British PM May to detail plans for EU citizens as her Brexit secretary digs in for fight with Brussels

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 2:31pm
UPDATED : Monday, 26 June, 2017, 2:37pm

Prime Minister Theresa May is to pad out her plan for safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK beyond Brexit after continental leaders criticised Britain’s initial proposal and her government braced to defend a key part of it.

On Monday, May was to publish details of how she intends to protect the rights of 3.2 million European Union nationals residing in Britain once her country has left the bloc in 2019.

EU leaders last week said May’s first pitch didn’t go far enough and risked costing people rights, but Brexit Secretary David Davis said on Sunday that the UK would “fight” any demand that the region’s judges continue to hold sway in the UK once it leaves.

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The to-and-fro suggests hard battle lines are forming just a week into the negotiations. Britain has agreed that talks on a new trading relationship can’t begin until sufficient progress has been made on issues such as citizens’ rights. Every day of delay is making a final deal more difficult to strike.

Some other arbitration body may need to be set up to rule on disputes over the rights of EU citizens, “but it’s not going to be the European Court of Justice,” Davis told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC. “That’s where the fight comes in.”

Davis also said he’s “pretty sure” a Brexit deal will be reached before time runs out, but added: “I’m not 100 per cent sure - it’s a negotiation.”

Still chastened by her election flop, May faces another tough week with the House of Commons set to vote on her legislative program on Thursday. She has still to seal a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party for the support of its ten lawmakers.

Davis told fellow Conservative lawmakers to stop being so “self-indulgent” in plotting to replace May, although he avoided saying whether he would be a candidate in any leadership contest.

The Sunday Times reported that some Tories want Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond to take over as a temporary leader, in an alliance with the euroskeptic Davis, who would become deputy prime minister as he continues to lead Brexit talks.

Davis said it would be catastrophic to hold a leadership contest now, just as he’s trying to negotiate the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

That will be tricky enough with EU governments arguing that allowing their judges to arbitrate disputes in post-Brexit Britain would provide an essential protection for their citizens.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday that he couldn’t “see the European Court of Justice being excluded from the settlement,” although he added that it would be for the negotiation to decide.

The UK government interpreted last year’s vote for Brexit as a call by the electorate for full control of its laws, the position Davis underlined on Sunday as he echoed May’s proposal for expats.

“What we have set out to do is to create a status almost equivalent to the same as British citizens,” Davis said. “They get the same residence rights, the same employment rights, the same health rights, the same welfare rights, the same pension rights.”

Britain is ready to make unilateral guarantees on the indexation of EU nationals’ pensions, while also promising free health care to Europeans living in Britain, Davis said.

These rights will be protected for those living legally in the UK at least before the prime minister triggered the start of the Brexit process on March 29, he said. The final cut-off date will be subject to negotiation, Davis added, as the EU wants to protect the rights of all nationals residing in Britain on the day the country leaves in 2019.