European Parliament has threatened to veto Theresa May’s offer on EU citizens’ rights, branding it a “damp squib” which risks creating a “second class of citizenship.”
In a letter published by several European newspapers, MEPs claimed Mrs May’s proposals “cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty over the lives of millions of Europeans.”
It came after Mrs May unveiled what she described as a “fair and generous offer” which would grant permanent residence to the three million EU citizens who came to Britain before Brexit.
The British government proposes that – the day after Brexit – Europeans obtain the status of ‘third country nationals’. These nationals would get fewer rights in the UK than British citizens are offered throughout the EU,” MEPs wrote.
“Europeans will not only lose their right to vote in local elections, their future family members will also be subject to minimum income requirements, and it is unclear what the status of ‘post-Brexit’ babies will be.”
“We will never endorse the retroactive removal of acquired rights. The European Parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favorably than they are at present.”
The European Parliament will have a vote on the final deal, which will include the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa.
However, it has no involvement in the negotiating stage of the UK’s withdrawal, which is led by the European Commission and Michel Barnier, the European Chief Negotiator for Brexit.
Though the letter is unlikely to sway the British government, MEPs hope it will pile further pressure on Mr Barnier to secure a deal which suits their demands.
It bore the signatures of all parliamentary group leaders, including Guy Verhofstadt, the head of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, and Manfred Weber, the head of the European People’s Party Group.
British negotiators say that initial discussions over the citizens rights deal have been “positive”, although differences remain.
Under Mrs May’s offer, EU citizens who arrived in Britain before a still-to-be-negotiated “cut-off date” would apply for settled status.
Those who have already lived in Britain for five years would be fast-tracked to settled status, with the remainder allowed to stay until they accrued five years.
But the European Commission has said that this “does not go far enough,” demanding that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) continues to have jurisdiction over the rights of EU citizens in the UK, even after Brexit.
The British government has rejected this, and instead offered to enshrine the rights of EU citizens who live in the UK under international law, making it impossible to renege on them in the future.
Senior EU diplomats in the UK told The Daily Telegraph that their citizens had reacted negatively to the UK offer, particularly the lack of detail on registration procedures which the UK says will be “light touch”.
“What does that mean? It’s a year now since Brexit and we still don’t have any real detail about how the system will work. And based on past experience [of the UK immigration authorities] there is very little trust. We need to know what,when and how,” said one official.
In the letter, the European Parliament also claimed the British offer would transform the UK into a “champion of red tape,” as “each family member, including children, have to make separate applications for “settled status”.
“[The offer] is even in contradiction with the ‘Vote Leave’ manifesto which promise d it would treat EU citizens “no less favorably than at present,” MEPs added.
It is understood the letter was sent to numerous left-leaning newspapers, including Belgium’s Le Soir, Spain’s El Pais, the Irish Times, and the Guardian.