Michael Gove to offer three million EU nationals free British passports
The offer of citizenship, at no fee, is billed as healing divisions and delivering on the promises of the Leave campaign.
By Tamara Cohen, political correspondent
The environment secretary, who threw his hat into the ring for the Tory leadership at the weekend, will make the offer to EU nationals who were living in the UK at the time of the June 2016 referendum.
The £1,330 naturalisation fee would be waived as a gesture of goodwill, his aides confirmed to Sky News.
There are understood to be three million EU citizens in the UK who would be eligible, once they have been resident for five years.
The proposal – to be formally unveiled next week – is a victory for Conservative MP Alberto Costa who has been campaigning for the rights of EU citizens post-Brexit for many months
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He is the eighth MP to launch a bid to succeed Theresa May, as other candidates say they are willing to leave the EU with no deal.
The Home Office’s settled status scheme, under which EU citizens must prove they have lived in the UK for five years or they stand to lose their rights after Brexit, would also be changed to a registration scheme, under Mr Gove’s plans.
Mr Costa, who is supporting him for the leadership, told Sky News: “What Michael is offering is an incentive to EU nationals who register to get British citizenship at no cost.
“It’s the Conservative Party which initiated this whole debacle, of EU citizens being deprived of their rights. We should sort it out. In a sense, it is apologising and saying we welcome you, we want you to join the British family.”
Naturalisation fees have risen dramatically in recent years, prompting criticism that they are becoming a major barrier to application.
Mr Costa expressed deep concerns earlier this year that the settled status scheme could deprive people who have lived in the UK for decades of their rights if they are unaware they need to apply.
He approached the Home Secretary Sajid Javid about his citizenship proposals, but said Mr Javid had notified him two weeks ago that he would not take it up.
“And the home secretary is not prepared to do it. Michael Gove, who led the Vote Leave campaign, takes a different approach.
“This is a generous, large-hearted, fee free offer. It’s the morally right thing to do and will detoxify an unpleasant situation for the Conservative Party.”
He added to Sky News that not to extend the offer would be “morally repugnant and frankly un-British”.
Sources in Mr Gove’s team say the offer is about healing the divisions caused by the referendum.
A source close to him said: “Michael Gove is ready to unite the country. Guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals here in the UK through a declaratory scheme, and making a generous offer of citizenship to those lawfully here at the time of the referendum, is a first step in that direction.
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“This is simply the right thing to do – honouring the promise of Vote Leave that EU nationals studying, working and living in the UK were welcome to stay. Michael Gove led that campaign and now he’s ready to deliver Brexit.”
British expats living in Europe have told Sky News they feel they are in limbo, as they expect their governments to reciprocate the British approach.
Mr Costa said the scheme should lead to British residents in European countries being offered citizenship.
Mr Gove’s candidacy was announced this weekend and electrifies a race which includes former foreign secretary Boris Johnson – whose campaign he torpedoed in 2016. He argued that he has a proven track record running government departments.