Millions of British citizens still feel “European” and would benefit from a proposal to allow them to retain “associate” EU citizenship, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator has said.
Guy Verhofstadt said the European Union had to offer something to the large numbers of UK citizens who had voted Remain and who wanted to remain linked to the bloc in some way.
The idea of “associate citizenship” as originally conceived in an amendment would allow British people to keep freedom of movement and work across the bloc, as well as vote in European Parliament elections.
The MEP Mr Verhofstadt, who will be the point-man for the Parliament in negotiations with the UK, has previously said he would fast-track the idea to the negotiating table and that he would include it in his “mandate” for talks between EU institutions and the UK.
Asked again about the idea on Tuesday in Strasbourg Mr Verhofstadt said: “That was a proposal that has been launched here in the Parliament and what I have said as Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament is that I will take this idea on-board when we discuss the resolution of the Europe Parliament and we’re going to see in that resolution what is possible, what is not possible, what can be offered to these many, many British citizens who want to have a link with Europe.
“That is something that I have felt the last weeks and the last months – how many thousands, several hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of British citizens are saying I’m still a European.”
He made the comment on BBC Radio 4's World at One programme.
The European Parliament, which Mr Verhofstadt represents in talks, will have a key role in the post-Brexit deal because it will vote on any final package. Rejection by the Parliament would veto the plan.
The European Commission and European Council will lead negotiations and are expected to be less amenable to granting UK citizens such concessions, however – while the Parliament’s parties are far from united on what any deal should look like.
Existing treaty rules and the attitude of the UK government are also a potential barrier to such a plan coming to fruition.
Downing Street on Monday signalled it would be willing to do a deal whereby Theresa May would “find a way” to allow people from the UK to live and work in the EU after Brexit.
A spokesperson suggested the UK was not wedded to any particular approach to solving this problem, however.
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