The European Union has issued tough Brexit demands at a special EU Leaders’ summit in Brussels aimed at swaying British negotiators into accepting its key claims on the rights of EU citizens residing in Britain as well as financial settlements.
In a rare show of unity, the often divided heads of the remaining 27 EU member nations agreed on Saturday to adopt the draft guidelines issued by European Council President Donald Tusk last month, less than 15 minutes into a special summit in Brussels.
Tusk, who has urged the UK to come up with a “serious response” on what will happen to EU citizens in Britain following Brexit, insisted during the summit that “we need guarantees.”
"Over the past weeks, we have repeatedly heard from our British friends, also during my visit in London, that they are ready to agree on this issue quickly," he noted. "But I would like to state very clearly that we need real guarantees for our people to live, work and study in the UK.”
Tusk further emphasized, “The Commission has prepared a full list of rights and benefits that we want to guarantee for those affected by Brexit.”
Brexit negotiations are due to begin following early elections in Britain, called by Prime Minister Theresa May in what some analysts view as a bid to strengthen her negotiating positions with the EU.
This is while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker also issued warnings about a “difficult” negotiation ahead, insisting that Europe wants a detailed and legally water-tight deal guarantee on EU citizens in the UK after Brexit, and would not settle for blanket political assurances from the UK side.
“This does not simply imply setting out a few principles,” said Juncker.
According to British press reports, EU leaders have also discussed a no-deal scenario and were briefed on potential outcomes by the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has been charged with implementing the EU’s negotiating red lines.
“We are ready,” Barnier stated as he entered the talks, suggesting that the EU side is fully prepared for Brexit negotiations, in implied contrast to the British team which is yet to make its negotiating positions clear.
Meanwhile, at the request of Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, the EU summit also generated a controversial statement noting that Northern Ireland would become part of the EU if there was a successful vote on Irish reunification.
The development came while growing tensions between London and Brussels were surfacing as EU authorities complained that the British prime minister was sticking to her “unrealistic” expectations.
Such strains spilled into the open last week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel underlined that the UK was suffering from dangerous “illusions” about its negotiating leverage.
The remark led May to warn that EU nations were "lining up" to oppose Britain and that the negotiations would be "tough."
“What irritates the EU side is that the British are treating this as if it is a negotiation of equals, as if the interests of one departing state are equivalent to the interests of 27 – the reality is that Article 50 does not work like that,” said a senior EU official as cited in British press reports.
The reports further downplayed the unified EU Brexit demands, citing British authorities close to the negotiations as rejecting the bloc’s toughening position against the UK as posturing that will soon simmer down after substantive talks begin.
“To be honest no-one is paying too much attention to these ‘guidelines’ – I’ve had them in my inbox for two days and not bothered to read them,” said one senior British official quoted Saturday by The Telegraph.