London Mayor Sadiq Khan planned to use a trip yesterday to Brussels to implore EU negotiators to be open to continued free movement for Britons through “associate citizenship.”
With the backing of former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, Khan said the offer of such rights to those who wish to retain them should be at “the heart” of the coming negotiations over the future relationship.
The idea of “associate citizenship” was first raised in late 2016 by Verhofstadt, who was then the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator.
The offer would be of continued freedom of movement and residence around the bloc for those who wished to retain such rights. Such a status would also protect rights in healthcare, welfare and workplace conditions, and likely the right to vote in European Parliament elections.
The chances of such an initiative making headway in the negotiations are extremely limited, as it would be unlawful under EU legislation.
There is unlikely to be appetite for any rewriting of treaties among the 27 member states, given the UK government’s hostile attitude to the free movement of EU nationals who wish to live and work in Britain.
Khan, who was to meet EU Head of Task Force for Relations with the UK Michel Barnier and European Parliament President David Sassoli during his visit, said he believed the idea still had merit.
“Like so many Londoners, I am heartbroken that we are no longer a member of the European Union, but that doesn’t mean our country’s future can’t be closely linked with the rest of Europe,” he said.
“The prime minister says his job is to bring the country together and move us forward, and I cannot think of a better way of reconciling the differences between British voters who wanted to leave, and the millions of Londoners and British nationals who still feel and want to be European,” he said.
“There would be support from millions of Londoners and British nationals who are devastated they are losing their rights as EU citizens,” he added. “As the UK and EU start their next phase of negotiations, I want this issue of associate citizenship to be at the heart of talks about our future relationship.”
Verhofstadt, who has the backing of the European Parliament to be chair of a new conference on the future of Europe involving all the EU institutions, said he believed that Brussels should be open to the concept.
“The Maastricht Treaty created the concept of ‘European citizenship’ and I am in favor of using this now as a basis for people who want to keep their link with Europe,” he said. “It is the first time in the history of our union that a member state leaves, but it is not because the UK government wanted exit that individual citizens have to lose their connection with the continent.”
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