The European Parliament is being flooded with “thousands” of requests from Britons anxious to remain EU citizens after Brexit.
Guy Verhofstadt, the parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, vowed to press ahead with a proposal to offer them the chance to remain EU citizens, as he revealed the scale of interest on this side of the Channel.
“It’s responding to hundreds, maybe even, at this moment already, thousands of mails that I’m receiving from UK citizens who are saying, ‘I want to continue my link with Europe. I don’t want to lose completely my EU citizenship’, and I’m looking to the possibilities, what elements of this EU citizenship, we can keep on an individual basis.”
Mr Verhofstadt added: “Many are in shock still, of, I think, the outcome of the referendum.”
The Independent first revealed the proposed plan to offer British people the chance to individually opt in and remain EU citizens.
It would see Britons offered individual “associate citizenship”, allowing them to retain free movement to live and work across the EU, as well as a vote in European Parliament elections.
Mr Verhofstadt believes it has “captured the imagination and hopes” of young people, in particular, who are desperate to keep the right to move to other EU countries.
British citizens are likely to lose their automatic right to live and work in the EU after Brexit, after Theresa May made it clear that ending freedom of movement rules is her priority.
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.
Speaking on LBC radio, Mr Verhofstadt set out more of his thoughts on the proposal, saying: “EU citizenship is mainly that you have consular help, consular aid, when you are in difficulties for example, when you’re travelling.
“That could also be free travel inside the European Union. They are things that are linked to the EU citizenship and what I’m looking for.
“I don’t say that this will be ultimately possible, but what I am looking for is, can we not respond positively to these individuals in the UK, British citizens who are saying, ‘Please, please, please let us keep at least some elements of the EU citizenship’.
“We’ve got to look to that request, because I think it’s very important that it is not the citizens of the UK who become the victim of this new situation and of the Brexit.”
Mr Verhofstadt will represent the European Parliament in the withdrawal negotiations, while former Commissioner Michel Barnier will lead them on behalf of the European Commission.
During the interview, Mr Verhofstadt agreed he wanted an EU with a fiscal, monetary, defence and political union, but with less bureaucracy.
And he swam against the tide by insisting he was optimistic that 2017 could see voters turn against “nationalism and populism”.
He said: “A number of new politicians in countries like France, like Poland, like Spain, like Italy, even maybe Germany, you’re going to see that.
“We know that the counter movement is already born and the counter movement can only be a more united Europe as a response to that and certainly not the trap of nationalism and populism.”
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