Speaking at a hearing on Brexit in Parliament on Thursday, Roberto Gualtieri said, “We will be studying every line, every comma, every full stop and every sentence.”
He added, “This Parliament has made the issue of citizens’ rights its very first priority in these negotiations and that will remain the case as we enter the second phase of talks.”
He was an opening speaker at the hearing into progress in the talks on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU.
Gualtieri, a member of Parliament’s S&D group, stressed that protecting citizens’ rights has been one of the EU’s priorities since the beginning of the talks with the UK government.
The Italian deputy, who is a member of Parliament’s Brexit steering group, admitted that the target the institution had set on citizens’ rights in the talks was very ambitious.
He said Parliament will demand that the access to social security, pensions and other rights that are currently enjoyed by EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe must be maintained after Britain exits.
The MEP told the public hearing, “Yes, I admit that our targets are ambitious but I have to say that the offer made so far by the UK in this specific area is far from satisfactory.”
He said the achievements of the talks so far were satisfactory “but far from perfect,” adding, “we have achieved quite a lot but there are many issues still up in the air. What I can assure everyone is that we will fight to the last to ensure our demands on the continued protection of citizen’s rights are made legally binding in any final agreement.”
The joint hearing organised by the civil liberties, employment and petitions committees aimed to take stock of the situation following the announcement by EU leaders last December that sufficient progress has already been achieved in all areas to begin the second phase of negotiations.
Guy Verhofstadt, Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, was due to open the discussion but Claude Moraes, who chaired the hearing, said he was “regrettably” unable to attend due to an undisclosed reason.
However, earlier in the day, Verhofstadt, a Belgian MEP, told a UK newspaper, “Citizens’ rights during the transition is not negotiable. We will not accept that there are two sets of rights for EU citizens. For the transition to work, it must mean a continuation of the existing acquis with no exceptions.”
The meeting was also attended by representatives of the citizens’ organisations The 3 million, British in Europe and New Europeans, as well as academics and other experts.
It heard that the European Parliament demands that the withdrawal agreement incorporate the full set of rights that citizens currently enjoy and that it ensure reciprocity, equity, symmetry and non-discrimination for EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU.
Ahead of the meeting, UK Prime Minister Minister Theresa May said she did not support the EU’s proposal to extend the citizens’ rights agreement, which guarantees the status of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, until the end of the transition period in December 2020.
May said, “This is a matter for negotiation for the immediate period but I’m clear there’s a difference between those people who came prior to us leaving and those who will come when they know the UK is no longer a member of the EU.”
May also denied that the government was seeking to extend the transition period from two to three years, and rejected claims that she is aiming for a “Brexit in name only.” She said that the British public “did not vote for nothing to change when we come out of the EU.”