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EU migrants decry May's 'pathetic' Brexit offer

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EU migrants to Britain said Friday that far from being "generous", Prime Minister Theresa May's offer for their post-Brexit future was stingy and would leave them prey to the whims of British lawmakers.

[LONDON] EU migrants to Britain said Friday that far from being "generous", Prime Minister Theresa May's offer for their post-Brexit future was stingy and would leave them prey to the whims of British lawmakers.

Some migrants worried that the proposals meant their rights would no longer be protected by the European Court of Justice after an EU membership referendum last year in which they had no say.

"There's nothing special in her offer," Spanish nurse Joan Pons, one of 60,000 Europeans working for the National Health Service (NHS) in England alone, said.

"It's not a 'generous' offer. It's rather ridiculous," he told AFP.

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The offer outlined by the beleaguered Ms May at an EU summit was also condemned by London mayor Sadiq Khan as woefully insufficient.

"The PM's plan doesn't come close to fully guaranteeing the rights of the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK," Mr Khan tweeted, though British officials said further details would come on Monday.

Over dinner Thursday with her 27 EU counterparts, Ms May promised EU citizens living in Britain that they could stay after Brexit, with permanent rights to healthcare, education, welfare and pensions equivalent to British nationals.

It was "a fair and serious offer" that brought certainty to those affected, Ms May said on Friday.

But German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said this was the bare "minimum" that Ms May should be offering, and other European officials were distinctly underwhelmed.

Ms May said she expected any offer by Britain to be matched by the EU for the 1.2 million Britons living on the continent.

She also refused to let the EU's top court oversee the process and any resulting disputes.

Frenchman Nicolas Hatton, head of the EU migrant lobby group "the3million", noted it had taken the government almost exactly 12 months to unveil the offer after Britain's Brexit referendum on June 23 last year.

"Twelve months for that! It's pathetic that the UK government is playing with our lives in the most backward proposal for EU citizens we could have imagined," he said.

EU nationals must be able to continue living in Britain on the same terms as British citizens, Mr Hatton said, and any arrangements must be ring-fenced to protect their rights in case Brexit negotiations fall apart.

He said the government was instead proposing "stripping all EU citizens of their EU rights and replace them with rights under the notoriously unfair and difficult UK immigration system with no safeguards".

That would make EU migrants liable to legislative changes in Britain with no recourse to an outside body such as the European Court of Justice.

The3million noted that Britain also had yet to spell out whether it would continue to recognise professional qualifications earned in Europe, a crucial issue for many.

Ms May said EU migrants who had been in Britain for five years would receive "settled status" - but she did not specify a cut-off date.

Among other unresolved questions is the fate of partners of EU nationals who come from outside Europe. Another is what will happen to their children.

In the year since the Brexit referendum, British employers have been increasingly sounding the alarm about the impact on their businesses.

Figures in January showed a dive of 90 percent since the referendum in the numbers of EU nurses applying to work in the NHS.

The opposition Labour party, which is riding high after Ms May suffered a disastrous general election two weeks ago, said her offer was "too little, too late".

"Labour has been clear that people should not be bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations," the party's Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.

Before replacing David Cameron as prime minister after last year's EU referendum, Ms May was home secretary in charge of immigration.

After becoming prime minister, Ms May sacked chancellor George Osborne, who went on to become editor of London's Evening Standard newspaper.

In an editorial Friday, the paper said all but one of Mr Cameron's cabinet agreed after the referendum on the need to reassure EU nationals that they could stay in Britain.

The sole holdout was Ms May, it said.

"It shows how cold and heartless she is," said the Liberal Democrat's Brexit spokesman Tom Brake.

Ms May shot back on Friday: "That's certainly not my recollection."

AFP

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