Brexit: EU negotiator stands firm on citizen's rights

European Union's chief Brexit negotiator Michael Barnier sits across from Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis and his delegation at the start of their first day of talks at the European Commission in BrusselsImage copyright

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Michael Barnier set out his priorities at a news conference in Brussels

The EU’s top Brexit negotiator has said there are still major differences between the EU and UK on the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

“The British position does not allow those persons concerned to continue to live their lives as they do today,” Michael Barnier said.

Mr Barnier said the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must have jurisdiction to guarantee citizen’s rights.

He also said it was essential that the UK recognise its financial obligations.

“We want EU citizens in Britain to have the same rights as British citizens who live in the EU,” he told a news conference.

That would require the ECJ to be the ultimate guarantor” of those rights, he said – because Britain could simply change its laws later, creating uncertainty.

UK law also imposes restrictions in areas such as reuniting families across borders, he said – something which is not applied to UK citizens living in Spain, for example.

Mr Barnier also said that those rights – along with the so-called “divorce payment” and border issues – must be dealt with before future UK-EU trade could be discussed.

The financial payment the EU claims will be owed to cover the UK’s commitments is also a key point for Mr Barnier. Some estimates have put the amount at up to €100bn (£89bn).

Asked about UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s comment that the EU could “go whistle” over the demand, Mr Barnier replied: “I’m not hearing any whistling. Just the clock ticking.”

He denied that the EU was holding the UK government to ransom.

“It is not an exit bill, it is not a ransom – we won’t ask for anything else that what the UK has committed to as a member,” he said.

Mr Barnier also announced he would meet with other key politicians on Thursday who are not part of Theresa May’s government – including opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, and the first ministers of Scotland and Wales.

“I have always made clear that I will listen to different points on view in the British debate,” he said.

“Of course, I will only negotiate with the UK government,” he added.

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