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In Brussels, weakened May to outline guarantees for EU expats in Britain

Prime Minister Theresa May will outline her approach to the “hugely important issue” of reassuring EU expatriates about their future in Britain at a summit on Thursday which will be her first Brexit test since an election sapped her authority.

Over after-dinner coffee on the first day of the EU summit, May will address the other 27 leaders and describe the “principles” of her plan to provide early guarantees for some three million people living in Britain from other countries in the bloc, a British source said.

But her wings have been clipped – not only in Britain where voters denied her a majority in parliament, but also in Brussels where EU leaders will try to stop her from discussing Brexit beyond a quick presentation.

Instead, once she has left the room, they will continue their own discussion of Britain‘s departure from the European Union, notably on which city gets to host two EU agencies being pulled out of London – a potentially divisive issue.

“My understanding all along is that this (expatriates question) is a hugely important issue forBritain and for the 27 that has been clear from the very outset of this process,” a senior British government source said.

“We want to provide early assurances, and it has always been our position that we want tooutline our principles at this dinner and that is what we are going to do.”

The source said Britain was “perfectly content” with the arrangements. Last week, one diplomat said May had tried to “hijack” the summit taking place on Thursday and Friday by drawing other leaders into wider discussions on Brexit.

Another British official said May would offer “new elements” in a paper to be published next week. There may be sticking points with Brussels, such as the cut-off date for EU citizens inBritain to retain rights under the bloc’s free movement rules and EU demands to preserve a panoply of rights in the future that may irk those keen to reduce immigrant numbers.

To show the “goodwill” her aides often refer to, May will have a separate conversation with European Council President Donald Tusk and hopes to have other one-to-one meetings. But it is not clear whether she will make any headway on the Brexit talks, which began in Brussels on Monday.

SOFTER TONE

Weakened by an election she did not need to call, May has watered down her government’s programme to try to get it through parliament and set a softer tone in her approach to Brexit.

Yet her aims have held – she wants a clean break from the bloc, leaving the lucrative single market and customs union and so reducing immigration into Britain and removing her country from the jurisdiction of EU courts.

On Monday, her Brexit minister, David Davis, described the first day of Brexit talks to unravel more than 40 years of union as setting a “solid foundation” for future discussions. On Thursday, her finance minister, Philip Hammond called for an early agreement on transitional arrangements to ease uncertainty that he said was hurting business.

A senior EU diplomat said the bloc was ready to listen to what May had to say: “The EU 27 position is clear in terms of what conditions we’d like to see for our citizens there and what we can offer for UK citizens here,” the diplomat said.

EU leaders hope May will build on the positive atmosphere officials reported at the first encounter on Monday of the two sides’ Brexit negotiators — and that she will avoid campaign rhetoric and threats to walk out of the EU without settling outstanding issues in a proper treaty.

That, Brussels argues, would create economic disruption for both but especially for Britain. Ratings agency S&P echoed that on Thursday, saying a breakdown in talks would be negative for Britain‘s rating but “absorbable” for the rest.

May will also aim to show that while still a member of the EU, Britain will contribute to other summit discussions, pressing for more action to encourage social media companies to clamp down on internet extremism and for the EU to roll over sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine crisis.

Driven by Germany and France led by pro-EU president Emmanuel Macron, some EU states are keen to set up new defence cooperation of a kind that Britain has long resisted as a member. British officials say London, with little power to block them, now accepts the current EUproposals.

British strengths in the intelligence and security fields, as well as its military clout, are key elements in a future relationship with the EU that May wants to emphasise.

Reuters

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