British Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Tuesday that she will not rule out a change in the status of Irish nationals currently living in Britain after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Suggesting that any change in the status of the Irish could be tied to a broader negotiation about the rights of UK citizens in Europe after Brexit, she said that Britain will choose what rights to offer Irish citizens, including whether or not to continue the current arrangement, whereby they have most of the same rights as British citizens.

Speaking in response to a question from Laurence Robertson, the Conservative chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, May seemed to suggest any change in regard to the Irish in the UK could be predicated on whether or not her government can secure a reciprocal arrangement for UK citizens living in the EU after Brexit.

Said May: “The issue of the rights of citizens of the Republic of Ireland, as you say, is on a different and longstanding historical basis from other members of the European Union. Obviously I’ve been clear that I want to, at an early stage, look at how we deal with these issues of people from other countries within the European Union who are living within the UK in order to offer reassurance.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

British Prime Minister Theresa May.

“I’ve been clear in relation to citizens of the EU as a whole that we want to ensure that we also see UK citizens living elsewhere being treated on a reciprocal basis.”

The Irish government has made it clear that it does not want to see a return to a hard border with Northern Ireland, which it believes could imperil the the peace process. 

On Tuesday May said she hoped that there would be “no return to the borders of the past,” but she did not rule out introducing passport checks for people traveling between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“We want to ensure that we have the right relationship on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That’s where the focus needs to be,” she said.

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