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10/12/2016

Tusk rebuffs call to start Brexit talks on expat rights

UK & Europe

Tusk rebuffs call to start Brexit talks on expat rights

Tusk's letter to UK Conservative MPs was short and to-the-point: "It has nothing to do with reality."

[European Council]

The EU rebuffed a call from pro-Brexit British MPs for a quick deal on mutual residence rights for British and EU expatriates, telling them yesterday (29 November) it was up to their government to launch full-blown divorce talks.

The exchange of letters exposed simmering irritation on both sides of the English Channel before Brexit talks even start.

In a tart reply to a letter from dozens of lawmakers, mostly from Prime Minister Theresa’s May’s Conservatives, who said that ordinary people were being used as “bargaining chips”, European Council President Donald Tusk said he shared their concern over uncertainty but insisted the remedy lay in London, not Brussels.

May herself is pushing for “an early resolution” to anxiety facing over 3 million EU citizens in Britain and over a million British expats. But she has faced a phalanx of EU leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who rule out any negotiation until she triggers the exit process under Article 50 of the EU treaty.

Barnier steps up Brexit talk preparations

Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s Brexit negotiator has visited most of the EU capitals to test the waters ahead of negotiations. EU27 officials will hold a meeting next week to discuss details of the forthcoming negotiation.

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She has irked her partners by holding off doing so since the June referendum vote to leave, but says she will do it by March.

Tusk described the MPs’ argument that by refusing to open negotiations Barnier was worrying expatriates as “interesting”.

“The only problem being that it has nothing to do with reality,” he wrote. “Wouldn’t you agree that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit?

“And that the only way to dispel the fears and doubts of all the citizens concerned is the quickest possible start of the negotiations based on Art. 50 of the Treaty?”

Tusk tells May: Start Brexit talks ‘as soon as possible’

EU President Donald Tusk called for Brexit talks to start as soon as possible as he met British Prime Minister Theresa May in London on Thursday (8 September), following Britain’s vote to leave the European Union.

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Triggering talks will set Britain a two-year deadline to cut a deal it hopes can protect its trade with the bloc while ending free immigration from the EU. Without a deal, it faces a sharp and disruptive exit which both sides say they do not want.

‘Hostages’

Over 80 British parliamentarians from the pro-Brexit European Reform Group wrote to Tusk on Friday asking that the EU summit he will chair on 15-16 December “guarantee … reciprocal rights” for people living abroad on either side of what will be a new EU-UK frontier once Britain has left the European Union.

It was a “technical and administrative matter” that could be resolved swiftly, they wrote: “No European expatriate’s livelihood and family should be held hostage in this way.”

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland whose citizens make up the biggest group of EU expatriates in Britain, said the Council could only address the matter once London opens talks and argued that only a full negotiation could settle the issue.

Juncker tells UK: No single market without freedom of movement

Britain will need months of preparation before Brexit talks can start, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday (26 July), adding there would be no single market without accepting freedom of movement.

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In a one-page reply, heavy with irony, he said he welcomed the eurosceptics’ concern for expatriates, “especially” since he had assumed their Brexit vote was motivated by “the rejection of the free movement of people and all the rights it entails”.

“Just like you, I would like to avoid a situation where citizens become ‘bargaining chips’,” he added. “In order for this not to happen, we will need precise and comprehensive solutions, which, other than nice-sounding expressions, will provide citizens with genuine guarantees of security.”

EU officials said the British letter was seen in Brussels as an attempt to flush out responses from EU states and to test the unity they have so far been able to present against London – notably by tempting Poland and other Eastern members with big expatriate populations in Britain to break ranks to seek a deal.

“They are trying to test the solidity of the EU,” one senior official told Reuters. “They are throwing a fish to see how we react. But we will not go an inch further before Article 50.”

Tusk in Bratislava: Maybe the EU will be stronger after Brexit

The Bratislava summit, which ended on Friday (16 September), was supposed to focus on security and border control as well as other consensual issues following Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

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MP Michael Tomlinson who signed the letter to Tusk tweeted that the response of the Counclil President was “disappointing and wrong-headed”.