“We propose to protect the rights of EU citizens and UK citizens as we leave the European Union,” May told reporters on Thursday upon her arrival for the two-day summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
She added, “That’s been an important issue, we’ve wanted it to be one of the early issues that was considered in the negotiations, that is now the case, that work is starting.”
However, EU officials said they had asked her not to bring up the issue, emphasizing all talks should be conducted by official EU and British negotiators Michel Barnier and David Davis, and not by national leaders.
May said the Brexit negotiations had made a “very constructive start.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke about Brexit talks upon her arrival. She hoped negotiations would be held in good spirit but said the focus of the talks would be on securing the future of the remaining 27 EU members.
Nearly three million Europeans are currently living in Britain and around one million Britons living in different EU nations.
The issue of citizens’ rights is one of the three priorities in the Brexit talks along with Britain’s divorce bill and the question of Northern Ireland.
May insisted on proceeding with the negotiations schedule despite facing increasing calls to step down following a dismal performance in the June 8 election, which cost her party its narrow majority in Parliament.
The embattled PM, who called for the snap vote in mid-April to get “a stronger hand” in the Brexit talks, is now trying to form a minority government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
The challenge has cast doubt on the outcome of the EU talks which will be voted on by the parliament.
May has made it clear that if the two sides miss the deadline without achieving a deal she would take the country out of the EU regardless, raising the prospects of a so-called “hard Brexit.”