MEPs warn of UK’s risk of ‘second class of citizenship’

Letter is key show of political unity and purpose on Brexit from across parliament

Michel Barnier: This week he will set out the negotiating team’s perspective on the UK offer.  Photograph: Aurore Belot/AFP/Getty Images

Michel Barnier: This week he will set out the negotiating team’s perspective on the UK offer. Photograph: Aurore Belot/AFP/Getty Images

 

The UK’s offer on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens in Britain is a “damp squib” that runs a “real risk of creating a second class of citizenship”, a letter published on Monday representing a large majority of MEPs warns.

“If implemented, it would cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty over the lives of millions of Europeans,” the leaders of the main groups in the European Parliament warn in the letter published in many of Europe’s leading papers including The Irish Times.

The warning comes in the wake of an important speech on Thursday in Brussels by the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in which he ramped up pressure on the UK and ripped into what he saw as unrealistic expectations in the UK, realities that “I am not sure ... have been fully understood across the Channel.”

He set out important limits to what might be achieved by a country which leaves the single market: “There can be no sector-by-sector participation in the single market: you cannot leave the single market and then opt-in to those sectors you like most . . . You cannot be half-in and half-out of the single market.” And he specifically mentioned the impossible challenges of creating a “frictionless border” in such circumstance, “Challenges that we have to address in the particular and unique case of Ireland, without recreating a hard border.”

“I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits,” Barnier warned several unnamed UK ministers, “– that is not possible. I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve ‘frictionless trade’ – that is not possible.”

UK offer

Barnier this week reports to the commission and will set out at a press conference the negotiating team’s perspective on the UK offer – it will have been informed by discussions with MEPs and is likely to echo their concerns.

The MEPs’ letter represents an important show of political unity and purpose on Brexit from across the parliament which, like each of the 27 member states, will also have the right to approve a final deal. It is saying to both the UK and Barnier that it will not be a pushover. It is signed by former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group and chair of the liberal ALDE Group.

He is joined by the leaders of all the main groups across the political spectrum, the EPP, S&D, GUE/NGL, Greens/EFA, with the exception of conservative and eurosceptic alliances. The UK proposal, the letter says, falls short of its own ambitions to “put citizens first”.

The differences with what is on offer from the EU “are striking”.

“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.

“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.”