Brexit war of words heats up as London and Brussels exchange jibes over UK’s exit bill
Concerns over rights of citizens prompts MEP Brexit coordinator to speak out against uncertainty facing EU nationals in UK.
Guy Verhofstadt | Photo credit: Natalie Hill
The UK proposal to give EU citizens in the country “settled status” after Brexit is not what the EU needs, says parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt.
In a debate organised by the assembly’s Constitutional Affairs Committee on Wednesday, the ALDE group leader criticised the UK government for not ending the uncertainty created for EU citizens living in the UK since last year’s referendum.
He said that the UK government's recent offer to give EU citizens in the country “settled status” after Brexit is not what the EU needs at the end of withdrawal negotiations, stressing that the proposal risks downgrading the rights of EU citizens and creating a lot of administrative burden.
“Citizens cannot be the victims of this whole operation. Our proposal to the Commission at the start of political negotiations is to try to uphold the rights of EU citizens in the UK, while not removing rights from UK citizens on the continent".
"The European Union was not created to lower standards for people”, the Belgian MEP said.
In the debate, Verhofstadt also called for more clarity on how to resolve the financial settlement between the UK and the EU, and elaborated on the concerns regarding the UK-Irish border question and future EU-UK cooperation around nuclear activities (Euratom).
However, responding to comments by chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier concerning the UK facing a ticking clock on EU exit bill, UKIP Brexit spokesman in the European Parliament, Gerard Batten said, “If Barnier wants to talk about who owes who money he is in for a nasty surprise.”
The British MEP added, “Since 1973 The UK has made gross contributions to the EU Budget of over half a trillion pounds, or net contributions of almost £185 billion.”
According to the pro-EU think tank Bruegel, the EU has accumulated assets of about €150 billion.
Batten said, “If the EU wants to play hard-ball then the UK should demand its share of the assets - and contributions lost to fraud. Britain does not owe the EU a penny, and has no legal obligation to pay anything after we leave the EU.
“Rather than waste time and effort arguing about this, the easiest thing to do is to just call it quits and walk away.”
UK Brexit Secretary David Davis meanwhile has rejected claims that the British government has softened its stance on Brexit since the recent general election.
"The European Union was not created to lower standards for people” Guy Verhofstadt
Also speaking on Wednesday, he added, “I believe we can get a free trade negotiation concluded, and a customs agreement negotiation concluded, in the [two year] period. What will be much more difficult, however, is to get all the practical implementations that go with it.
“Not so much for us; it will be quite tough to get our customs in the right place in two years, but it’s doable. “On the issue of the Irish border, Davis said there won’t be a solution “probably until near the end of the process, because we’ll need to know what the free trade agreement will be.”
Meanwhile British shadow secretary for Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer, has warned that Labour will vote against the so-called ‘Great Repeal Bill’, which will revoke and transfer EU law into UK law, unless Prime Minister Theresa May makes concessions on six issues.
These include ensuring workers’ rights in Britain remain of the same standard as those in the EU; incorporating the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law; and limiting the scope of so-called “Henry VIII powers”, which could allow the UK government to amend legislation without parliamentary approval.
Starmer said he was “putting the government on notice,” adding, “We have very serious issues with the government’s approach, and unless the government addresses those issues, we will not be supporting the bill.”
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