Croatians living in the United Kingdom do not have to worry because there will be no significant changes after Brexit on January 31, British Minister for Europe Christopher Pincher told Hina in an interview.
Pincher expects that the current EU president Croatia, with its enthusiasm and innovation, will help London accomplish its ambitious plan and reach an agreement with Brussels on their future relationship. He said that Brexit is just an institutional divorce from the EU and that the UK will strengthen bilateral relations with EU member states, including Croatia.
About 6,000 Croatians work or study in the UK, mostly in London, and 600 Britons live in Croatia. About 900,000 British tourists visit Croatia every year.
"Croatians living in Britain can feel absolutely secure. London is your home and will remain your home," Pincher said.
"I don't think you'll see any significant changes at all. We want to make sure that those people who live and work in the UK and they're EU nationals feel at home, as much as on the 1st of February as they do today," he added.
Pincher met Croatian officials in Zagreb on Thursday to discuss the Croatian EU presidency plan.
Permanent residence applications required by end-June 2021
The UK is leaving the EU on 31 January, more than three and a half years after 52 percent of its citizens voted in a referendum in favour of leaving the bloc, which it joined in 1973. It will remain subject to EU rules until the end of 2020 as part of a transition period agreed to alleviate Brexit.
If they choose to stay in the UK, EU citizens need to apply for settled status by the end of June 2021. Some 2.7 million out of about 3 million EU citizens had done so by the end of last year, and only two applications were turned down because of the applicants' criminal past.
Those granted settled status will be issued not a physical but a digital document proving their right to stay in the UK. Pincher says there are two reasons for that. "If you're given a digital document, it can never be lost. And the other reason is that ID is not part of our culture," the minister said, recalling that the UK abolished ID cards in 1952.
Permanent residence applications are filled in online and are free of charge. The UK government invested GBP 9 million in communication with EU citizens wishing to stay in the UK.
London counts on Croatia's enthusiasm and innovation
Along with the new Multiannual Finance Framework and EU enlargement, Brexit is one of the main challenges facing the presidency of the Council of the European Union, which Croatia took over on 1 January.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is confident that an agreement on all aspects of future cooperation with the Union can be concluded by the end of 2020, which Brussels considers questionable. Pincher, however, insists that the end of the year is a realistic deadline and that the newest EU member can play an important role in it.
"Can we do it? Yes, of course, we can, with the help of Croatia, with its enthusiasm and innovation, we can do it," Pincher said. "Where there's a will, there's a way. If we use the momentum that we have built over the past few months and use the skills of the negotiation teams, then yes, we can get the deal done by the end of 2020."
Pincher mentioned the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada as a model for future UK-EU trade relations, while also emphasising the importance of overall cooperation with the Union and with member states individually.
Bilateral relations with Croatia remain strong and will be even stronger, notably in multilateral organisations such as the UN, NATO, OSCE and the Council of Europe, Pincher said. This also includes cooperation in security, education, economy and environmental protection, he added.
We are leaving an institution, not Europe. That is the message we wish to emphasise, Pincher concluded.