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Brexit: Theresa May wants early deal on Britons in EU

Theresa May wants an early deal on what Brexit means for the status of Britons in Europe and EU citizens in the UK, she has told EU leaders.

The prime minister’s comments came as she updated fellow leaders on the UK’s plans for leaving the European Union.

There has been concern in other countries about the status of their nationals in the UK after Brexit.

Meanwhile, EU leaders said negotiations over the UK’s exit would be approached in “a spirit of trust and unity”.

Mrs May made the comments during an European Council summit meeting in Brussels on Thursday.

But the prime minister was not invited to join the 27 other EU leaders who later met for a dinner to discuss their approach to Brexit negotiations.

Theresa May
Image captionMrs May was not invited to join the 27 EU leaders in their informal discussion of Brexit

Pictures from the summit appeared to show Mrs May looking as though she had no one to talk to, however German MP Stephan Mayer said reports of her being frozen out by other leaders were “misleading”.

Mr Mayer, who is Home Affairs spokesperson for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “reasonable” for the 27 EU leaders to meet without Mrs May.

Meanwhile, the BBC’s Europe editor Katya Adler said: “As for the summit itself, it has to be pointed out that in all fairness, Theresa May looks like Belinda No Mates – she has nobody to talk to – but if you look at other clips she is chatting to others.”

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Mrs May left the summit without answering any questions on the UK’s break with the EU.

However, Irish PM Enda Kenny revealed what Mrs May had told them, saying: “She would like to have the question of UK citizens living in Europe and European citizens living in the UK dealt with in the early part of discussions that take place.”

Mr Kenny also said the Irish Republic would not sign a bilateral deal with the UK and the UK had to agree its future relationship with the EU first.

They agreed that European Commission official Michel Barnier will lead talks for the EU – although MEPs are said to want a greater say.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the “short, informal meeting” had “reconfirmed our principles, meaning the indivisibility of the four freedoms, the balance of rights and obligations and the rule ‘no negotiations without notification’”.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz has warned that negotiations could be vetoed if MEPs are not fully involved.

Downing Street has played down suggestions that a Brexit trade deal could take 10 years to complete, after Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, suggested that others in Europe believed this could be the case.

Buses evacuating people from AleppoImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMrs May said EU leaders had also discussed “the appalling situation in Syria”.

Speaking in South Korea, Chancellor Philip Hammond told the BBC that he hoped a deal could be done “in a reasonable period of amount of time”.

Downing Street meanwhile has indicated that it would be possible to complete a “divorce deal” and a new trade agreement with the EU within the timetabled two years of the UK invoking Article 50 – the formal start of the process of leaving.

But Germany’s Mr Mayer said that it would be “a bit naive” to think a trade deal could be done in two years.

He said: “It’s not easy to make this trade agreement within two years. There is a clear German position – we want negotiations on a level playing field and certainly we would like that Great Britain stays a very important pillar in the single market.

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“It’s very ambitious to finish these negotiations within two years, it’s a huge project.”

Meanwhile, reports suggest that Britain could face a £50bn bill to leave the EU, including payments to cover pension liabilities for EU staff.

Downing Street said the UK would meet its obligations while in the EU, but any financial settlement after that would be a matter for negotiation.

At the summit, the leaders also discussed controlling mass migration into Europe, the EU’s relationship with Ukraine, co-operation with Nato and economic matters.

Syria aid

Mrs May said they had also discussed “the appalling situation in Syria”.

“We heard from the mayor of eastern Aleppo, he had one plea for us – to allow the safe evacuation of the people in the city,” she said.

“President Assad and his backers – Russia and Iran – bear responsibility for the tragedy in Aleppo, they must now allow the United Nations to ensure the safe evacuation of the civilians who are left there.”

She announced that the UK is to provide £20m of further aid for the most vulnerable in Aleppo.


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