EU migrants living in Britain will be given the right to remain in the country in the event of a no-deal Brexit, according to leaked cabinet office papers.
Downing Street refused to comment on the documents on Monday but reports said ministers were planning to take the “moral high ground” by unilaterally granting the 3.8 million EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay.
However the move was also said to reflect concerns of potential labour shortages in key sectors of the economy once Britain is outside the EU.
The disclosure comes as the UK government prepares to set out a number of its 80 technical notes on Thursday, detailing its preparations for a no-deal Brexit across a wide range of sectors.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the issue of EU citizens will be addressed in one of the notes and is expected to outline how EU citizens in the UK would be able to continue accessing the NHS and the benefits system, regardless of whether British nationals in the EU are granted reciprocal rights.
It comes as The Independent’s campaign for a Final Say referendum on Brexit deal gathered pace, with more than 660,000 people having signed our petition.
The leaked paper states: “The Home Office plans to make an offer to existing EU residents that they can remain in the UK in a ‘no-deal’ scenario, in effect unilaterally implementing the [immigration element of the] citizens’ rights agreement agreed with the EU in December 2017.
“The proposal is to make the offer irrespective of whether the EU reciprocates. Any package would need resolution for the reciprocal elements of the December 2017 deal.
“Making an offer is not only important to provide certainty publicly, but will enable the UK government to take the moral high ground.
“A number of other plans are also dependent on the government’s position on this issue, relying heavily on the availability of existing labour in a ‘no deal’ scenario.”
The paper, which was said to have been given to ministers last month, describes the issue as “one of the most important aspects” of the government’s no deal planning.
The move was welcomed by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the influential pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs.
“EU migrants came here legally, and the UK is not the sort of country that applies retrospective legislation. They should have broadly the same rights as British citizens – no better or worse,” he told the Telegraph.
However, former Brexit minister David Jones told the paper: “It’s got to be reciprocal. We have a large number of Britons in the EU and their interests have got to be reflected. We have got to look after our own people.”
While a government spokeswoman said “we do not comment on leaks”, she added: “One of the priorities for us right from the get go in the talks was securing the rights of EU citizens living here.
“That’s why we moved swiftly to agree something with the EU early. But I would also point to what Dominic Raab said a few weeks ago about EU citizens living here.
“He said there is no deal until we have a deal, but the idea we would not move swiftly to secure the legal position of EU citizens here is far-fetched and wouldn’t happen, so we have been clear that they are a priority for us regardless.”