Friday

22nd Mar 2019

Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens

EU state and government heads have warned that UK prime minister Theresa May’s initial offer on post-Brexit EU citizens’ rights is lacking in detail and fail to provide appropriate safeguards and certainty.

“My first impression is that the British offer is below expectations, and risks worsening the situation of citizens,” European Council president Donald Tusk said Friday (23 June), at the end of the two-day EU summit in Brussels.

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“But it’s going to be for our negotiating team to analyse it line-by-line,” Tusk added.

Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, said that May’s offer is a “good start, but we need to see the details”.

He added that he is concerned about “pitfalls” that might be created if details are not ironed out. “For example, what about non-EU citizens who are related to EU citizens? Everyone would like a situation where there is a blanket fair treatment of citizens,” Muscat said.

The Brexit issue did not take up much time during the two-day EU summit.

The EU leaders emphasised that Brexit talks should be conducted between the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the UK’s Brexit minister, David Davis, instead of at summits.

“The work of 27 member states should be given priority over Brexit negotiations,” German chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit at a joint press conference with French president Emmanuel Macron.

Merkel called the British positions “a good start”. “But it was not a breakthrough.”

Macron said it is for Barnier to examine the offer.

The Irish premier, Leo Varadkar, called the British PM's proposal a “positive gesture”.

Echoing Muscat, Varadkar said leaders would like to see more details, for instance on what happens to family members of EU citizens who may wish to join them in the UK.

Earlier on Friday, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel called May’s proposals “particularly vague”. “We don’t want a cat in the bag,” he said, adding: “We want the rights of EU citizens to be permanently guaranteed.”

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said there were still “thousands of questions to ask”.

Reassurances

Theresa May laid out on Thursday to EU leaders the highlights of what she called a “fair and serious” offer for EU citizens living in the UK.

The plan would allow EU citizens already living in the UK to stay, and May insisted she does not want to break families apart.

A more detailed plan is due to be made public on Monday (26 June).

May’s offer was characterised as “pathetic” and “unacceptable” by a grassroots organisation, the3million, that represents EU citizens in the UK.

They would like to see a separate deal on their rights, so that even if there is no final Brexit deal, their rights would be “ring fenced”.

On Friday, May said she wanted to “reassure” those citizens, insisting: “No one will have to leave, we won’t be seeing families split apart.”

One of the outstanding questions is which public body will guarantee those rights after Brexit.

The EU wants the European Commission to monitor the implementation of those rights and have the European Court of Justice (ECJ) - the EU’s top court, which is despised by Brexiteers - to protect and enforce the rights.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker noted on Friday that he does not see the ECJ being excluded from the Brexit settlements, but it is for the negotiations to resolve.

In the meantime, George Osborne - the former UK finance minister and current editor of The Evening Standard newspaper - reported on Friday (23 June) that May, in the days following the referendum last year, was the only cabinet minister to block a unilateral offer to EU citizens, which would have ensured that they can remain in Britain.

David Cameron, the UK prime minister at that time, had prepared an offer to give EU citizens certainty after the Brexit referendum, but it was not supported by his home secretary, Theresa May.

Dutch liberal MEP Sophie In't Veld reacted to the report by tweeting: “Ruthless, heartless, calculating. Total disdain for human rights.”

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