On eve of Brexit talks, Brussels officials suspect that Theresa Mays generous offer will fall short
Theresa Mays promised generous offer on EU citizens rights at the start of the Brexit talks this week will fall short of protection of the status quo, meaning a difficult start to the negotiations, officials in Brussels fear.
The British government is yet to provide any documents relating to its proposal regarding the 3.1million EU citizens living in the UK, but initial talks between the two sides have prompted concerns that Britain will make an underwhelming opening bid. Senior EU sources said the result would be a slow start to the already delayed negotiations.
In recent days EU officials have met Olly Robbins, the permanent secretary of the Department for Exiting the EU. The formal talks between the Brexit secretary, David Davis, and the EUs chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, are due to start at 10am on Monday.
Ahead of the talks, the Department for Exiting the EU had let it be known that Davis was planning to make a very generous offer on the issue of EU citizens living in Britain.
The consequences of the UK offering less than permanent protection of all the rights currently enjoyed by EU nationals, however, could lead to reciprocal obstinacy, including the deprivation of the rights of elderly Britons in Spain to free healthcare, one official warned.
We have a very strong suspicion, based on what we have heard, that the UKs offer is about doing less than the current rights of these people, the EU source said. We will have to do a technical analysis when we see it, [asking] what are the shortcomings. Then we will have to reflect on what to do about that. There is no mandate to change our position.
The source added: I dont see the Polish or Romanian governments saying, they dont want to give us what we would like, and we accept that. I dont think that is going to be easy I think that is going to take a certain amount of time.
We have always had the suspicion that the UK would not be prepared to safeguard the rights of these people, but that they would like to do less than that. If the UK lowers the [offer] it will be difficult for us to discriminate against these people [Britons on the continent]. So I dont know whether we would do that, but we might say, OK, we will not provide health services free of charge that might be a Spanish position, for example.
The EU wants all rights currently enjoyed by EU nationals in the UK, and British nationals on the continent and in Ireland, to be protected in perpetuity, as long as they arrived in their adopted homes before Britain leaves the bloc at midnight Brussels time on 29 March 2019.
EU officials believe the British government will propose that the EU nationals who were in the country before the notification of article 50 on 29 March 2017 will have the same rights as UK nationals. That would mean future changes in laws affecting British citizens, including in relation to the ability of a spouse from abroad to join them in the UK, would affect EU citizens as well, leaving them potentially in a worse legal position than they are today.