British lawmakers demand resident rights deal from EU pre-Brexit

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 8:48am
UPDATED : Monday, 28 November, 2016, 8:37pm

A group of 81 British lawmakers have written to European Union President Donald Tusk to demand an agreement is reached on rights for Britons living in the EU and for Europeans in Britain before Brexit talks are formally opened.

The letter asks Tusk to add reciprocal rights for citizens to the agenda for a European leaders meeting on December 15 and claims there is agreement across most EU states on the issue. Michel Barnier, who will lead negotiations for the EU, infuriated the group when he insisted talks cannot start on any aspect of Brexit until triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which formally starts the process of exiting the bloc. “No negotiation without notification,” Barnier tweeted on November 21.

“Michel Barnier’s intransigence is inhumane. It is only compounded by the petulance of his recent tweet,” Steve Baker, a Conservative lawmaker and one of the letter’s signatories, said in an emailed statement. “He should apologise and immediately agree in principle the continuation of reciprocal rights for resident UK and EU citizens.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said she wants to invoke Article 50 by the end of March, which will start two years of talks on Britain’s divorce from the EU, and says the rights of residents is an issue she will seek to agree early in the process. Other leaders have made it clear that formal talks cannot begin until after the article is triggered.

“I want, intend and expect to be able to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, but I also want the rights of UK citizens living in EU member states to be guaranteed,” May told lawmakers in the House of Commons on November 16. “I hope that this is an issue that we shall be able to discuss with my European colleagues at an early stage.”

Two days later German Chancellor Angela Merkel made clear before a meeting with May in Berlin that the details of Britain’s exit cannot be discussed until after Article 50 has been is invoked, in accordance with the treaty.

The signatories to the letter, who include hardline Brexiters, such as former cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale, say citizens should not be used as “bargaining chips” or “cards to be traded tit for tat in a political playground”.

Conservative lawmaker Michael Tomlinson, who signed the letter on behalf of the group, called on Tusk to allow May to negotiate a deal on rights of residents before formal talks begin.

“This letter is a call to Donald Tusk to liberate Theresa May to achieve what is in all of our national interests and to end the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens,” he said. “It must be discussed at the next European Council meeting. But not only discussed, it must be resolved.”

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