period could start at any point up to the date of Brexit.
“Although this news is a step in the right direction….we look forward to hearing more detail on the issue of the cut-off date”
“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,” said Ms May, according to reports.
The Cavendish Coalition, which is a group of 35 health and social care organisations set up to ensure the sector still has its staffing needs met following Brexit, said Ms May’s proposals to the EU were a “step in the right direction”.
But the group called for more details about the cut-off date, noting it could potentially still mean that some EU nationals currently working the UK would not have the option to stay.
“We welcome the steps put forward by the prime minister, which would offer certainty to the 165,000 health and care staff who deliver vital services to communities in England,” said Danny Mortimer, chief executive of the NHS Employers organisation and co-convenor of the Cavendish Coalition.
“As the response to the terrible events in London and Manchester has shown, these colleagues, alongside others from around the world, are a vital part of our team,” he said.
“Although this news is a step in the right direction….we look forward to hearing more detail on the issue of the cut-off date as soon as possible,” he said.
”Even now, Theresa May continues to insist on using EU nationals in Britain as bargaining chips”
The Labour Party said the prime minister’s proposal was “too little too late,” reiterating that people should not be used as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negations.
The Liberal Democrats echoed Labour’s comments, adding that the plans still left millions of people with unanswered questions.
“Theresa May could have given a guarantee from day one, instead she has allowed our friends, colleagues and neighbours to live in uncertainty for a year,” said Liberal Democrat Leader Tim Farron.
“Many EU nationals including those working in the NHS have already left because of this government’s heartless approach.
“Even now, Theresa May continues to insist on using EU nationals in Britain as bargaining chips and has failed to provide a full and clear right to stay for all,” he said.
At the end of 2016 there were around 38,600 EU nurses registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council and therefore able to practise in the UK.
Since last summer the number of EU nurses joining the register every month has reduced significantly. There has been speculation that this is as a result of the Brexit vote last June, however the NMC noted the timing also coincided with language tests being brought in for EU staff.