EU migrants decry British PM May's Brexit offer as stingy


London (AFP)

EU migrants said Friday that far from being "generous", Prime Minister Theresa May's offer for their post-Brexit residency was niggardly and left them prey to the whims of British lawmakers.

The offer outlined by the beleaguered May at an EU summit was also condemned by London Mayor Sadiq Khan as woefully insufficient.

"The PM's plan doesn't come close to fully guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK," Khan tweeted, although British officials said further details would come on Monday.

Over dinner Thursday with her 27 EU counterparts, May promised EU citizens living in Britain that they could stay after Brexit, with permanent rights to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions equivalent to British nationals.

"The UK's position represents a fair and serious offer and one aimed at giving as much certainty as possible to citizens who have settled in the UK," May told her colleagues.

The prime minister said she expected any offer by Britain to be matched by the EU for the 1.2 million Britons living on the continent, a government source said.

But May, having pledged a "generous" offer heading into the summit, refused to let the EU's top court oversee the process and any resulting disputes.

That led some migrants to worry that they would enjoy fewer rights than the food and wine traded under rules of international arbitration.

"There's nothing special in her offer, it's what anyone wanting the (non-EU) residency permit will go through," Spanish nurse Joan Pons, one of 60,000 Europeans working for the National Health Service (NHS) in England alone, said.

"It's not a 'generous' offer. It's rather ridiculous," he told AFP.

- 'Bargaining chips' -

Frenchman Nicolas Hatton, head of the EU migrant lobby group "the3million", noted it had taken the government almost exactly 12 months to unveil the offer after Britain's Brexit referendum on June 23 last year.

"Twelve months for that! It's pathetic that the UK government is playing with our lives in the most backward proposal for EU citizens we could have imagined," he said.

EU nationals must be able to continue living in Britain on the same terms as British citizens, Hatton said, and any arrangements must be ring-fenced to protect their rights in case Brexit negotiations fall apart.

He said the government was instead proposing "stripping all EU citizens of their EU rights and replace them with rights under the notoriously unfair and difficult UK immigration system with no safeguards".

That would make EU migrants liable to legislative changes in Britain with no recourse to an outside body such as the European Court of Justice.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave a cautious welcome to May's offer, saying it was a "good start" but more needed to be done.

"This is a good start. But of course there are still many, many other questions," Merkel said in Brussels, in remarks echoed Friday by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

May said EU migrants who have been in Britain for five years would receive "settled status" -- but crucially, she did not specify a cut-off date.

Among other unresolved questions is the fate of partners of EU nationals who come from outside Europe. Another is what will happen to their children.

In the year since the Brexit referendum, British employers have been increasingly sounding the alarm about the impact on their businesses.

Figures in January showed a dive of 90 percent since the referendum in the numbers of EU nurses applying to work in the NHS.

The opposition Labour party, which is riding high after May suffered a disastrous general election two weeks ago, said her offer was "too little, too late".

"Labour has been clear that people should not be bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations," the party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.