Theresa May has pledged that all migrants who arrived in Britain before she triggered Article 50 in March will be entitled to stay.
The Prime Minister’s commitment is a first clear pointer to her immigration plans which will also offer guarantees that families will not be kept apart.
It is expected that spouses and children of EU nationals who live abroad will be eligible to join them in the UK.
Mrs May wants the EU to match her pledge by granting one million British citizens who live in the EU the same rights.
Mrs May’s plans would mean 3.2 million EU nationals living in the UK will have their current rights to live and work in Britain guaranteed.
Under the EU’s “settled status” treaties they will have full access to pensions, healthcare and education.
It means no-one from an EU member state currently living in Britain legally will be forced to leave after Britain quits the bloc in 2019.
Those arriving after an agreed cut-off date will be given a two year grace period and will be expected to obtain a work permit or return to their home countries.
If the cut-off date falls in 2019, as the EU demands, it effectively means that freedom of movement will continue until 2021.
After a meeting with EU officials in Brussels she 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.”
However, Mrs May is resisting EU demands that the European Court of Justice in Strasbourg should be a guarantor of those rights.
“The commitment that we make to EU citizens will be enshrined in UK law and will be enforced through our highly respected courts.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the proposals represented “a good start”, but Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said there were “thousands of questions to ask” about Mrs May’s proposals.
Some European leaders expressed hopes that there may be a change of mind by the UK. European Council president Donald Tusk, quoting John Lennon, said: “The European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
French president Emmanuel Macron said the door remains open for a U-turn on Brexit.
The British proposals will be detailed in full in a position paper on Monday. Labour says Britain should agree “unilaterally” to protect the rights of EU citizens before securing a guarantee for Britons living in the EU.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “Scottish Chambers of Commerce Network called for the guarantee of EU citizens from the outset and it is good news to see the Prime Minister finally guarantee these rights and provide clarity to Scottish business.
“This news will be welcomed by all sectors and will enable us to plan ahead, whilst also providing a level of stability to EU citizens and their families. These are the initial building blocks that need to be put in place and now we must look towards a longer-term solution in terms of migration to the UK that is firmly based on business and economic need.
“We would also urge reciprocity from our EU counterparts to guarantee the rights of the 1.2 million UK citizens currently working or living in the EU, ensuring those businesses that are trading within the EU market can continue to grow and run their business operations.
“This announcement is a good start to the Brexit negotiations but there is still a long way to go to address business priorities on issues such as access to single market, tariffs and our relationship with the EU bloc.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will today call for the free movement of people to preserved after Brexit in order to avoid damaging a rural economy heavily reliant on migrant labour.
Speaking at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh, she is expected to say: “The UK government placed a great deal of emphasis on restricting freedom of movement. That seems to be the key reason why it is not pursuing single market membership.
“But Scottish agriculture, and Scotland more generally, has benefitted enormously from freedom of movement.
“So as things stand, there is still a real danger that the UK government will abandon something which is good for Scotland – membership of the single market – in order to restrict something else which is good for Scotland – freedom of movement.”