European Union citizens will remain free to settle in the U.K for about two years after the country leaves the bloc in 2019, Britain’s top Brexit official said Wednesday.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said that during a transition period, Britain will abide “to a very large extent” by the EU’s rules. It will continue to pay into EU coffers and be subject to the jurisdiction of European courts.
Freedom of movement will also continue, although Davis told Parliament’s Brexit committee that EU citizens will have to register with authorities in Britain. Once Britain is fully out of the EU, it will end the automatic right of people from the 27-nation bloc to live and work in the U.K.
Britain’s vote to leave the EU has left many of the 3 million EU citizens in the country worried about their future. But Davis said the government had “a moral responsibility” to ensure EU nationals could “continue their lives as they are now” after Brexit.
Pro-Brexit politicians have accused the government of backtracking on the country’s 2016 vote to leave by agreeing to a transition period that will keep Britain a near-member of the EU until 2021. The period is intended to give businesses time to prepare for life outside the bloc.
Davis denied an allegation by euroskeptic Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg that Britain would remain “a vassal state” of the EU. Davis said the transition arrangements would last “a short time” and Britain would be free of the bloc in 2021.
Davis said he expected a final agreement on the transition period to be reached by the end of March, and a deal on future relations to be completed before Brexit day: March 29, 2019.
Davis repeated his view that Britain is seeking a “Canada plus plus plus” deal with the EU — one that would cover both goods, like a recently agreed Canada-EU deal, but also services.
EU leaders have insisted Britain can’t retain full access to the bloc for London’s financial services sector unless it remains inside the EU single market and customs union. Britain says it will leave both after Brexit.
David said he was confident the U.K. could get a unique and beneficial trade deal.
He said agreements such as those struck with the EU by Canada or Switzerland “are the floor, not the ceiling” of Britain’s ambition.