Rights of EU citizens in post-Brexit UK, ‘number one priority’ warns EU parliament chief
Parliament’s president Antonio Tajani criticises UK for ‘not very clear’ position on Brexit.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, the Italian MEP said, however, that he was “optimistic” about a satisfactory deal being struck eventually.
He also said that the rights of the estimated three million EU citizens currently living in the UK was “the number one priority” for the EU side, led by the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier.
Tajani said that without agreement on this single issue there was no chance the European parliament could approve - as it has the right to do - any final Brexit deal.
He said, “I want to be optimistic about the Brexit negotiations – there is still time to resolve all the issues - but the current UK position is not very clear.”
The Italian centre-right deputy said he believes the situation is only likely to become clear after the UK’s governing Conservative party conference in early October, adding, “We need more real proposals from the UK side and I expect more concrete proposals to emerge after this.”
“But it will remain of absolute paramount importance that the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those of British citizens in the EU are defended and that is what we shall do.”
“It will remain of absolute paramount importance that the rights of EU nationals in the UK and those of British citizens in the EU are defended and that is what we shall do”
He remained relatively tight lipped, though, on news which emerged on Wednesday that so-called ‘low-skilled’ EU migrants will only be allowed to work in the UK for two years before being sent home under Brexit plans to curb migration after 2019.
According to leaked documents UK ministers are also considering a “direct numerical cap” on low-skilled workers to fulfil promises to reduce net migration down to the ‘tens of thousands’.
The highly sensitive leak of the Home Office proposals comes just days after the latest round of Brexit talks ended in acrimony, and is likely to enrage Brussels because it largely downgrades EU citizens to the same status as those from non-EU countries.
When asked about this, Tajani would only say, “I have not seen this document yet but it is vitally important that citizens retain the same rights after Britain leaves the EU as they do now.”
He added, “For me, the citizen will always be king, over and above politicians and unelected officials.”
Tajani was addressing a breakfast briefing, organised by the European Policy Centre (EPC), on the “road to the European elections in 2019.”
The former EU commissioner restated his intention to better communicate the EU’s achievements and to bring its institutions closer to citizens “with the aim of providing practical responses to their concerns about terrorism, immigration, unemployment and climate change”.
“I want to be optimistic about the Brexit negotiations – there is still time to resolve all the issues - but the current UK position is not very clear”
The event heard that surveys show that Europeans are deeply worried about global geopolitical and economic developments and favour common EU approaches to address them.
EPC director of studies, Janis Emmanouilidis said, “Overall, citizens are more interested in European politics and the feeling that their voice should count more at EU level is on the rise.”
Emmanouilidis added, “Despite the many crises that have shaken the EU over the last few years, not least growing euroscepticism, the euro area crisis, the migration challenge, the terrorist threat, as well as the insecurities resulting from Brexit, there seems to be a growing realisation that European cooperation is indispensable in order to tackle common challenges.”
“But there is still a long way to go to convince citizens that Europe is working for them.”
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