Agreement on EU citizens in UK 'within touching distance', Theresa May says
Prime Minister Theresa May has issued a direct message to three million EU citizens living in Britain, promising she will make it as easy as possible for them to stay after Brexit.
In an open letter posted online and mailed to 100,000 EU nationals, Mrs May said the Government and Brussels are "in touching distance" of a deal on citizens' rights and promised to involve EU expats in the design of a "streamlined" digital process for registering to remain.
And she repeated her message that "EU citizens living lawfully in the UK today will be able to stay".
The offer comes as Mrs May prepares for disappointment at a European Council summit where leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states will agree that it is too early to begin formal negotiations on a future trade relationship, as Britain had hoped.
Addressing the 27 leaders over dinner in Brussels on Thursday, the PM will urge them at least to begin preparatory talks among themselves about the transition to a future relationship, so they are ready to begin negotiations "as soon as possible".
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn will also travel to the Belgian capital to accuse Mrs May of "bungling" the withdrawal process and declare that Labour "stands ready to take up responsibility for the Brexit negotiations".
Mrs May received a boost on Wednesday, as Council president Donald Tusk declared he will recommend that the EU27 begin "internal preparations for talks on the transition and the future relationship" which could begin as early as the next scheduled summit in December.
But Mr Tusk warned that progress in December would require "more concrete proposals from the British side", in comments reflecting pressure from Brussels for further UK concessions on a so-called "divorce bill" which could reach 60 billion euros (£53bn).
Mrs May's official spokesman indicated that she will urge the EU27 to concentrate on the future opportunities for co-operation, rather than the details of unstitching Britain's 44-year membership.
"The Prime Minister will reiterate her commitment to a successful Europe with the UK as a strong and committed partner," he said.
Mrs May will be excluded from the Friday morning session when Mr Barnier will brief the EU27 that "insufficient progress" has been made in divorce talks to move on to trade negotiations.
While agreeing that the process was not yet sufficiently advanced for trade talks to begin, Mr Tusk said that "promising progress" had been made since Mrs May's keynote speech in Florence last month, at which she committed Britain to meeting obligations estimated at around £18 billion (20bn euros) incurred as an EU member, as well as following EU rules during any implementation period.
But Mr Corbyn warned of the danger that Britain may crash out of the EU without a deal: "As the Government's splits and Brexit bungling become ever more damaging, Labour stands ready to take up responsibility for the Brexit negotiations.
"A no-deal Brexit would be a bad deal for Britain, threatening jobs and living standards. It would also harm our European neighbours. That's why it's in all our interests to increase the pressure for real progress in the current talks and move on to negotiations about our future trading relationship."
Four Tory former cabinet ministers, ex-chancellor Lord Lawson of Blaby, Owen Paterson, John Redwood and Peter Lilley, called on Mrs May to walk away from talks with no deal if the EU continues to refuse to discuss trade.
In a letter organised by the Leave Means Leave campaign also signed by Labour MP Kate Hoey, Wetherspoons boss Tim Martin and others, they said the UK should "concentrate our resources on resolving administrative issues" ahead of leaving with no deal in March 2019.