Brexit Talks Yield Some Hope as Citizens' Rights Deal Closer

(Bloomberg) -- Prospects for a Brexit transition deal improved after the U.K. and the European Union appeared to converge on the thorny issue of citizens’ rights.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s team published a new offer on Wednesday, clarifying that it will allow EU citizens to move to the country during the transitional phase after Brexit and make the country their permanent home, meeting a key demand from the EU side. 

“There will be no new constraints on working or studying in the U.K. in the implementation period,” the British government said in a policy paper. James Slack, a spokesman for May, said negotiations are progressing well and the U.K. are aiming for a transition deal in March.

EU citizens arriving in the U.K. between March 2019 and the end of 2020 will be allowed to stay thereafter, and continue to accumulate residency rights to become eligible for permanent status after five years. May had previously suggested she would oppose the idea.

Immigration was a key catalyst in the vote to leave as pro-Brexit campaigners vowed to take back control over who has the right to freely live and work in Britain. The apparent rapprochement emerged after another day of brinkmanship, with May vowing to reject a draft Brexit agreement published by the EU on Wednesday.

The British government says there are still differences over the treatment of those who arrive in the U.K. after Brexit. And the European Parliament issued a statement on Thursday saying the veto-wielding assembly won’t accept “a lower standard of rights, in particular those relating to family reunion, child benefits and access to judicial redress via the European Court of Justice,” for those arriving in the U.K. after Brexit.

The chapters of the draft Withdrawal Treaty published by the European Commission, however, are very similar to the U.K. proposal. Divergences have largely been narrowed down to family reunification rights during transition.

Officials on both sides sounded up-beat about the prospects for a deal on citizens’ rights in light of the development. One official involved in the talks who asked not to be named said the two sides worked together on the new offer and the British government has done what it thinks the EU will accept.

Citizens’ rights is just one of the remaining hurdles that the two sides must clear before they reach an agreement on the terms of the transition period. Even then, continuity after March 2019 isn’t a given, as the U.K. and the EU are still at loggerheads over their terms of separation, including on how to avert the reinstatement of a hard border between the U.K. province of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.