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European citizens’ rights in UK after Brexit top priority in talks, says Tusk

The 27 remaining members states have formally agreed their talks strategy.

Rights for European citizens living in post-Brexit UK are the EU’s number one priority in forthcoming negotiations, Donald Tusk has signalled.

The European Council president said reciprocal guarantees, which also provided certainty for British ex-pats living on the continent, were foremost to be addressed before talks turned to trading terms.

Mr Tusk and European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker flagged the importance of the matter as leaders of the EU 27 formally endorsed the bloc’s negotiating strategy for talks set to commence after the General Election.

“This must be the number one priority for the EU and the UK,” said Mr Tusk.

Apart from a few small amendments, the final negotiating framework mirrored the proposals outlined in draft form by Mr Tusk last month.

The leaders of the member states remaining in the EU took only minutes to approve the joint strategy at a special summit meeting in Brussels on Saturday.

Central to it is the “phased” approach, with EU leaders insisting the shape of a future trading relationship can only be considered when progress is made on the terms of the UK’s departure.

Along with citizens’ rights, the disputed “divorce bill” the UK will have to pay on exit – estimated at a potential £50 billion – and the thorny question of how to maintain a free-flowing Irish border are also key “phase one” issues for the EU.

Mr Tusk said “sufficient progress” on all of those were needed before the EU’s future relationship with Europe could be addressed.

Reacting to the summit outcome while on a campaign visit to Scotland, Prime Minister Theresa May said both sides of the process now had their negotiating guidelines mapped out, with the UK’s position having been made clear in her letter triggering Article 50.

“It’s a very simple choice, strong and stable leadership under me and my team or a coalition of chaos under (Labour leader) Jeremy Corbyn and I know which one is going to get the best deal from Brexit and the European Union,” she said.

Mr Tusk said EU officials had compiled a “precise and detailed” list of the citizens’ rights the union wanted protected. The council president urged Theresa May to sign off on the proposals.

“In order to achieve sufficient progress we need a serious British response,” he said.

Mr Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier met the Prime Minister in Downing Street earlier this week.

The commission president warned it would take a huge amount of time to reach agreement on apparently single issues.

In regard to EU nationals living in the UK, he challenged Mrs May to sign up to the commission document on its desired guarantees, but admitted he did not think she would.

He said: “We have already prepared a text which could be adopted immediately if our British friends would be ready to sign it like that. That will probably not happen.”

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