EU cool to May's citizen rights offer

British Prime Minister Theresa May talking to her Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy during a European Council meeting in Brussels yesterday, the second day of a summit of European Union leaders.
British Prime Minister Theresa May talking to her Spanish counterpart Mariano Rajoy during a European Council meeting in Brussels yesterday, the second day of a summit of European Union leaders.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Its leaders choose to wait for details of plan to let EU citizens in Britain stay on after Brexit

BRUSSELS • Prime Minister Theresa May's proposal to safeguard residency rights of European Union citizens currently living in Britain met with a tepid reception both in Europe and at home, with her EU counterparts and London Mayor Sadiq Khan stressing that many issues remain unresolved.

Mrs May told EU leaders over dinner at a summit in Brussels on Thursday that almost all three million EU citizens in Britain will be able to continue living there after Brexit, saying she wanted to offer them as much certainty as possible about their future.

Citizens' rights are one of the main issues that the EU and Britain need to resolve before trade talks can be broached leading up to Britain's March 2019 exit from the bloc. Even though the Prime Minister emphasised she did not want to break up families or deport anyone now living in Britain, EU leaders withheld judgment on the proposal, choosing to wait for the release of the full plan next Monday.

"We've made what I believe is a very serious, a very fair offer which will give reassurance and confidence to EU citizens living in the United Kingdom about their future," Mrs May told reporters in Brussels yesterday. "Of course, there will be details of this arrangement which will be part of the negotiation process."

While the proposal will go a long way towards meeting what EU leaders wanted for their citizens, they are likely to object to Mrs May's insistence that questions over their rights should be adjudicated in British courts.

Britain is also leaving open the question of the "cut-off date" from which the rights will no longer apply, saying only that it will be some time between March 29 this year, when it began the departure process, and the date it leaves.

"It's a first step, but this step is not sufficient," European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters.

European Council president Donald Tusk said Mrs May's offer on expatriates' rights after Brexit was "below expectations". But he added that it would be be "for our negotiation team to analyse the offer line by line once we receive it on paper".

Mr Khan, the London mayor, also called Mrs May's plans insufficient. "Her proposal doesn't go anywhere near giving the three million EU citizens living in Britain - one million of whom are Londoners - the certainty they need to make long-term plans for themselves or their families," Mr Khan said on Facebook yesterday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Mrs May's offer a "good start".

For Poland, whose 800,000 citizens are the biggest cohort of the Europeans in Britain, Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymanski said: "We appreciate the effort but the offer does not meet all the criteria the EU agreed on as red lines".

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel found it "particularly vague" and described it using a Flemish expression for a dubious gift: "We don't want a cat in the bag."

The details of the proposal will be published by the government on Monday afternoon, when Mrs May plans to make a statement to Parliament.

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'EU cool to May's citizen rights offer'. Print Edition | Subscribe