Britons could pay fee to retain benefits of EU citizenship after Brexit, says Europe's chief negotiator

A campaign first revealed by The Independent has now won the support of Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister leading the Brexit talks for the European Parliament

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Saturday 26 November 2016 10:59
Comments
Guy Verhofstadt is the chief Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament
Guy Verhofstadt is the chief Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament

A plan for Britons to retain the right to live and work in the EU – for a fee – has won the backing of the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator.

As The Independent revealed earlier this month, MEPs will consider a proposal to grant British citizens the right to claim “associate citizenship”, after withdrawal is completed.

Now the idea has won the important backing of Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian Prime Minister who held talks with the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, this week.

Mr Verhofstadt – an open supporter of a ‘United States of Europe’, has made himself a champion for the “rights of the 48 per cent” of British voters who voted Remain.

“Many say, 'We don't want to cut our links',” he told The Times.

“I like the idea that people who are European citizens and saying they want to keep it, have the possibility of doing so. As a principle, I like it.”

The comments are a significant boost to the campaign, which could also see British citizens retain the right to vote in European Parliament elections after Brexit.

Proposed by Charles Goerens, a Liberal MEP from Luxembourg, Amendment 882 is due to be considered by the Parliament’s constitutional affairs committee on 8 December.

Mr Goerens said: “Between 15 and 30 million British citizens deeply regret Brexit.

“My amendment was tabled in order to get European citizenship for those British citizens who want to keep their citizenship.”

Mr Goerens has suggested the scheme could even be free, but Mr Verhofstadt’s plan is for Britons to pay an annual membership fee to “opt in” to citizenship.

It is thought it would be particularly popular with young people, who stand to lose the most from losing the right to live and work in other European countries.

However, the idea would have to be approved by all EU nations to become part of any exit deal with Britain – and, predictably, has already drawn the fire of some Brexit supporters.

Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire, said: “It's an attempt to create two classes of UK citizen and to subvert the referendum vote. The truth is that Brussels will try every trick in the book to stop us leaving.”

Jayne Adye, director of the Get Britain Out campaign, told The Independent: “This is an outrage. The EU is now attempting to divide the great British public at the exact moment we need unity.

“It is totally unacceptable for certain citizens in the UK to subject themselves to laws, which are created by politicians who are not accountable for the British people as a whole.”

Mr Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal bloc of MEPs in the Parliament, admitted there would be opposition from MEPs who “think it is too easy” to allow Britons to choose citizenship.

He added: “I don't know if it will fly or not – there are big differences of view here in the Parliament.” Some MEPs asked, “why stay in the EU if your citizens can have the advantages of European citizenship”.

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