BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Britain is very close to reaching an agreement with the European Union on how to protect the rights of citizens after it leaves the bloc, British Finance Minister Philip Hammond said on Thursday.
The rights of EU citizens in Britain is one of three issues the bloc wants to settle before it begins discussing the future relationship between Britain and the EU.
"We have made very good progress. We have a very high degree of alignment. Not yet completely concluded, but we are very close to having agreement on how we are going to protect each other's citizens who are in our countries," Hammond told a news conference in Budapest after meeting ministers of the Visegrad Group of eastern states.
"Our desire and intention is that people who have come to the UK to work and make their lives in the UK should be able to continue to live there, carry on their lives exactly as before. That is our clear and stated intention," he said.
Hammond added however that British nationals who have moved to EU countries should be allowed to do the same.
"From a reciprocal basis the objective is to make everything look exactly as it did the day before we left the EU," he said.
Hammond also said talks about Britain's departure from the EU should result in an exit roadmap.
"We want to give businesses on both sides of English Channel and both sides of the Irish border the confidence that they will not face a cliff edge when we leave the EU," he said.
"That is why we are proposing a time-limited transition period so that we can provide that certainty that our borders will continue to operate smoothly and that our businesses can continue to supply their customers and our citizens carry on with their day to day lives across continental Europe."
(Reporting by Gergely Szakacs; Editing by Angus MacSwan)