December 2019 notice: This article was written in 2016, before Brexit talks began. Guy Verhofstadt's proposal was included in the European Parliament's negotiating mandate, but was not taken up by the UK government and EU member states, who raised legal questions about its viability. It is no longer a live proposal.
EU negotiators will offer British people the chance to individually opt-in and remain EU citizens as a proposal in Brexit negotiations, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator has confirmed.
The plan, first revealed in its early stages by The Independent last month, was being considered as a long-term aim by the European Parliament – but has now been fast-tracked to the negotiating table by Guy Verhofstadt, who is in charge of thrashing out a post-Brexit deal.
Mr Verhofstadt said the “very important” proposal had “captured the imagination and hopes” of many British people who wished to retain their rights as EU citizens and would be in his negotiating mandate.
The plan would see Brits offered individual “associate citizenship”, letting them keep free movement to live and work across the EU, as well as a vote in European Parliament elections.
The proposal could potentially give Brits who live and work across borders a workaround to the disruption caused by the Leave vote – and young people looking to flee an increasingly isolated UK greater choice over where to move to.
Depending on the approach taken by EU negotiators, the idea would likely be subject to approval by the British Government.
Mr Verhofstadt is drawing up a report with the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs about proposed long-term changes to the EU’s structure. The plan was originally proposed by Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens for inclusion in the report, but will now bypass that process and be taken forward independently.
The chief negotiator told the committee’s members: “We come to the vote of this important amendment 882, tabled by colleague Charles Goerens. It is an important amendment that has captured the imagination and hopes of many of the 48 per cent of Brits that have voted to remain in the EU. You will all have received many emails about this – and there has been many articles about this.
“It has therefore become a very important issue that cannot await treaty change – as envisaged by Charles when he first tabled it.
“I am therefore proposing to remove it from my report – which after all is concerned with Treaty change – and to include it in the negotiations we will have with the UK Government. I as Brexit negotiator for the Parliament will ensure that it is included in the parliament’s negotiating mandate.”
In a statement, Mr Goerens said: “Today I decided together with Guy Verhofstadt to withdraw my amendment on associate EU citizenship. We realised that this has become a very important issue that cannot await treaty change – as was my intention when I first tabled my amendment – since this might take years.
“Yesterday evening, the House of Commons decided by a majority of almost 400 to support Theresa Mays plan to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. Hence the prospect that this Article 50 will be invoked has become very real indeed.
“The European Parliament will define its position on the Brexit agreement through a resolution during spring 2017. This seems to be the best opportunity to give Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt the possibility to enforce the associate EU citizenship.
“I recognise this might come as a surprise to many of you, but please understand that the abovementioned procedure makes it much more likely for the associate EU citizenship to succeed than through an amendment.”
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said: “The option of being able to retain EU citizenship offers a glimmer of hope for the millions of British people devastated by the referendum result.
“The fact this proposal is going ahead shows there remains a huge amount of goodwill towards Britain, despite the actions of this Conservative Brexit Government.
“Everyone who supports this should write to MEPs and tell them how passionately they feel about maintaining their rights as EU citizens, including the ability to live, study and work abroad."
In its original form the amendment suggested the provision of “European associate citizenship for those who feel and wish to be part of the European project but are nationals of a former member state; offers these associate citizens the rights of freedom of movement and to reside on its territory as well as being represented in the Parliament through a vote in the European elections on the European lists”.
Though the British Government has been coy on what it wants Britain’s post-Brexit future to look like, it is likely that British citizens will lose the automatic right to live and work in the EU after Brexit. This is because Prime Minister Theresa May has made clear that she would like to restrict freedom of movement from EU countries to the UK, a policy that would likely be reciprocated by the EU for British citizens.
Mr Verhofstadt is one of two chief negotiators representing different pillars of the European Union. He represents the Parliament, while former Commissioner Michel Barnier represents the Commission. Belgian diplomat Didier Seeuws will coordinate the European Council’s negotiating position on behalf of the leaders of other EU states.
The House of Commons this week approved a motion calling for Ms May to reveal the Government’s negotiating position on Brexit before triggering Article 50. It also locked in the timetable of triggering the treaty clause – and starting negotiations – before the end of March 2017.
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