February 28, 2018 / 3:58 PM / a year ago

Britain sets out dividing lines on EU citizens' rights

FILE PHOTO: Anti-Brexit demonstrators wave EU and Union flags outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) - European Union citizens arriving in Britain during a post-Brexit transition period will be able to apply for indefinite leave to stay in the country but their rights will be governed by British, not EU law, the government said on Wednesday.

Last month, Prime Minister Theresa May charted a collision course with Brussels by saying that people arriving during the transition period would be treated differently from those who had come to Britain before it leaves the EU on March 29 2019.

A document published on the government’s website set out a system which would give EU citizens arriving after Britain leaves the bloc, but before the end of the so-called implementation period, the chance to remain long enough to apply for indefinite leave to stay.

But the rights of those arriving during the implementation period would be defined in British law and interpreted solely through UK courts, Britain’s interior ministry said. British judges will not be able to refer questions of interpretation to the European Court of Justice.

That would mean that those citizens’ right to be joined by families after the implementation period would be governed by British, rather than EU law - effectively allowing for a tighter regime than the current EU system, which grants family members entry rights automatically.

The policy was seen by some as a concession to Brussels, which wants those arriving during the transition to be treated the same as those already in Britain before Brexit.

“May has climbed down on the key part, that EU citizens can stay on after the end of transition ... but they are still arguing around the edges,” said Jonathan Portes, senior fellow at think tank, UK in a Changing Europe.

“It is a concession to the reality as to what the UK administration can deliver,” he added.

Curbing immigration was a key reason Britons voted to leave the EU in 2016, following a large influx of EU citizens, especially from poorer countries in eastern Europe.

Reporting by William James and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Stephen Addison

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