Campaigners call on Theresa May to guarantee rights of EU citizens living in Britain

Theresa May's attempt to break the deadlock in Brexit negotiations will fail unless she guarantees the rights of millions of European Union (EU) citizens living in Britain, demonstrators have warned.

A group of about 30 gathered in the piazza in front of the Santa Maria Novella basilica in Florence where the UK Prime Minister is due to deliver a key speech on Brexit designed to push faltering talks forward.

Former Labour MP Roger Casale, who organised the demo for the New Europeans campaign group, called on Mrs May and the EU to unilaterally make guarantees for 3.4 million Europeans in the UK and the one million or so British expats on the continent.

Among the protesters were Italians and Florentines who live in the UK and Britons who live in Italy.

Mrs May is expected to offer some form of settlement of the so-called Brexit "divorce bill" and could be ready to give ground on citizens' rights by enshrining them in a formal treaty.

Mr Casale, though, said both sides need to stop negotiating and make unilateral guarantees of existing citizens' rights.

"It's wrong to negotiate about the lives and rights of people who have been left in limbo without their voices being heard," he said.

"We're here to show solidarity with EU citizens who desperately need that guarantee, if she chooses to offer that as the olive branch, in my view she has chosen very well and I think that will go down very well with EU leaders."

British Expats who live in Italy (left to right) Jan Julian, Marilyn Johns, Christine Box and Jenny Trevor protesting outside the Santa Maria Novella church in Florence. Photo: Arj Singh/PA Wire

Mr Casale added: "The EU are not going to have any discussion with Theresa May until they are satisfied that the rights of 3.4 million EU citizens in the UK are guaranteed, and the EU stands ready to guarantee the rights of British citizens."

Christina Grisci, a Florentine architect who has lived in the West Midlands for 37 years and is now a dual UK-Italian national, said she was offended by Mrs May's attack on "citizens of nowhere" at last year's Conservative Party conference.

The 59 year-old criticised the PM for choosing Florence as the venue for her key speech.

She said: "I think it's an offence, an absolute offence.

"I don't understand why she's come here, this is a pro-European city, it's a city that's never had any rulers, it was always independent, there was never a king here in Florence, including France, we sent them packing.

"She comes here where she knows there are a lot of people, where Prince Charles and the British relationships have always been good, to seed aggression."

She added: "I'm glad they've put her in one of the less prominent buildings."

Briton Marilyn Johns, who lives in Umbria in Italy most of the year and has family in the UK and Rome, said Mrs May should have given the speech in Brussels and expressed concerns about the effect of Brexit on the economy for her children and grandchildren, given the "integration" of trade between the EU and Britain.

"To have this stupid idea which was caused only because the Conservative Party were at loggerheads is just ridiculous," the 72-year-old said.


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