Chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt and leaders of four of the parliament's main groups wrote in a joint letter to newspapers that Britain's plans for the three million EU citizens expecting to remain in the U.K. post-Brexit "fall short" of what they are entitled to and what U.K. nationals are being offered in the EU.
EU Parliamentarian Guy Verhofstadt has called proposals put forward by the UK government a "damp squib" which would leave millions of Europeans with "second-class citizenship".
"The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not reduce them. We will never endorse their retroactive removal," Verhofstadt writes.
In outlining plans for citizens' rights, the EU had proposed that Britons and Europeans would keep the same rights and protections they currently receive under European law. However, the British proposal, delivered three weeks later, suggests that Europeans' rights within the U.K. would be significantly reduced from the day after Brexit, including curtailing voting rights and income thresholds.
"The British proposal carries a real risk of creating a second class of citizenship," the group of eight signatories wrote, claiming that the plans backtrack on Brexiteers' pledge that EU citizens would be treated "no less favourably than at present."
The MEPs’ letter represents an important show of political unity and purpose on Brexit from across the parliament which, like each of the 27 member states, will also have the right to approve a final deal. It is saying to UK that it will not be a pushover.
On Monday, speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Verhofstadt said EU citizens in the UK - and Britons living on the continent - should keep their current rights, rather than the government "inventing a new status".
"In the end, it is the European Parliament that will say yes or no, and I can tell you it not will be a yes if the rights of European citizens - and also the rights of UK citizens living on the continent - will be diminished [and] cut off, like it is at the moment."
A spokesperson for the UK government said the letter contained a "number of inaccuracies" which could cause unnecessary and needless concern to UK and EU citizens.
Brexit negotiations kicked off last month shortly after British Prime Minister Theresa May failed to increase her parliamentary majority in a snap general election.
British and EU leaders now have just over a year and a half to negotiate and agree a deal, which will then go to a vote before European Parliaments.
The deadline for a striking a deal is March 2019. The European Parliament has said that an extension beyond this would be "unthinkable."
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