Theresa May offered fellow EU leaders a “fair” deal on Thursday for compatriots living in Britain after Brexit, though her peers sounded skeptical and demanded more detail from a prime minister weakened by an electoral misfire two weeks ago.
Given the floor for 10 minutes at the end of a Brussels summit dinner, her first since she launched the two-year withdrawal process in March, May outlined five principles, notably that no EU citizen resident in Britain at a cut-off date would be deported. There are roughly 3 million living there now.
That was, she told them, “a fair and serious offer”, a British official said. It was “aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK, building careers and lives, and contributing so much to our society”.
Promising details on Monday, May also said those EU citizens who had lived in Britain for five years could stay for life.
Those there for less would be allowed to stay until they reach the five-year threshold for “settled status”. Red tape for permanent residency would be cut there would be a two-year grace period to avoid “cliff edge” misfortunes.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who earlier said she wanted “far-reaching guarantees”, described giving full rights to those in Britain for five years as “a good start” but said many questions remained.
“It is a first good step which we appreciate,” said Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern. “Many details are left open. A lot of European citizens are concerned and not covered by May’s proposal. There is a long, long way to go for negotiations.”
Other leaders offered few details on their reservations.
May’s push to set the cut-off date as early as March 29 this year, is unlikely to wash with many in the European Union, whose position is that nothing must change until Britain leaves — scheduled for March 30, 2019. And there was much missing from an outline offer which the British previously called “generous”.