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MEP chiefs threaten to block Brexit deal over 'second class' UK plan for EU citizens

3 min read

Theresa May’s proposals for European citizens’ rights after Brexit “would cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty” if implemented, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator has said.

Guy Verhofstadt said the Prime Minister’s plans risk “creating second-class citizenship” after the UK quits the European Union.

He contrasted the offer, which were set out by the Prime Minister last month, with the EU’s proposal which, he said, would see British and European citizens retain all the rights they currently hold.

In a letter also signed by the leaders of the major groups in the European Parliament, he warned that MEPs would veto the offer as it stands.

Mr Verhofstadt cited questions about whether students will have to pay more in fees, the status of workers who live in one jurisdiction and work in the other, and the final cut-off date as causes for concern.

Mrs May has so far said that the three million EU citizens living in the UK would be allowed to stay by acquiring “settled status”, meaning those who had resided in Britain for five years would be granted access to health, education and other benefits.

But the Belgian MEP said the differences between the UK and EU offers were “striking”, and that the UK had presented a “damp squib”.

“[EU chief negotiator Michel] Barnier wants British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection they currently enjoy under European law,” the letter read.  

“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,” the MEPs added.

“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.”

The Belgian MEP also barbed that Britain is in line to become the “new champion of red tape” over plans drawn up regarding “settled status”, with family members potentially facing having to make individual applications.

And Mr Verhofstadt warned that talks would have to be completed within the two-year window prescribed by Article 50, saying it would be “unthinkable” for negotiations to drag on when EU elections are due to take place just two months after the 30 March 2019 date.

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