Angela Merkel and Donald Tusk last night united to block Theresa May’s attempt to fast-track a deal which would have created an amnesty for British ex-pats and EU migrants UK post-Brexit.
She had hoped to announce a deal within weeks but while more than 20 EU nations have signalled that they are prepared to agree to a reciprocal arrangement, Mrs Merkel has rebuffed Mrs May’s attempts to come to an agreement.
Her position was then backed by the president of the European Council, Mr Tusk, who last night said that Mrs May and British voters had created “anxiety and uncertainty” for migrants. He told Mrs May she must trigger Article 50 – the formal mechanism for leaving the European Union – immediately to dispel those fears.
Mrs May has previously been criticised for failing to guarantee the rights of European migrants currently in the UK, but as it emerged that Mrs Merkel and Mr Tusk were behind the hold up, Eurosceptic MPs accused them of “playing politics with people’s lives”.
Iain Duncan Smith, a Tory MP and former Work and Pensions Secretary, said: “. Donald Tusk is only interested in his own power and authority, he has no interest in the needs of ordinary people.
“He is using people as a human shield against the UK, it’s a pathetic position to be in. These people should be given the right to remain.
“They are operating like the old Soviet system – it’s structured around absolute authority at the centre. They don’t care for people or democracy. It is reprehensible, bizarre and sad. I must say that I’m astonished that they would want to play games with people’s lives”
The refusal of Mrs Merkel and Mr Tusk to negotiate over the issue means that Mrs May will be unable to guarantee the status of migrants until she formally triggers Article 50 and begins the formal process of exiting the European Union.
It is also evidence that Mrs May’s attempts to negotiate a deal for Britain before it triggers Article 50 are likely to be extremely fraught. Britain has hoped that a deal on the status of migrants would be relatively straightforward as ?Mrs May believed it was in everyone’s interest.
According to reports form Berlin yesterday Mrs May had attempted to secure a “reciprocal deal” with Mrs Merkel when the pair met in earlier this month.
The deal would have guaranteed the rights of 1.2million British people living on the continent and 3.3million EU migrants living in the UK.
The German Chancellor rejected the deal, however, amid concerns that it would hand the UK a significant advantage during Brexit negotiations.
Mr Tusk’s intervention came after more than 80 British politicians, including dozens of Conservative MPs, accused Mr Tusk of being “worryingly indifferent” to the “anxiety and uncertainty” of migrants. He yesterday responded with a direct attack on the Tory MPs and Britain for voting to leave the European Union.
He said: “Would you not agree that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit? And that the only way to dispel the fears and doubts of all the citizens concerned is the quickest possible start of the negotiations based on Art. 50 of the Treaty?
“In your letter you called on me ‘to resolve this matter once and for all’ at the European Council in December. This would in effect mean the start of the negotiations already in December.”
“The EU stands ready to do so, but that can only happen on the condition that Art. 50 has been triggered. Let me reiterate, however, that the decision about triggering Art. 50 belongs only to the UK, which we fully respect.”
It came as it emerged that Mrs May tried to secure an early agreement on the rights of EU citizens and British ex-pats when she met Mrs Merkel in November.
Politico reported that the Prime Minister tried to secure a quick, informal deal to reassure expatriates on both sides of the Channel in a bid to secure goodwill ahead of negotiations.
Mrs Merkel, however, rejected the suggestion and maintained her position that here must be no talks before Brexit negotiations have been formally triggered by the UK.
The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman declined to comment on the report but added: “We have been very clear we would like to have an early agreement”.
Mrs May has repeatedly said that she cannot guarantee the rights of EU migrants living in the UK until EU nations agree to guarantee the rights of British ex-pats.