Guy Verhofstadt warns UK over treatment of EU citizens in UK

“This has to stop.” Verhofstadt warns mistakes by the Home Office could “colour” MEPs’ attitude to any withdrawal agreement, which needs its approval.

The European parliament’s lead representative on Brexit has written to the home secretary about MEPs’ concerns over the government’s treatment of EU citizens in the UK. The Guardian reports Guy Verhofstadt wrote to Amber Rudd highlighting a series of Home Office mistakes, which saw a number of people threatened with deportation despite lawfully living in the UK.

In August, the prime minister admitted the Home Office made an “unfortunate error” after it sent 100 deportation letters to EU citizens living in the UK. More recently, the Japanese spouse of an EU citizen living in the UK was also incorrectly issued with a deportation order.

Verhofstadt warned these instances could “colour parliament’s attitude to provisions on citizens’ rights in any final withdrawal agreement”. And he reminded Rudd of the European parliament’s key role in approving the withdrawal agreement. At the end of Article 50 negotiations, any withdrawal agreement will need majority backing by both the EU’s council (member states) and parliament (MEPs).

In his letter, Verhofstadt wrote:

“Until withdrawal the UK remains a member state of the union and fully bound by its obligations under EU law, including EU legislation on free movement of citizens. Those obligations are clear and incontestable.

Moreover, inconsistent respect for those obligations can only but raise our concerns as regards the prospects for these citizens after UK withdrawal.

In this context, it will inevitably colour parliament’s attitude to provisions on citizens’ rights in any final withdrawal agreement, to which, as you know, parliament must give its approval.

We hope that you can alleviate our concerns and can confirm that these are indeed isolated incidents which are being dealt with in an expedite and satisfactory fashion.”

Citizens’ rights is one of three key withdrawal issues the EU would like to see “sufficient progress” made before talks can be moved onto a transition or future partnership deal. The UK’s proposal on citizens’ rights would effectively see EU citizens in the UK and British migrants in the EU lose some of their rights. Although the UK’s proposal would bring their rights more closely in line with British citizens in the UK, EU laws give EU citizens more rights such as the right to bring a spouse from a non-EU country into the UK without having to meet a minimum income threshold. For example, a Briton living in Britain would have to show they earn at least £18,600 to bring their spouse from a non-EU country to the UK. But if that Briton was living in an EU country, their spouse could automatically join them. The government’s proposal also insists that UK courts, not the European Court of Justice, should oversee EU citizens’ rights in the UK. But the EU believes their rights will be better protected when the European Court of Justice has a role.

Verhofstadt’s warning suggests MEPs could withhold their support for a withdrawal deal that would see reduced protections for citizens on both sides. According to Politico’s round-up of political news in the UK, the European Parliament is drawing up a draft resolution that is “highly critical” of progress so far in Brexit talks. This would be a further blow to the government who is pressing for talks to move on and hope to get support from EU leaders to do that. Politico’s report also suggests the government is only now realising it needs to take the European parliament seriously.

Beyond Theresa May’s speech, there are still trust issues

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has also said the Home Office mistakes made it more difficult to build the trust needed to reach a deal. This is even more important given the government doesn’t want the European Court of Justice to oversee EU citizens’ rights in the UK. As the Guardian reports, campaign groups for EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU have also voiced their concerns about trusting the government on this.

In a joint statement, the3million and British in Europe said:

If serious errors like this can be made whilst the UK is still administering a system based on EU freedom of movement rights, what is likely to happen when it is running its own system, having ‘taken control again’?

European parliament’s red lines in Brexit negotiations

Image: © Gina Power /
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