Three million EU migrants to keep benefits after Brexit in breach of Tory manifesto

Christopher Hope
Ministers have reportedly been warned that any attempt to withdraw child benefits from migrants already here would risk tit-for-tat action on health and pension rights of British expats in the EU

Millions of European Union migrants who are in Britain when Theresa May triggers Brexit on Wednesday will be allowed to continue to receive child benefits to send to families back home.

A document circulated among ministers by the Department for Exiting the European Union, has recommended that around three million EU migrants in the UK when the Prime Minister triggers Article 50 keep their welfare rights.

Those who arrive after Wednesday will not keep the benefits, but ministers have been warned that any attempt to withdraw them from those already here would risk Brussels taking tit-for-tat action to restrict health and pension rights of British expats in the EU.

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Any move to maintain child benefits as they are currently would risk breaking the Tories' 2015 general election manifesto pledge to restrict tax credits and child benefits to EU migrants who have been in the country for four years.

Timeline - Starting Brexit

The manifesto said migrants would be able to claim benefits only when they have been in Britain for four years.

It added: "If an EU migrant's child is living abroad, then they should receive no child benefit or child tax credit, no matter how long they have worked in the UK and no matter how much tax they have paid."

One senior Conservative told The Sunday Times: "The plan we've got is clearly not compliant with that."

Tories were forced to U-turn on Budget plans to increase national insurance rates for the self-employed because they broke a manifesto promise.

The prospect of another manifesto breach will put further pressure on Theresa May to call a general election and win her own mandate to run the country.

The Prime Minister has said resolving the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British expats in Europe will be one of her early priorities in negotiations.

British citizens living in other EU countries

But European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned last week it could take "several months" before their post-Brexit settlement rights can be guaranteed.

Officials in the Department for Exiting the European Union and Downing Street stressed that "nothing has been resolved" on the child benefit issue and instead emphasised the historic nature of May's announcements this week.

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A Government spokeswoman said: "This is speculation and we do not comment on leaks from Cabinet.

"We have said we want to secure the rights of EU nationals already in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU.

"But no decisions of the kind speculated about here have been taken.

"We are clear that when the UK leaves the EU, it will make its own decisions about immigration."



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