European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt has rejected Theresa May’s offer on citizens’ rights, claiming it was casting a “dark cloud” over people’s status. In a joint article with a cross-party group of senior MEPs, Mr Verhofstadt said the Prime Minister’s plan was a “damp squib” which carried a risk of creating “second-class citizenship”.
The MEPs said the European Parliament had the ability to reject any deal that eroded the rights currently enjoyed by EU citizens. They also made clear they would block any attempt to extend the two-year deadline for Brexit, saying it was “simply unthinkable” for the process to drag on.
The difficult issue of the rights of EU citizens in the UK ,and Britons on the continent, is one of the first tasks facing negotiators in the Brexi talks. In a sign that MEPs could veto any Brexit deal that did not meet their demands, they said: “The European Parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favorably 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.”
Mrs. May’s plan would allow EU nationals resident in the UK to apply for “settled status” – effectively guaranteeing them indefinite leave to remain in the country once Britain is out of the bloc.
Any EU citizen who has been living in the UK continuously for five years can get the status, while those who have been resident for less than that period will be also be allowed to stay and then apply for settled status once they have clocked up the necessary time.
Dependent family members – children or parents – who join an EU national in the UK prior to Brexit will also be able to apply once they have been in the country for five years. After Brexit, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.
The MEPs said there were “striking” differences between the UK’s offer and that set out by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier who “wants British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection they currently enjoy”.
The UK’s offer “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”.
The MEPs also insisted the European Court of Justice should play a “full role” in enforcing citizens’ rights – something which is a red line to Mrs May.