Brexit: May offers hope for EU citizens

2017-06-23 08:05
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the EU summit in Brussels. (Virginia Mayo, Pool via AP)

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves the EU summit in Brussels. (Virginia Mayo, Pool via AP)

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Brussels - British Prime Minister Theresa May promised Thursday that EU citizens will not be immediately kicked out of Britain when it leaves the union and says their fate will be a top priority in Brexit negotiations - prompting guarded praise from other EU leaders at a tense time for the continent.

May's proposals at an EU summit were a carefully timed gesture days after talks began on Britain's departure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called them "a good start".

May laid out benchmarks for the rights of 3 million EU citizens living legally in Britain and how they should be shielded from excessive harm because of the divorce. She made it clear that Britain wants reciprocal measures for the 1.5 million British citizens living in the EU. The issue of citizens' rights is especially sensitive in the Brexit talks.

Under May's proposal, EU citizens with legal residence in the UK will not be asked to leave and will be offered a chance to regularise their situation after Brexit, a senior British official said. May also promised to cut the burdensome bureaucracy such paperwork can involve, the official said.

"No one will face a cliff edge," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity since May made the proposal at a closed-door EU summit dinner.

Merkel welcomed May's promises, but insisted that "there are, of course, many, many other issues". She mentioned the bill that Britain will have to pay to leave and questions about how to deal with the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

Lots left to do

"It means we have lots left to do," Merkel said.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said May's proposals are "a first step", but warned there are still many European citizens in Britain who would not be covered by the proposals. 

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said there are "thousands of questions to ask" about May's proposals, and questioned why the British leader was laying them out with EU leaders instead of with the Brexit negotiators.

Britain's departure in 2019 will cause the EU to lose one of its biggest members and a global player, but the other EU nations were already looking at some of the spoils of the divorce.

Discord over whether Britain's exit process could still be reversed surfaced at the summit.

Tusk said when British friends asked him if he could imagine a way for Britain to remain part of the bloc, he told them: "The EU was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So who knows?"

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, however, said the will of the British people who voted in a June 2016 referendum to leave the EU had to be respected.

Michel insisted Brexit negotiations should proceed without fanciful distractions.

Merkel also focused on imagining an EU without Britain.

"For me, shaping the future of the 27 [remaining] member states has priority over the question of the negotiations with Britain on its exit," Merkel said.

French President Emmanuel Macron pledged at his first EU summit as head of state to breathe new life into a European Union stung by Britain's departure and deeply divided over the best way to accommodate refugees.


Read more on:    eu  |  germany  |  uk  |  france  |  brexit

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