Give more help to Britons and EU citizens – MEP

More must be done to reassure Britons abroad in the EU and EU citizens abroad in the UK before the Brexit deal can be signed off says the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator.

18 December 2019
By Oliver Rowland

He also urged EU colleagues to return to the idea – first raised in 2016 – that British people could be offered an optional ‘associate’ EU citizenship so as to maintain their rights if they still feel European.

Former Belgian prime minister MEP Guy Verhofstadt, who takes a lead on Brexit at the parliament, told colleagues today it cannot be taken for granted that the parliament will sign off the Brexit deal when it holds a plenary meeting on January 29, paving the way for the UK to leave with it in an 'orderly' manner on January 31.

Its consent is essential for the deal (consisting of a Withdrawal Agreement treaty and an attached Political Declaration on the future relationship) to go ahead; if this fails then the UK could leave with no deal unless there is a further extension. If that happened there would be no transition period.

“Everyone thinks consent will be given automatically but in the meanwhile there is a problem to be solved,” Mr Verhofstadt said.

“I have received since the elections hundreds and hundreds of letters and emails from British citizens living in Europe, panicking about their status.

“I have received hundreds of emails from EU citizens living in Britain, panicking about their status.

“And I think we need to solve that first before we give our consent on this Brexit treaty.

“Why? Never can citizens, British and Europeans alike, be the victims of this – in my opinion not very intelligent – choice, of Brexit.

“And I want to appeal to the Prime Minister of Britain, Boris Johnson, to be generous in his victory and to give to all the European citizens and to the British citizens living on the continent, full rights as they have today, automatically, with no ifs and buts.”

He added: “More and more people are coming back to the idea of European associate citizenship for British citizens who want to continue to feel that they are European, and I think that we have to be open to that request.”

The Withdrawal Agreement aims to protect most of the rights of Britons abroad in the EU if they are living in their chosen countries before the end of a transition period which is initially scheduled to end on December 31, 2020. The agreement itself allows for a further extension, but UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson does not favour this.

However under Brexit with the deal Britons in France would have to apply for cards to secure their rights and they would lose certain rights including voting in EU and local elections and free movement to work around the EU or move to another EU state.

Such rights could potentially be maintained under a new 'associate EU citizenship', which it has previously been suggested could be made available for an annual subscription fee to people who feel they want to remain part of the European project. The European Parliament formerly considered the idea but did not take it up, and then European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said previously that he was 'not opposed to it'.

In the UK, EU citizens living abroad are being asked to apply for a new 'settled status' to secure their rights as detailed in the Withdrawal Agreement.

Campaigners from the3million group have reported some problems with the system such as difficulties for some people proving their continuous residency over five years if this cannot be checked easily by National Insurance records from work. Many also report feeling 'settled status' to be a downgrade compared to their usual automatic free movement to live and work in the country as an EU citizen in the EU.

It is possible to offer support to Mr Verhofstadt's idea on this public Facebook post or by visiting this page.

Previous stories

Could Britons keep EU citizenship? 

New focus for EU citizenship plan

MEP will fight tooth and nail to save associate citizenship plan

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