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Brexit: May offers hope for EU citizens, wins guarded praise

Updated: 2017-06-23 09:05

Brexit: May offers hope for EU citizens, wins guarded praise

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium, June 22, 2017. [Photo/Agencies]

BRUSSELS — British Prime Minister Theresa May promised Thursday that EU citizens will not be immediately kicked out of Britain when it leaves the union and says their fate will be a top priority in Brexit negotiations — prompting guarded praise from other EU leaders at a tense time for the continent.

May's proposals at an EU summit were a carefully timed gesture days after talks began on Britain's departure. German Chancellor Angela Merkel called them "a good start."May laid out benchmarks for the rights of 3 million EU citizens living legally in Britain and how they should be shielded from excessive harm because of the divorce. She made it clear that Britain wants reciprocal measures for the 1.5 million British citizens living in the EU. The issue of citizens' rights is especially sensitive in the Brexit talks.

Under May's proposal, EU citizens with legal residence in the UK will not be asked to leave and will be offered a chance to regularize their situation after Brexit, a senior British official said. May also promised to cut the burdensome bureaucracy such paperwork can involve, the official said.

"No one will face a cliff edge," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity since May made the proposal at a closed-door EU summit dinner.

Merkel welcomed May's promises, but insisted that "there are, of course, many, many other issues." She mentioned the bill that Britain will have to pay to leave and questions about how to deal with the border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland.

"It means we have lots left to do," Merkel said.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said May's proposals are "a first step" but warned there are still many European citizens in Britain who would not be covered by the proposals. "We are now at the start of all this and we don't know whether it will be a sprint or a marathon," he said.

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said there are "thousands of questions to ask" about May's proposals, and questioned why the British leader was laying them out with EU leaders instead of with the Brexit negotiators.

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