The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator says he has been told there will be no automatic deportation from the UK of EU citizens who have not got settled status by the 2021 deadline.
Guy Verhofstadt said he had been given the assurance at a meeting with Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay.
Under the EU settlement scheme, EU citizens living in the UK can apply to stay in the country after Brexit.
So far the number of applicants to the scheme has hit more than 2.7 million.
Nearly 2.5 million EU citizens have been told they can live and work in the UK after Brexit, while six “serious or persistent” criminals have had their applications rejected.
The deadline for applying to the scheme is 30 June 2021.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Mr Verhofstadt said he believed those who missed the deadline would still be able to apply for settled status after “giving grounds why it was not possible to do it within the normal procedures”.
“There will be no automatic deportation,” he added.
In October 2019 Home Office minister Brandon Lewis told German newspaper Die Welt: “If EU citizens until this point of time have not registered and have no adequate reason for it, then the valid immigration rules will be applied.”
When pressed on whether that would include those who met the legal requirements for residence but did not apply by the deadline, he replied: “Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules.”
Mr Verhofstadt told Today he had been told that the UK government was looking at the possibility of EU citizens being able to print out documentary proof of their status.
And he said the possibility had been raised of EU citizens sitting on the independent monitoring authority that will be in place to oversee citizens’ rights.
Asked whether he thought the UK could ever rejoin the EU in the future, Mr Verhofstadt said he thought it would eventually happen but “difficult to say when”.
“There will be a young generation who will say, ‘What have we done? We want to go back,'” he added.
Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan praised the UK government’s handling of the issue of citizens’ rights, saying: “A system is now up and running, and it is by far the most effective and the most generous in any of the EU countries.
“I don’t think you will find a single state among the [other] 27 [EU states] that has a system in place to grant rights to established UK nationals that is working as generously and without any cost to the people concerned, as ours is in return.”