Brexit talks 'will not consume EU', Angela Merkel warns Britain

Theresa May at the EU summit in Brussels. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Guardian, Fri, Jun 23, 2017

by Jennifer Rankin, Heather Stewart and Daniel Boffey in Brussels

EU leaders dismiss Theresa May’s offer on citizens’ rights as inadequate while summit seeks to focus on terrorism and defence

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has warned Theresa May that the EU will not allow itself to be consumed by the Brexit negotiations, as the British prime minister’s offer on citizens’ rights was dismissed by Europe’s leaders as vague and inadequate.

Emerging from a two-day summit in Brussels, where the issues discussed ranged from tackling the spread of terrorist propaganda on the internet to plans for cooperation on defence, Merkel insisted that her priority was not the Brexit talks, but steering the EU to a better future.

In response to May’s offer on citizens’ rights after Brexit, she also warned that the UK and the EU had a “long way to go” if they were going to reach agreement on the issue.

In a symbolic joint press conference with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, Merkel said: “That was a good beginning, but – and I’m trying to word this very carefully – it was not a breakthrough.

“We have said we want to pursue this matter in good cooperation, but what has come out yesterday was also that we still have a long way to go yet. And the 27 [other EU countries], especially Germany and France, will be well prepared. We will not allow ourselves to be divided.”

Merkel said Brexit had not been the main point of the summit, and that she would not allow the issue to derail progress in other vital areas. “We need to take care of our own future as an EU27,” Merkel said. “This work should take precedence over Brexit negotiations.”

May made her opening offer to the EU’s leaders on citizens’ rights during dinner on Thursday night, describing it as a “fair and serious” attempt to protect the rights of 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.2 million Britons in the EU.

Under the terms of the offer, people who arrive lawfully before Brexit will have the chance to build up the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens.

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