EU citizens will no longer be asked to pay a fee for their application to remain in the UK after Brexit, according to a statement by Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May shortly following her speech to the British parliament where she failed to present a Plan B that would significantly differ from the Withdrawal Agreement that was rejected by the House of Commons last week.
EU citizens applying to “settle” in the UK were expected to pay a €74 (£65) fee that would give EU citizens that have lived in the UK for 5 years rights equivalent to the ones they currently enjoy, including healthcare and education. Those who have paid during the pilot implementation of the settlement application scheme were to be later reimbursed.
Other than this goodwill gesture, May vowed to seek changes to the backstop over the Irish border, but she did not call for a delay of the implementation of Article 50, meaning the likelihood is that the UK will leave on March 29 with or without a deal with the European Union.
Concerning a second referendum on EU membership, May argued that it would undermine the social cohesion of the United Kingdom and refused to deny that the prospect of a hard Brexit remains an open and very real possibility at this time.
A week after her stinging defeat, May is now moving to engage Brexit hardliners and Protestant firebrands the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) from Northern Ireland. The prime minister has promised some movement on the backstop agreement, if necessary, by means of a bilateral deal with Ireland.
A number of Irish cabinet ministers have reiterated that no such deal is on offer. Poland submitted a proposal for a five-year time limit to the backstop agreement although it is unclear whether this proposal will be endorsed by Dublin. That position would be closer to what May is trying to achieve, as she seeks to convince her backbenchers that the real choice is between the Withdrawal Agreement and, potentially, no Brexit.
A number of UK parliamentarians are now considering calling for the suspension of Article 50 – which outlines how an EU country quits the bloc – or a second referendum with or without the government’s consent. Either may galvanise support for the Withdrawal Agreement among Brexit campaigners who do not, however, command a majority in parliament.
Labour is making its own position clearer. The party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, on January 21 asked for a permanent customs union with strong ties to the single market and guaranteed protections for workers rights and environmental standards.