November 8, 2017 / 3:50 PM / a year ago

EU parliament's Brexit negotiator: 'major issues' unresolved on citizens' rights

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - “Major issues” must still be resolved on safeguarding citizens’ rights after Brexit, the European Parliament’s negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said on Wednesday, the eve of another round of divorce negotiations between London and Brussels.

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt holds a news conference following the official triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the Brexit in Brussels, Belgium, March 29, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

The talks have been grinding slowly and Verhofstadt said that London’s assurances on the status of EU citizens living in Britain were not good enough.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has said the two sides were “in touching distance” of a deal and said on Tuesday the British government expected most EU citizens currently living in Britain would be allowed to stay after Brexit in 2019.

“We don’t recognize reports suggesting that a deal on citizens’ rights is almost finalised. There are still major issues that have to be resolved,” Verhofstadt said.

He said one of his concerns was that Britain should grant a settled status to EU citizens based on a free-of-charge declaration while London’s latest proposal envisaged a conditional application.

A spokesman for the British government said “the UK has made a fair and serious offer on citizens’ rights” and “real progress” was made in the latest round of negotiations.

“Safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, is our first priority in the negotiations,” the spokesman said. “We want to provide as much certainty as soon as possible to the many EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK and who make a huge contribution to our country.”

London hopes the 27 other EU states would assess enough progress has been made in divorce talks - covering the citizens, Britain’s exit bill and the future Irish border - to open new discussions on a post-Brexit transition period and a future trade relationship as soon as possible.

The other 27 EU leaders will take another look on that in December though Germany and some others stress that is not a done deal and want London to improve exit terms, especially on the financial settlement.

In a gesture toward the embattled May, however, the 27 launched internal preparations for the second set of negotiations in order to be ready with a unified position and able to present it to London swiftly once they are satisfied with progress in the divorce talks.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alison Williams and Grant McCool

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