Last week, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said that Members in the European Parliament (MEPs) will block any Brexit accord that fails to secure the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, and of British nationals living in Europe. This statement was a warning to Theresa May and to EU leaders.
He said that the European Parliament will not approve any Brexit deal if the concerns of citizens’ rights have not been adequately negotiated. This statement was issued during a special session in Parliament, regarding the status of EU expats living in the UK and British nationals living in Europe.
A veto by the European Parliament is a powerful tool that would no doubt shape the result of Brexit negotiations.
Since the Brexit referendum, there has been a 35% increase in the number of EU citizens applying for British citizenship. People are doing so to secure their ability to work and live in a post-Brexit UK.
Right now there are 3.5 million EU nationals living in the UK, and 1.2 million British citizens living in Europe.
Theresa May initially refused to secure the rights of EU expats but she seemed to soften that position during a meeting at the beginning of the month with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. At that time, she seemingly agreed that finalizing a deal on expats’ rights should be prioritized.
However, guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK would involve giving Britons living in Europe, special EU citizenship rights. This wouldn’t be an easy task. The option of giving Britons EU citizenship after Brexit was rejected last year by EU officials. It would require amending European treaties, and Article 50 does not include any significant treaty revision. The undertaking of such revisions would be a laborious task that no EU states are seemingly willing to tackle.
According to Jean-Claude Piris, a former head of the EU council’s legal service, it would be legally impossible to allow non-EU nationals to have EU citizenship. As well, the proposal would have to be approved by all 27 EU countries, a political move that would be hard to sell.
So MEPs are now pushing EU leaders to consider giving special rights to British nationals living in the EU, such as the right to residency and the right to work in the EU. Hopefully, a veto would bring forth the necessary pressure to deal with these very important issues.
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