Britain is underestimating the “technical difficulties” of Brexit and it will take a “huge amount of time” to reach agreement on apparently single issues, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has said.
He highlighted the question of the rights of European Union nationals in the UK and British expats in Europe, warning that it is in fact “a cortege of 25 different questions”.
Mr Juncker challenged Theresa May to sign a ready-made text on affected citizens’ status, drafted by the Commission and its chief negotiator Michel Barnier, but admitted he did not think she would.
It came after leaders of the other 27 EU countries agreed their joint negotiating position ahead of Brexit talks to begin after the UK’s June 8 General Election, and after Mr Juncker and Mr Barnier met the Prime Minister in Downing Street earlier this week.
Addressing a press conference at the European Council summit in Brussels, Mr Juncker said: “I have the impression sometimes that our British friends, not all of them, do underestimate the technical difficulties we have to face.
“A single and not simple question of citizens’ rights is in fact a cortege of 25 different questions which have to be solved.
“So this will take time and if we want to be precise and to deliver guarantees to citizens, this will take a huge amount of time, although as a Commission and as Michel Barnier, we have already prepared a text which could be adopted immediately if our British friends would be ready to sign it like that, that will probably not happen.”
European Council president Donald Tusk said EU citizens’ rights were now “priority number one” in the negotiations and called on the UK to offer “real guarantees” in line with the Commission’s list of rights and benefits.
“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 but I would like to state very clearly that we need real guarantees for our people to live, work and study in the UK and the same goes for the Brits,” Mr Tusk said.
“The Commission has prepared a full list of rights and benefits that we want to guarantee for those affected by Brexit.
“In order to achieve sufficient progress we need a serious British response.
“I want to assure you that as soon as the UK offers real guarantees for our citizens we will find a solution rapidly.”