LONDON — The EU Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt wants Brits to have the opportunity to retain the benefits of EU citizenship after Britain leaves the European Union.
Speaking to the BBC’s Radio 4 programme on Friday morning, the former Belgian prime minister described Brexit as a “tragedy” and added that he wants a system for Brits to keep rights of EU citizenship after Brexit has taken place.
These rights would include the freedom to unrestricted travel within the EU and ability to vote in European elections.
“All British citizens today have also EU citizenship.
“That means a number of things: the possibility to participate in the European elections, the freedom of travel without problem inside the union.
“We need to have an arrangement in which this arrangement can continue for those citizens who on an individual basis are requesting it,” Verhofstadt told the BBC.
Verhofstadt is a passionate believer in the European project and is keen to strengthen the 28-nation bloc after Britain’s departure. He has publicly criticised members of Theresa May’s government like Boris Johnson and Liam Fox for failing to understand the European Union and misleading the British public in the run-up to the June referendum.
Theresa May’s government refers to Verhofstadt as “helpful Guy,” a Downing Street source told Business Insider.
Verhofstadt has made clear on a number of occasions that he wants to protect the interests of Brits who voted to Remain in the EU last year. He told the BBC today that he has received over 1,000 letters from pro-EU Brits who did not want to leave the “European civilisation” despite the Brexit vote.
Speaking to Business Insider in November, he said: “It’s important that we look to the interests of the 48% people who didn’t vote out.”
The logistics behind the idea of allowing Brits to continue enjoying EU citizenship rights like free movement are still being worked out. Verhofstadt told an audience at Chatham House in January: “We are scrutinising, thinking, debating how we could achieve that … that individual UK citizens would think their links with Europe are not broken.”
Speaking to the BBC today, Verhofstadt also reiterated his position that the EU Parliament is committed to making sure that countries that leave the EU will not have a better relationship with the union than those within it.
However, the chief negotiator has been keen to stress that the EU is not interested in “punishing” Britain.
In his interview with Business Insider, he said: “There is a belief that we are going to give a bad deal to a country so other countries don’t follow the same direction.”
“The challenge we actually face is completely different. This negotiation is about reforming the EU in a way that makes it an actual union, something that hasn’t been the case for quite a long time now.”
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