Theresa May’s hopes for an early deal on the rights of expat citizens after Brexit suffered a setback when EU leaders gave a frosty reception to proposals which she unveiled at a Brussels summit.
European Council president Donald Tusk said the UK plan fell below Brussels’ expectations and could worsen the situation of three million EU citizens living in the UK, while German chancellor Angela Merkel said they did not represent a “breakthrough” in Brexit talks.
Mrs May insisted that her offer was “fair and serious” and should reassure EU nationals in the UK that they will be able to go on living their lives as before.
But the PM stuck to her position that any extension of rights must be part of a deal offering similar arrangements to Britons living in the remaining 27 member states.
She faced an allegation from former Cabinet colleague George Osborne of having blocked a unilateral offer which David Cameron and all other senior ministers wanted to make last summer.
An editorial in former chancellor Mr Osborne’s Evening Standard newspaper described Mrs May’s offer as “an act of self-interest dressed up as a gesture of international generosity” and accused the PM of blocking Mr Cameron’s preferred unilateral option as home secretary.
Confronted with the claim at a Brussels press conference, Mrs May responded: “That’s certainly not my recollection.”
The two-day summit ended with battlelines being drawn over the key questions of jurisdiction and the cut-off date for residency rights.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said it was “inconceivable” to him that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) would have no judicial role in enforcing EU nationals’ rights under any future arrangements.
But Mrs May set her face firmly against ECJ involvement, while suggesting that expats’ rights could be protected by international treaty.
“They will be enshrined in UK law, they will be enforced through the highly respected UK courts, and of course if this is an aspect of the withdrawal treaty then it will be enshrined in international law as well,” she said.
Under the proposals which Mrs May outlined to fellow leaders on Thursday, all EU nationals who have been in the UK for five years will be entitled to “settled status”, granting them the same rights as their British neighbours to healthcare, education, welfare benefits and pensions.
Those with a shorter period of residency will be able to stay on to reach the five-year threshold and others arriving after a yet-to-be-defined cut-off date will have a “grace period” to regularise their status.
“This is a fair and serious offer,” she said.
“It gives those three million EU citizens in the UK certainty about the future of their lives and we want the same certainty for the more than one million UK citizens who are living in the European Union.”
Mr Tusk said that the offer would be subjected to line-by-line analysis by the Brexit negotiation team led by Michel Barnier.