MEPs make impassioned plea for post-Brexit protection of citizens’ rights
A plenary debate on the protection of citizens’ rights saw emotions run high and tempers fray.
Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual
MEPs have appealed to the UK to respect the post-Brexit legal rights of EU citizens in Britain ahead of a vote in Parliament in Strasbourg where deputies are expected to endorse a resolution on the issue.
In a rousing address during the plenary debate on Tuesday, Belgian MEP and chair of Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group (BSG), Guy Verhofstadt, said, “I hope the Parliament will massively back the resolution on Wednesday so as to give us a final mandate on this. This is necessary because there are still concerns, including about free movement, that need to be addressed. If they are not addressed now they will remain until the end of the year.”
“We also need a physical document offering proof of the right to residency at the end of the transition period on 1 January 2021. These need to be addressed. I hope Boris Johnson can show the same flexibility over this issue that the Queen has shown to Meghan and Harry."
Fellow BSG member, Danuta Hubner, said, “I deeply regret that the UK government says it will end the free movement of people. EU citizens have greatly benefited from this right and I hope the government will still change its mind on this issue.”
She added, “We also need an awareness-raising campaign about citizens’ rights and we must keep a watchful eye on citizens’ rights in the current talks between the two sides.”
UK Conservatives deputy Geoffrey Van Orden said, “We need to make rapid progress on the future relationship between the UK and EU. It is the duty of this Parliament to give its assent to the Withdrawal Agreement. We must remember, though, that free movement was a key element of the outcome of the EU Referendum.”
He also referred to the 1.5 million Britons living in mainland Europe.
“There are still concerns, including about free movement, that need to be addressed. If they are not addressed now they will remain until the end of the year” Guy Verhofstadt MEP
He added, “This resolution focuses disproportionately on EU citizens in the UK and gives scant attention to Britons who are in the EU – just one paragraph out of 22. Hardly any Member States have so far published plans how this will work for Britons in Europe so I hope this Parliament will be rigorous in ensuring that Britons in other EU countries are properly treated.”
He said that in the UK, 2.6 million EU citizens had applied for settled status and only 5 had been refused so far, on the grounds of “criminality.”
This claim was challenged by SNP deputy Christian Allard, who said that 47 percent of those who had applied for Settled Status in the UK had been refused and told to reapply.
He said, “I have lived in Scotland for 35 years and the UK Settled Status scheme is not fit for purpose. I am very worried about what will happen next but I will not be denied the right to live in my own home, Scotland.”
Jude Kirton-Darling, a Socialist member, said, “We have a moral duty to those many Britons in Europe who had no vote in the Referendum and are being further disenfranchised.”
Claude Moraes, a Labour MEP, said, “The resolution we will vote on fires more than one firing shot which must be heard. These are genuine concerns from citizens. If we do not get this right it will be a deep scar and continuing injustice for years to come.”
Brexit Party MEP Ann Widdecombe hit back, declaring, “Ending the free movement of people was a massive factor in the British public’s decision to leave the EU.”
“I have lived in Scotland for 35 years and the UK Settled Status scheme is not fit for purpose. I am very worried about what will happen next, but I will not be denied the right to live in my own home, Scotland” Christian Allard MEP
“It was one of the biggest driving forces but people here are still trying to tell the UK we should dare to have an application process for citizenship.”
Greens joint leader Philippe Lamberts told reporters on Tuesday, “There are 3 million EU citizens in the UK who fear they may lose their rights after Brexit and we are extremely concerned about this. We in this Parliament will do our utmost to ensure their rights are maintained, post-Brexit.”
He said he was “particularly concerned” about the UK’s Brexit transposition legislation and the possibility of Britain withdrawing from the supervisory body which is responsible for ensuring that citizens’ rights are respected.
Lamberts’ comments come after UK security minister Brandon Lewis threatened EU citizens with deportation from the UK if they do not apply for Settled Status before the deadline of 30 June 2021. He later claimed the comments had been taken out of context.
However, Lamberts hit out at the minister’s remarks and also urged the EU to ensure citizens’ rights are respected in the upcoming trade talks between the UK and EU.
The UK is due to exit the EU on 31 January and the transition period will end in December.
Lamberts said, “Of course, we want to keep as close a partnership with the UK as possible after it leaves the EU, but this presupposes that the UK’s position does not change and that it will treat our citizens who live in the UK impeccably.”
“The resolution we will vote on fires more than one firing shot which must be heard. These are genuine concerns from citizens” Claude Moraes MEP
The same applies to the estimated 1.5 million Britons living in Europe, he said, adding, “We have safeguards in place to ensure that Member States will safeguard the rights of Britons in Europe.”
Looking ahead to the coming months, Lamberts said, “In the required timeframe, I don’t think we will get an extensive agreement other than a bare bones agreement.”
“As political majorities change in the UK I hope Britons will realise their interests are best served by being as close to Europe as possible.”
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