Campaigners have warmly welcomed Guy Verhofstadt's latest pledge to support the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British nationals in Europe when the UK leaves in 2019.
Speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, Verhofstadt again said that the “uncertainty” surrounding citizens’ rights had to be lifted immediately.
The Belgian MEP, outlining the Parliament’s draft Brexit resolution, insisted that the existing rights of citizens on both side of the Channel should remain unaltered in the withdrawal agreement between the two sides.
He also said that the UK Home Office had been invited to send a delegation to the European Parliament to speak on the issue of citizens’ rights at various relevant committees.
The pledge to support citizens was welcomed by Roger Casale, a former Labour MP and founder of New Europeans, a group spearheading the campaign to defend citizens’ rights post-Brexit.
Speaking in the Parliament after Verhofstadt’s news conference, Casale told this website, “Verhofstadt made it very clear that the European Parliament will not tolerate the loss of free movement rights of Britons in Europe or the loss of voting rights (or any other right) in respect of EU 27 citizens in the UK.
“This means that both he and the European Parliament have listened to the concerns that have been raised with them. It also shows that they are moving closer and closer to our position - a Green Card for Europe that can guarantee all the rights that EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU citizens currently enjoy.”
“This ongoing uncertainty for citizens must stop. Our plan is, in the future, for a continuation of the rights currently enjoyed by both citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe" Guy Verhofstadt
He added, “Verhofstadt emphasised that he wants a simple, scheme based on the declaratory principle. He recognised that Britons in the EU and EU27 citizens in the UK are all children of Europe and therefore have the right to the EU's protection - a key argument made by New Europeans over the last two years. The Green Card would be issued to Britons in the EU and EU27 citizens alike and so will meet the challenge of protecting both groups of citizens with the same scheme.”
Casale went on, “Verhofstadt also confirmed that the UK Home Office had agreed to visit the European Parliament to discuss the proposals in more detail.
“New Europeans have been meeting on a regular basis with the Home Office on a regular basis and are in discussions with officials about the details of the Green Card 4 Europe proposal.
“We also continue to press for immediate guarantees to end the uncertainty.
“One thing we won’t accept is discrimination against EU citizens who arrive in the UK during any transition state. All existing rights must apply to them during this period” Antonio Tajani
“Introducing the Green Card now would end the uncertainty and help to make sure that there is a very hug take up of the settled status scheme currently being developed by the Home Office. The Green Card would only be valid in the UK in conjunction with settled status.
“At a debate in the House of Commons on 7 March, tabled by Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalists) as part of a campaign sponsored by New Europeans, MPs from many parties including the Conservatives spoke about the importance of retaining EU citizenship rights on a voluntary basis.
“The Green Card for Europe could be a way to achieve that.
Casale added, "The Green Card proposal is our baby and Verhofstadt's statement shows that it is alive and kicking. He hasn't named the baby - that can come later. The important thing is that the proposal can survive and develop. It is the only practical solution currently on the table for how the goal of safe-guarding citizens' rights can be achieved."
"Verhofstadt] and the European Parliament have listened to the concerns that have been raised with them. It also shows that they are moving closer and closer to our position - a Green Card for Europe that can guarantee all the rights that EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons in the EU citizens currently enjoy” former Labour MP Roger Casale
Verhofstadt, who heads the parliament’s Brexit steering group, said he wanted the EU to “continue to push for a final deal on citizens’ rights” adding that “this is absolutely needed.”
He added, “This ongoing uncertainty for citizens must stop. Our plan is, in the future, for a continuation of the rights currently enjoyed by both citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe.
“What we cannot have are two types of citizens, that is, those arriving in the UK before the UK exits the EU and those arriving during the transition period.”
He added, “We have invited the British home office to attend parliament committees to show and explain how the new post transitional system will work for EU citizens living in the UK and for EU citizens in the UK. Their rights have to be safeguarding and it is not in the interest of anyone for this uncertainty to continue.”
He added, “However, effort on this is clearly needed from both sides.”
His comments were echoed by the European Parliament’s president Antonio Tajani who, speaking alongside Verhofstadt, said the “priority” for MEPs should be defending the rights of the 3.5 million EU citizens in Britain and the one million British in Europe.
The Italian said, “I want to underline that these problems have to be the first point of our engagement but we on the EU side are still waiting for the UK proposals.
“One thing we won’t accept is discrimination against EU citizens who arrive in the UK during any transition state. All existing rights must apply to them during this period.”