Just a week into Brexit negotiations between Britain and the European Union, EU leaders have dismissed British Prime Minister Theresa May’s initial proposals as “insufficient” and “below expectations.”
After narrowly voting to leave the 28-nation bloc in 2016, the United Kingdom now has less than two years to work out a divorce deal before it must officially forgo its membership. Talks kicked off Monday, with the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens living in Britain swiftly emerging as a prominent and contentious issue.
In what she described as a “fair and serious offer,” May proposed on Thursday that EU citizens arriving in Britain prior to the completion of Brexit would be guaranteed permanent residency, and those who have lived in the U.K. for at least five years would receive full rights, including education, health care, welfare and pension benefits for life ― as long as Brits living in the EU are promised the same. The suggested five-year cutoff date has yet to be specified.
More than 3 million EU citizens currently live in the U.K., and about 1 million Brits live elsewhere in the EU.
“I want to reassure all those EU citizens who are in the U.K., who have made their lives and homes in the U.K., that no one will have to leave,” the prime minister said Friday. “We won’t be seeing families split apart.”
But European Commission leaders in the Brussels headquarters have responded to her offer sternly, making clear their expectations for all EU citizens to receive “full rights” after Britain leaves the union, including the right to bring family members or spouses to the U.K. at any time.
“My first impression is that the U.K.’s offer is below our expectations and that it risks worsening the situation of citizens,” European Council President Donald Tusk said in a statement Friday, noting that Brussels’ negotiating team will review it “line by line.”
Tusk also announced that the remaining 27 EU members will vote in November to determine how EU agencies currently based in Britain will be relocated.
European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker expressed his disappointment as well, calling May’s proposal “a first step” but “insufficient.” He reasserted his desire for the European Court of Justice to oversee the settlement ― a suggestion the prime minister has contested.
“Based on the information we have so far, Theresa May’s announcement falls short of our expectations and is unacceptable in its current form,” the organization said in a news release Thursday evening. “It fails on several points which would enable EU citizens in the U.K. to continue to live normally after Brexit.”
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, reinforced that sentiment on Twitter, claiming the proposal “does not fully guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the U.K.”
As both parties work toward establishing a reciprocal agreement on their respective citizens’ rights, they will also have to address other potentially controversial issues, such as Britain’s cost of EU withdrawal, as the countdown continues.
Britain’s negotiating stance is widely viewed to have been compromised as a result of a snap election earlier this month that yielded disastrous results for May’s Conservative Party. The Tories lost 13 seats in the failed political gamble, leading them to form a last-minute alliance with Northern Ireland’s tiny Democratic Unionist Party as a desperate attempt to cling to a majority status.
The U.K. could face continued resistance and tough terms from Brussels to discourage other EU members from leaving. The final deal will require approval from a “qualified majority” of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament.
May invoked Article 50 in March, which officially launched the ongoing proceedings. She said at the time that her government aspired to wrap up negotiations within 18 months, leaving six months for ratification. Her initial Brexit proposal will be formally delivered to Parliament early next week for consideration.