Proposal, if agreed by Brussels, will come as a relief to industries reliant on EU workers

Theresa May has offered to allow around three million EU citizens currently resident in the UK the right to stay, so long as politicians in Brussels hand the same rights to the one million-plus British citizens living across the EU.

In what is seen as an olive branch in some quarters – and a sign of desperation in others – the move has been given a cautious welcome by some EU leaders, including German chancellor Angela Merkel.

Under the terms of May’s proposals, EU citizens living in the UK for more than five years would be granted ‘UK settled status’, meaning they could remain and have continued access to health and education services, among others.

At a summit in Brussels yesterday May said: “The UK’s position represents a fair and serious offer, one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives and contributing so much to our society.”

Details around those who are newly arrived in the UK have not been spelled out, although it will be no later than March 2019, when the UK finally – and officially – leaves the EU.

If the Prime Minister’s proposals are accepted by each and every member state of the EU it will come as a huge relief to industries such as the building trade, which relies heavily on a workforce from the region.

However Merkel has already signalled that “there will be a lot to do” regarding talks between Brussels and Britain before the next summit in October, with the rights of EU and UK citizens being just a part of a complex mix of issues.