The Cable

EU Underwhelmed by U.K.’s Brexit Offer for EU Nationals

"It was not a breakthrough," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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The United Kingdom made what British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson described on Twitter as a “fair and serious offer” to allow European Union nationals to stay in the United Kingdom after Brexit. EU leaders were, to put it mildly, unimpressed.

“That was a good beginning but – and I’m trying to word this very carefully – it was not a breakthrough,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel took a somewhat tougher line. “The situation must be really tense if such an obvious thing is now considered as news. Of course people should at least have the right to stay, that is a minimum and personally I cannot imagine things differently,” he said speaking in Paris on Friday.

Just what was “fair and serious” offer? May’s plan would allow EU nationals currently in the United Kingdom to remain for at least five years after the date of the country’s scheduled exit — March 30, 2019 — and ensure that they have the same rights to education, pensions, and welfare. But the exact cut-off date for EU residency in post-Brexit Britain is still unclear; more specific plans are expected Monday.

Those who arrive after the grace period of up to two years will be subject to whatever regime replaces freedom of movement for EU nationals.

Donald Tusk, European Council president, said his “first impression is that the U.K.’s offer is below our expectations and that it risks worsening the situation of citizens.”

Britain, in other words, is not the only party that can play hardball when it comes to Brexit talks.

Photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

Emily Tamkin is the U.S. editor of the New Statesman and the author of The Influence of Soros, published July 2020. Twitter: @emilyctamkin

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