EU's Verhofstadt Wants Brexit Deal on Citizens' Rights This Year

  • Deal on rights affects more than 4 million EU, U.K. citizens
  • Verhofstadt sees pro-EU sentiment growing after Brexit

Brexit negotiators from the U.K. and the European Union should prioritize an agreement on the rights of EU citizens in Britain and Britons abroad before turning to issues such as the U.K.’s exit bill, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s point person on Brexit matters, said.

“The first things to settle are the rights of the residents,” Verhofstadt said in an interview aired Thursday by Channel 4 News. “Even before talking about money, I want an agreement in September, October, November, on these residents’ rights.”

The comments illustrate there’s some common ground between U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and her European counterparts on the issue of the fate of more than 4 million EU nationals. May, who officially triggered two years of Brexit negotiations Wednesday, has repeatedly said she wants to guarantee the rights of some 3 million EU citizens resident in Britain, but that it’s contingent on a reciprocal promise by the EU’s 27 other governments for more than 1 million Britons resident in their countries.

“I genuinely believe there is good will to do that,” May told lawmakers in Parliament on Wednesday. “I hope we will be able to achieve that at an early stage of the negotiations and give EU citizens living here and UK citizens living in the European Union reassurance about their future.”

While U.K. Brexit Secretary David Davis’s main EU counterpart is Michel Barnier, Verhofstadt is influential because the EU Parliament will have a say on the final Brexit deal. Verhofstadt also said that while he found the tone of May’s letter officially triggering Brexit “constructive,” he was “shocked” at the U.K. premier’s apparent threat to withhold security cooperation absent a trade deal.

Read more on bid to link security, trade deal: Brexit Bulletin: Trade or Terror?

“You cannot use the security of our citizens in a negotiation and say ‘oh, yeah, we’re going to only cooperate on the security of our citizens in the fight against terrorism if we have a good trade deal,”’ he said. “I think that everybody read this as a threat in Europe.”

The legislator also said that it’s important for the EU27 to maintain unity in their negotiating stance, and that far from Brexit triggering the departure of more countries from the bloc, he sees a “reverse domino effect.”

“What I see is that since Brexit, more and more the public opinion is going towards a more pro-European step,” he said. “People say: ‘I’m also very critical towards the European Union, but I’m not so stupid to leave it or to destroy it.”’

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