Brexit: EU Citizens Offered 'UK Settled Status' By PM May

EU citizens legally resident in the UK should have the same rights as British citizens after Brexit, the UK prime minister has told EU leaders. "No-one will face a cliff edge," Theresa May said at a Brussels summit. A new "UK settled status" will grant those who have spent five years in the UK equal rights on healthcare, education, benefits and pensions.

Guaranteeing EU citizens' rights is the top priority for the EU delegation negotiating Brexit. Before Mrs May's offer, the EU proposed that EU citizens in the UK and the estimated 1.2 million Britons living in EU countries should continue enjoying the same rights, enforceable by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). There are two other thorny issues that have to be resolved early on - the UK's divorce bill and the Northern Ireland border.

An estimated 3.2 million EU citizens live in the UK and there is much nervousness - some even fear deportation. Mrs May sought to reassure the UK's 27 EU partners, saying the UK "does not want anyone here to have to leave, nor does it want families to be split up". Her offer brought a cautious response.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel described it as "a good start" but said many other issues around Brexit still had to be resolved. A senior EU official told the BBC that when the full details of the UK proposal were published on Monday, they would go through them "line by line".

Mrs May's Brexit statement took up little of the summit's time. There was no debate as the EU is anxious to avoid any splits emerging. The UK election has left Mrs May seriously weakened, heading a minority government, which has fuelled uncertainty about the whole Brexit process. The UK's exit deadline is 30 March 2019. A cut-off date for obtaining "UK settled status" is yet to be announced.