British Prime Minister Theresa May has promised EU citizens living in her country that they would be allowed to stay after Brexit, offering them a chance to build up the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens. Speaking at the end of a dinner at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on Thursday, May reportedly gave “a clear commitment that no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave the country at the point that the UK leaves the EU.”
May had called for a snap election in April in hopes of getting an increased majority that could have strengthened her position before going into two years of intense negotiations with the European Union about Britain’s departure from the bloc. However, May’s election gamble spectacularly backfired. British voters dealt her a devastating blow earlier this month, wiping out her parliamentary majority and throwing the country into political turmoil.
It seems that May, who is under pressure after losing her parliamentary majority in the June 8 vote, is trying to offer an olive branch on the uncertain future of millions of Europeans living in the UK. Nearly three million Europeans are currently living in Britain and around one million Britons living elsewhere in the EU.
The issue of citizens’ rights is one of the three priorities in the Brexit talks which began on Monday, along with Britain’s divorce bill and the question of Northern Ireland. “The UK’s position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK,” May told her colleagues.
She said the pledge on EU citizens would “be enshrined in UK law and enforceable through our highly respected courts”. German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke about Brexit talks upon her arrival in Brussels on Thursday. She said it was a “good start”, but added that “there are still many, many other questions” to be dealt with regarding Brexit.
Merkel hoped negotiations would be held in good spirit but said the focus of the talks would be on securing the future of the remaining 27 EU members. “For me the shaping of the future of the 27 is a priority coming before the issue of the negotiations with Britain on the exit,” Europe’s most powerful leader said.