LONDON — The European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator has warned Britain that the offer made to EU citizens by Theresa May’s UK government will be rejected by MEPs.
Writing for the Guardian, EU Parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt has called proposals put forward by the UK government a “damp squib” which would leave millions of Europeans with “second-class citizenship”.
“The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not reduce them. We will never endorse their retroactive removal,” Verhofstadt writes.
“The European Parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are at present. This is a question of the basic fundamental rights and values that are at the heart of the European project.”
May’s government last month announced plans to make a “generous offer” to EU citizens living in Britain regarding their rights and legal status after Brexit. However, the proposals would leave EU citizens in Britain stripped of numerous rights, including the protection of the European Court of Justice and right to bring family members to Britain.
The government also proposes to create two classes of EU citizens — those who arrive in the UK before Britain leaves the EU and those who arrive afterwards. Those who arrive before an as-yet-to-be agreed cut-off date will have the right to apply for settled status in the UK after living here continuously for five years.
However, those who arrive after the cut-off date will not. According to the government’s plans, those who arrive after the cut-off date will be allowed to stay for a “temporary period” but “should have no expectation of guaranteed settled status.”
Verhofstadt — who is one of the EU’s most vocal critics of Britain’s decision to leave the 28-nation bloc — said the UK government’s plans “would cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty over the lives of millions of Europeans”.
The former Belgian prime minister adds that what May’s government has offered falls short of matching the proposals put forward by the EU’s head Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier. “Barnier wants British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection they currently enjoy under European law,” he argues.
He also takes aim at the UK government’s proposal for two classes of EU citizenship, both for its alleged failure to guarantee EU citizens the same rights they enjoyed before Brexit, and the administrative chaos it would unleash on the British civil service. “It also seems that Britain wants to become the new champion of red tape,” Verhofstadt claims.
Here is a key extract from Verhofstadt’s piece:
“Comparing it with the proposal of the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, the differences are striking. Barnier wants British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection they currently enjoy under European law. All rights acquired before the date of withdrawal will be directly enforceable, with lifelong protection, full reciprocity and equal treatment: a position as simple and clear as it is fair. That is what a majority of the British people want, when they indicate they seek to keep their EU citizenship.
“The UK response came three weeks later. It was a damp squib, proposing that Europeans obtain the status of “third-country nationals” in the UK, with fewer rights than British citizens are offered throughout the EU. Europeans will not only lose their right to vote in local elections, but family members will be subject to minimum income requirements, and it is unclear what the status of “post-Brexit” babies would be. This carries a real risk of creating second-class citizenship. The proposal is even in contradiction with the Vote Leave manifesto, which promised to treat EU citizens “no less favourably than they are at present.”
Verhofstadt’s latest remarks will serve as yet another stark reminder of the challenge facing Prime Minister May, Brexit Secretary David Davis and the rest of Britain’s negotiating team in striking a divorce deal that satisfies both their European counterparts and the demands of Westminster and the British public.
He also warns that Article 50 talks being extended beyond the March 2019 end date is an “unthinkable” courts of action, as it would result in negotiations overlapping with European elections.
The EU Parliament is the 28-nation bloc’s only directed elected body and houses 750 parliamentarians. It will play a major role in the Brexit process and, as Verhoftadt warns, will have the power to block any Brexit deal that does not meet its demands. “In early 2019 MEPs will have a final say on the Brexit deal. We will work closely with the EU negotiator and the 27 member states to help steer negotiations,” Verhofstadt says.
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