Call to protect EU citizens’ rights puts May at odds with Brussels

The EU has put itself at loggerheads with Theresa May’s pledge to claim back sovereignty from the European Court of Justice as it looks to demand lifelong rights for its citizens in the UK during negotiations.

Negotiating guidelines have been leaked suggesting that Brussels will want the UK to abide by ECJ rulings on what happens to EU citizens’ pensions, employment and welfare rights if they are living in the UK.

The draft document says these right will be a “first priority” when negotiations start in June.

The nearly one million Brits in Europe would have a similar deal, but the European Council has said in a further document that it is keen to strike a security co-operation agreement with Britain that would also come under ECJ oversight.

The new European parliament president Antonio Tajani told the Times that affording EU citizens living in Britain legal rights was a “red line” issue.

He told the paper: “Technically it is the only possible solution. If you want to continue to guarantee citizens’ rights, you need to refer to the ECJ. The European parliament is very clear on this. Citizens’ rights is a red line.”

Prominent Eurosceptics have said such a deal would water down Brexit however. Commons European scrutiny committee William Cash said agreeing to the demand would be “completely impossible”.

Cash said: “The manner and depth of this authority would suggest that we are not leaving the EU at all.

“From the day we leave we cannot and will not be subject to the ECJ.”