May Says EU Citizens Protected in U.K. Even If Brexit Deal Fails

(Bloomberg) -- Prime Minister Theresa May promised to protect the rights of European Union citizens living in the U.K. even in the event of a no-deal Brexit, though she said her focus remains on getting the divorce terms ratified by Parliament.

May earlier this month delayed a parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal because it didn’t have the support of lawmakers. Her Cabinet has agreed to ramp up preparations for a no-deal departure from the bloc -- the potentially chaotic scenario most feared by business.

The prospect of crashing out of the EU without an agreement has exacerbated divisions with ministers, and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd broke ranks with May late Wednesday, saying in an ITV interview that a second referendum could be the only way out of the Brexit deadlock. The premier has repeatedly ruled out going to the public again.

“Everybody is very clear, not only on what government policy but what are all -- individually and collectively -- focused on is working to ensure that the deal is able to get through the meaningful vote in the House of Commons,” May said at a press conference in London Thursday.

The government has pledged to largely maintain the current rights of EU citizens -- though some rules will change to bring them in line with the rights of British citizens. The government has called on the EU to do the same for Britons in the bloc.

The European Commission has asked its 27 governments to be “generous” to British citizens living in their countries in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

But if there’s no overall U.K.-EU Brexit deal, the bloc can’t force individual governments to treat British citizens in a certain way. It has called on them to ensure that they “continue to be considered as legal residents” from March 29 -- the day the U.K. leaves the bloc -- “without interruption.”

Speaking alongside May in London, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters the Brexit deal was the “best that could have been obtained” and represented the “best possible” outcome for both sides.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.