On 22 May 2017 the Council of the European Union published its directives for the negotiation of an agreement with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal from the European Union.
It will be some comfort to the millions of EU27 citizens currently in the UK that preservation of their residence rights has been confirmed as the first priority in negotiations. The directives state:
'Safeguarding the status and rights of the EU27 citizens and their families in the United Kingdom and of the citizens of the United Kingdom and their families in the EU27 Member States is the first priority for the negotiations because of the number of people directly affected and of the seriousness of the consequences of the withdrawal for them. The Agreement should provide the necessary effective, enforceable, non-discriminatory and comprehensive guarantees for those citizens' rights, including the right to acquire permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence and the rights attached to it.'
The directives go on to specify that:
'The Agreement should safeguard the status and rights derived from Union law at the withdrawal date, including those the enjoyment of which will intervene at a later date (e.g. rights related to old age pensions) as well as rights which are in the process of being obtained, including the possibility to acquire them under current conditions after the withdrawal date (e.g. the right of permanent residence after a continuous period of five years of legal residence which started before the withdrawal date). This should cover both EU27 citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in the United Kingdom and United Kingdom citizens residing (or having resided) and/or working (or having worked) in one of the Member States of the EU27. Guarantees to that effect in the Agreement should be reciprocal and should be based on the principle of equal treatment amongst EU27 citizens and equal treatment of EU27 citizens as compared to United Kingdom citizens, as set out in the relevant Union acquis. Those rights should be protected as directly enforceable vested rights for the life time of those concerned. Citizens should be able to exercise their rights through smooth and simple administrative procedures.'
The agreement reached should define the scope of the persons covered by it, and should define the rights to be protected. It is clear from reading these directives that the simple solution sought is the preservation of the status quo for those EU27 citizens who are exercising their free movement rights prior to withdrawal from the European Union. This should be encouraging for those anxious about the future, though the UK's position on this issue remains to be seen and will turn on the outcome of today's general election.