May says not all member states backed offer on EU citizens’ rights

British PM accused over failure to unilaterally guarantee ‘rights of residence’

London calling: British prime minister Theresa May  said for the first time that Britain would leave the EU’s single market and seek a new customs deal with the bloc. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images

London calling: British prime minister Theresa May said for the first time that Britain would leave the EU’s single market and seek a new customs deal with the bloc. Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP/Getty Images


Theresa May has said her offer to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK has been snubbed by “one or two” European leaders.

She told European ambassadors in her keynote speech on Tuesday that she wanted to seal an early deal on the issue of the three million settled in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons in Europe, but she did not have the backing of all 27 member states.

“We want to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are already living in Britain and the rights of Britons in other member states as early as we can,” she said.

“I have told EU leaders we could do that now,” she said. “Many of them favour such an agreement, one or two others do not,” she said.

Campaigners on both sides of the channel said her words did not offer anything new, with some attacking her for failing to understand the anguish of families in Europe and Britain.

“I do not feel that she really grasps the fear and worry that so many British citizens in the EU have. The impression is that her thoughts were almost completely taken up with the economy and not the effect on ordinary citizens, either at home and certainly not those abroad,” said Brian Cave, one of the members of Expat Citizens Rights in EU (ECREU).

The 3 Million group which campaigns for the rights of EU citizens in the UK said it was “very disappointed” with her speech.

Founder Nicolas Hatton said Ms May was “still in the reciprocity argument and refusing to unilaterally guarantee our rights”.

“In limbo”

Monique Hawkins, a Dutch woman who made worldwide headlines when she received a letter from the home office inviting her to prepare to leave the UK and the home she created with her British husband and British children, said: “The prime minister can and should unilaterally offer certainty to all of the three million EU nationals currently living in the UK. She could have done this as soon as she became prime minister. She can still do this without waiting for article 50 to be triggered.

Others predicted the anguish felt by British families abroad would now deepen. Jane Golding, the co-founder of UK citizen support group Brits in Europe in Germany, said she welcomed the fact that both groups of people were seen as a priority. But she said Ms May’s speech was likely to intensify the worry for Britons in Europe.

“She knows full well that it is within her gift to guarantee the right to remain to EU citizens now unilaterally – and she should do it because it is the right and fair thing to do. Holding this up is not a negotiating strategy and won’t improve the position for British citizens in other European countries – if anything, it may be likely to make it worse,” she said.

Dave Spokes, a Briton in France and a founding member of ECREU, said issues such as pension and healthcare rights of Britons were entirely within her power.

Healthcare and pensions

He said only a few “financially secure UK citizens” would be able to grab a lifeboat and survive in Europe without the UK’s financial guarantees.

Under present agreements, retirees in Spain and elsewhere in the EU are guaranteed their British state pension will increase alongside inflation. This would fall away post Brexit, unless the government agrees otherwise.

In Berlin, Daniel Tetlow, co-founder of Brits in Europe, said Ms May had missed an opportunity to say once and for all that EU citizens in the UK would have the right to stay. “That’s a big disappointment – in the spirit of her saying ‘this is not a fight’, she might have made that magnanimous move, saying: ‘we’ll do it, and you follow’.”

Mr Tetlow, a documentary producer and musician who has lived in Berlin for 2½ years, added: “That will be one of the points that will be most difficult for her to negotiate separately with 27 nations. She could have prevented that. Instead, she’s shown just how complicated this is going to be.”

Carla Abel (18), who has been living in Berlin and learning German since leaving school last year, said: “The speech was so focused on monetary matters. It seemed very egotistical and all about financial benefits. I was missing anything about the need to help others, about being grateful for the fact we live in a peaceful Europe and that maybe the EU has contributed towards that.”

Sue Wilson, from Remain in Spain, which campaigns for the rights of British in Spain, said Ms May had “blamed some other unspecified EU countries for her failure of guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens”.

Ms Wilson pointed out she had the power to act unilaterally and the power to put “hundreds of thousands of minds to rest” in Europe by removing the anxiety over the future of healthcare and pensions.