Daniel Hannan, who played a key role in the Leave campaign, reportedly told Conservative colleagues in the European Parliament that draft exit proposals contained plans to let all EU nationals vote in England and Northern Ireland after Brexit.
European citizens living in the UK can vote at a local level but the comments could raise the hopes of some three million EU nationals who cannot cast their ballot in national polls.
The news also raises questions over how the Brexiteer MEP gained access to the closely-guarded draft of the withdrawal agreement between London and Brussels, which will set the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU.
In leaked WhatsApp messages, obtained by The Guardian, Mr Hannan said: “I just saw an extract of the draft withdrawal agreement. Britain has decided to enfranchise all EU nationals (at least in England and Northern Ireland – it’s devolved in Scotland and Wales.)
“What an odd decision: why offer a blanket deal instead of country by country bilaterals?
“For what it’s worth, it will significantly bolster the non-Tory electorate.”
However, the prime minister’s official spokesperson said: “We have always said we are committed to doing bilateral deals, to ensure that UK nationals living there and EU nationals living in the UK have voting rights and that’s the approach we are continuing to take.”
Theresa May has promised to protect the existing rights of EU citizens living in the UK – even in the event of a no-deal scenario – but question marks still hang over their future rights after Brexit.
It also comes as Brexit secretary Dominic Raab said the government had no plans to publish a technical notice on the future of EU citizens, despite publishing more than 100 pieces of no-deal advice, including information on pet passports and threats from asteroids.
He told MPs: “Citizens’ rights are an issue of scale, importance and sensitivity, which means that it will be dealt with not in technical notices, but in a different format.
“However, I reassure [MPs] that all the details will be coming along shortly to provide the assurances that I think both sides of the House want to give to EU nationals here. We value their contribution and want them to stay.”
Speaking afterwards, shadow Brexit minister Paul Blomfield accused ministers of failing to guarantee the future of EU citizens and called for “concrete commitments” to set their mind at ease.
“The uncertainty is leading many people in key jobs to leave the UK,” he said.
“Dropping their no-deal plan for EU citizens is yet another broken promise which will add to the anxiety.
“We are now entering a critical phase of this process. Warm words are no longer good enough.”
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