A group of MPs recently wrote to Mr Tusk, the president of the European Council, to demand a quick agreement is reached on guaranteeing the rights of both EU nationals currently living in the UK and British nationals residing on the continent.
Signed by 81 parliamentarians, the letter called on Mr Tusk to forge a deal at next month’s European Council summit of EU leaders in order to provide certainty for millions of families living across the 28-country bloc.
Prime Minister Theresa May has consistently said she hopes to assure those EU nationals currently living and working in the UK they will be allowed to remain after Britain leaves the EU, as long as British expats living in Europe are also afforded the same protection.
Mrs Merkel was put at the centre of the row today amid reports she snubbed Mrs May’s request of a quick agreement on the issue when the pair met in Berlin earlier this month.
The German leader’s apparent rebuff was branded “wrong” by leading Brexiteers, who also blasted the European Commission’s “inhumane” chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier for his hardline stance that no agreements can be reached until the Prime Minister triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – the legal mechanism for departure.
But, in a response to the letter signed by British MPs and peers – the majority of which are Leave supporters – Mr Tusk repeated the EU’s uncompromising ‘no negotiation without notification’ position.
He wrote: “In your letter you state that the European Commission, and in particular Mr Barnier, are attempting to prevent negotiations, thereby creating “anxiety and uncertainty for the UK and EU citizens living in one another”s territories.”
“It is a very interesting argument, the only problem being that it has nothing to do with reality. Would you not agree that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit?
“And that the only way to dispel the fears and doubts of all the citizens concerned is the quickest possible start of the negotiations based on Article 50 of the Treaty?
“In your letter you called on me “to resolve this matter once and for all” at the European Council in December. This would in effect mean the start of the negotiations already in December. The EU stands ready to do so, but that can only happen on the condition that Art. 50 has been triggered.
“Let me reiterate, however, that the decision about triggering Art. 50 belongs only to the UK, which we fully respect.
“Just like you, I would like to avoid a situation where citizens become “bargaining chips” in the negotiation process. In order for this not to happen, we will need precise and comprehensive solutions, which, other than nice-sounding expressions, will provide citizens with genuine guarantees of security.”
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident)
November 29, 2016
In response to Mr Tusk”s reply, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: “EU politicians should stop playing politics with peoples” lives.
“They should agree to end the speculation and take away the anxiety people feel about their futures. The EU yet again puts systems above people.”
The parliamentarians’ letter to the EU boss was penned by Tory MP Michael Tomlinson, the deputy chairman of the European Research Group (ERG).
He said: “At the October meeting of the European Council, Donald Tusk said that there was nothing to discuss about Brexit. With respect I disagree with him. People are not bargaining chips. Theresa May wants to secure reciprocal rights for our citizens.
“This letter is a call to Donald Tusk to liberate Theresa May to achieve what is in all of our national interests and to end the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens. It must be discussed at the next European Council meeting. But not only discussed, it must be resolved.”
Fellow Tory MP and ERG chairman Steve Baker attacked Mr Barnier’s recent Twitter post in which he declared, following a meeting with Brexit Secretary David Davis, there would be “no negotiation without notification” and he was “focussed” on talking to the other 27 member states.
Mr Baker said: ”Michel Barnier’s intransigence is inhumane. It is only compounded by the petulance of his recent tweet. He should apologise and immediately agree in principle the continuation of reciprocal rights for resident UK and EU citizens.”
In response to reports Mrs Merkel is behind the blockage on a quick agreement over EU and British nationals’ rights, former Cabinet minister Owen Paterson said: “Germany appears to be one of the last European countries to obstruct our Prime Minister”s framework agreement on reciprocal rights.
“Angela Merkel is wrong to be intransigent. She must act now to reassure millions of UK and EU resident citizens.”
Yesterday, following talks with her Polish counterpart Beata Syzdlo, Mrs May outlined her hope of reaching an “early agreement” on the rights of EU nationals to stay in the UK post-Brexit.
At a Downing Street press conference, the Prime Minister said: “I have reiterated my plan to guarantee the rights of Poles – and other Europeans – currently living in the UK so long as the rights of British citizens living across the EU are guaranteed.
“And I hope we can reach an early agreement on this issue, providing certainty for Polish citizens here and British people living in Europe.”