UK govt must take issue of citizens’ rights seriously or risk no-deal disaster, warn Labour MEPs

Britain needs to take seriously the issue of citizens rights or risk negotiations being stalled and the European Parliament vetoing any deal, Labour MEPs have warned following a hearing at which many UK citizens voiced their fears about losing their EU rights after Brexit.

Claude Moraes MEP, chair of the civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, said:

“We have heard from many British people today about what EU citizenship means to them, how it would be devastating if they were to lose their rights as a result of Brexit, and how the uncertainty surrounding their future is already affecting them. And that is why there was near-unanimity from everyone at today’s hearing in the European Parliament – citizens, experts and MEPs alike – that it is absolutely vital the UK government and the EU negotiate a deal as a matter of urgency.

“It is clear from the British citizens we heard from at the hearing that they wish to continue to enjoy their EU rights after Brexit. It is something that has been proposed by the European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, in the past and it is something that we should look at, but the priority must be the guaranteeing of the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the rest of the EU, and as Mr Verhofstadt again made clear, unless this happens the European Parliament could veto any deal.”

Mr Moraes added:

“It is disappointing no one from the UK government spoke at the hearing, despite being invited. It would have been good for someone from the Home Office, for example, to hear the evidence presented by the experts such as Professor Jonathan Portes, from King’s College, as well as concerned EU citizens living in the UK who were represented by the3million group.

“The UK government needs to start taking this issue seriously and realise that unless there is a deal on citizens’ rights, there risks being no overall exit deal, no trade deal, nothing, which would be an absolute disaster for all. Labour has said it will guarantee EU citizens’ rights if it wins the general election – the Tories must do the same.”

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, Labour’s European Parliament spokesperson on petitions, said:

“Brexit has created a great deal of uncertainty for the UK and the rest of the EU – most especially for the 3.2 million EU citizens that work and live in the UK, and the 1.2 million British citizens work and live in the EU, some of whom we heard from at the hearing. They are worried about their future, and fearful of what may happen to them and their families. We also heard from British citizens in the UK who will lose their EU rights – the right to live, work, study and travel unhindered throughout the EU.

“It must be a priority of the negotiations to ensure there is an early deal on the rights of citizens abroad – Brexit is about more than politics, it’s about people, and it is disgraceful that Theresa May and the Tories are treating them as bargaining chips. Labour MEPs will continue to stand up for their interests and champion their cause in the European Parliament.”