Brexit: Nick Clegg is first senior UK politician to back calls for Britons to retain EU citizenship

‘The idea of trying to offer people some way of retaining a more meaningful connection with the European Union is something that is very attractive,’ the former Deputy Prime Minister says

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Nick Clegg has become the first senior British politician to back plans for Britons to keep EU citizenship after Brexit if they wish – calling the idea “very attractive”.

The next British government should work with Brussels to allow people to retain “a more meaningful connection with the European Union”, the former Liberal Democrat leader said.

The call came as Mr Clegg said Theresa May – if she wins the election – will be to blame if the Brexit negotiations collapse soon after they start in less than two weeks’ time.

He said the Prime Minister was guilty of a “spectacular failure of leadership” by failing to prepare the British public for the inevitable, enormously painful compromises to come.

Mr Clegg also warned that the recent visits to the EU by the leaders of China and India – when they neither came to the UK nor “bothered” to speak to Ms May – laid bare how Britain was already losing importance.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, has urged Ms May to allow “associate citizenship” for people in the UK angry at losing EU privileges.

It would allow Britons to retain free movement to live and work across the EU, as well as a vote in European Parliament elections.

Mr Verhofstadt believes the idea has “captured the imagination and hopes” of young people, in particular, who are desperate to keep the right to move to other EU countries.

After delivering a speech insisting voters could still “stop a self-destructive Brexit”, Mr Clegg said he had discussed continued EU citizenship with Mr Verhofstadt.

“It is, of course, self-evidently a legally fraught concept, but it’s one that he wants to persist with and I think he should be given every encouragement and support to do so.

“I think the idea of trying to offer people some way of retaining a more meaningful connection with the European Union is something that is very attractive to many people.”

However, the plan has already been opposed by some Leave-supporting MPs and groups who have urged Ms May not to make it part of the Brexit negotiations.

On the prospect of the Brexit negotiations breaking down – with the two parties far apart on the “divorce bill” and the rights of EU citizens in the UK – Mr Clegg said it had been unthinkable immediately after the referendum.

Now, he added: “The chances of it collapsing altogether are much, much higher than I could have ever possibly imagined.”

Insisting that collapse would be “of Theresa May’s making”, Mr Clegg said: “You cannot say we are not going to abide by European rules, but we want to have effortless access to your databases.

“We want frictionless trade, but to hell with the customs union and the single market.”

The former Deputy Prime Minister accused Ms May and Jeremy Corbyn of colluding in a “pact of silence” to avoid discussing Brexit during the election campaign.

Mr Clegg argued tariff-free trade with the EU could be negotiated, but could not come close to compensating for losing single market membership – a crucial fact the Labour leader “does not understand”.

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