EU could block Brexit over Boris Johnson's treatment of European citizens
18 December 2019, 19:41 | Updated: 19 December 2019, 16:19
Brexit could be blocked by the European Parliament if Boris Johnson fails to protect the rights of British and EU citizens, Guy Verhofstadt has claimed.
The European Parliament's Brexit coordinator told his fellow MEPs there was still "a problem to be solved" before giving consent to the UK Prime Minister's Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
Mr Verhofstadt explained that he had received letters from British and European citizens alike who were anxious about their immigration status.
The outspoken MEP told the room to block Brexit unless legal assurances were given to EU nationals living in the UK and British nationals living in the EU.
He said: "Dear colleagues, there is a consent to be given by this Parliament. I know that everybody says and thinks, 'Oh, that consent will be given automatically' ... but in the meanwhile there is a problem to be solved," he said.
"I have received, since the elections in Britain, hundreds of thousands of letters and mails of British citizens living in Europe, panicking about their status. I have received hundreds of mails of EU citizens living in Britain, panicking about their status.
"I think we need to solve that first before we give our consent on this Brexit Treaty."
Everyone presumes the @Europarl_EN will give automatically its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement. Not if the remaining problems with the citizens' rights are not solved first. Citizens can never become the victims of Brexit.— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 18, 2019
The Belgian politician told his European colleagues that British and European citizens should "never be victim" of what he described as a "not very intelligent choice of Brexit."
He then made a direct request to Mr Johnson, asking the UK leader to be "generous in his victory."
"I want to make an appeal to the Prime Minister of Britain to be generous in his victory. To give all European citizens - and to the British citizens living on the continent alike - the full rights as they have today," he continued.
"Automatically. To all of them. No 'ifs and buts' as he always says."
He later suggested that the EU should introduce the idea of "European Associated Citizenship."
The EU member states should grant UK citizens living in Europe the full rights as they have today. Automatically. No ‘ifs and buts’ here either. Let's also come back to the idea of ‘European associated citizenship’ for UK citizens who want to keep their link with Europe.— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 18, 2019
"I also want to tell you that more and more people are coming back to the idea of 'European Associated Citizenship' for British citizens who want to continue to feel European," he said.
"We have to be open to that request."
Roger Helmer, former Conservative Party and Ukip MEP for the East Midlands, said many in the UK would be "very happy" to leave the bloc without an agreement.
He wrote on Twitter: "OK Guy. If the EP doesn’t ratify Boris’ withdrawal deal, we leave with No Deal. You can whistle for your £39bn. Many of us over here would be very happy with that."
OK Guy. If the EP doesn’t ratify Boris’ withdrawal deal, we leave with No Deal. You can whistle for your £39bn. Many of us over here would be very happy with that. https://t.co/o5LpyJ9RXl— Roger Helmer (@RogerHelmerMEP) December 18, 2019
Earlier in his speech, Mr Verhofstadt criticised Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party and mocked them for winning no seats in December's general election.
"To Mr Farage and his group I want to say, they make a lot of noise for having won zero seats in the British elections," he said.
"Everybody said here, 'We will miss our British colleagues' of the Lib Dems, of Labour.
"I will not miss the Brexiteers going out, I can tell you that much."
Home Office Minister of State Brandon Lewis said: “EU citizens are our friends, colleagues and neighbours. We recognise the enormous contribution they make to the UK and we want them to stay.
“We have already provided certainty to over two million people who have been granted status through the EU Settlement Scheme. Our Scheme is free, there is plenty of support for applicants and more than a year left to apply.
“We have done far more than any other EU member state has done for British citizens, and it’s time they adopted a similarly generous approach.”