Theresa May is expected to provide her fellow European Union leaders with detail on the status and rights which the UK plans to offer EU citizens living in Britain after Brexit.
Attending her first European Council Summit since her disastrous general election, it is understood the Prime Minister will explain the UK’s “principles” on the issue of citizens’ rights – a key early topic in the Brexit negotiations.
Her party’s lost majority, weakened negotiating hand as well as the apparent division on what Brexit means among her own cabinet is raising questions in Europe about her stability as PM.
She will seek to reassure her fellow leaders of her commitment to a fair Brexit deal for both sides by presenting an overview of the UK’s intentions regarding the estimated 3.2 million EU citizens currently living in Britain.
The two-day Brussels summit will predominately focus on counter-terrorism, common defence and security.
Two foiled terrorist attacks this week alone put renewed focus on EU-wide efforts to improve counter-terrorism measures.
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In Paris on Monday, a man was apprehended after he tried to ram his car into police on the Champs Elysee and in Brussels on Tuesday, a man attempted to detonate a nail bomb in the city’s Central Station. No one was injured in either incident.
At the end of a working dinner, Mrs May is expected to address the other 27 leaders on Brexit and the issue of citizens’ rights.
It is the most tangible human consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union: the status and prospects for 3.2 million EU citizens who currently live in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons who live elsewhere in the European Union.
Their prospects are unclear given that the UK will become a so-called “third country” once it leaves the union.
The remaining member states have shown increasing levels of irritation at the UK’s failure to commit to protecting the rights of their citizens in the UK.
Issues such as pensions, healthcare and residency status are all at stake. Even EU nationals married to Britons have been unsure of their status post-Brexit.
In turn, British citizens in the EU have been offered no details or assurances on their future.
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Mrs May is not expected to detail any of the specifics of how citizens rights will be protected but instead give broad assurances.
Her EU counterparts will expect her to go further than her government’s February Brexit White Paper pledge to “give people the certainty they want… at the earliest opportunity. It is the right and fair thing to do”.
A Polish diplomatic source told Sky News that they were eager to hear what the PM had to say.
“She mentioned a generous offer, but it is not clear to us what it will mean exactly.”
There are an estimated 850,000 Poles currently living in the UK
One key question is when the cut-off date for citizens rights to be protected should be.
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“The cut-off date is simple: it is the day when the UK leaves the EU [March 2019]. But protection should apply for the life time of the citizens who are concerned.” Mr Barnier said in May.
The EU side has already issued a detailed position paper on citizens rights.
In short it says EU citizens must be able to continue to live in Britain even if they arrived just before Brexit day, and that they must be allowed to apply for UK citizenship and all the benefits that come with it.
If Mrs May accedes to that EU demand it will be seen by some as the second capitulation by the UK government in the space of a week.
On Monday, the EU negotiating side said the UK had agreed to its sequential structure for the negotiations, despite Brexit Secretary David Davis’ previous claims that his demand for divorce and trade talks in parallel would be the “row of the summer”.
One key issue within the citizens’ rights negotiation “basket” is the EU demand that after Brexit, EU nationals living in the UK will retain access to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to protect their rights in Britain.
This would be a “red line” for the UK because it would give the ECJ higher authority than UK courts – opposition to which was a key motivation for Brexit.
The UK expects that the EU side will compromise on this point.
Citizens rights is one of three “baskets” to be dealt with in the first phase of the negotiations which began on Monday.
The other two baskets – Britain’s financial settlement (the so-called “exit bill”) and the Irish border question – will almost certainly be more complicated to agree on.
The UK has accepted that the European Council will decide when “sufficient progress” has been made on these three baskets to allow talks on the EU/UK future relationship to begin.