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As the negotiations on Brexit lumber into yet another stage, the European Parliament has published a public letter in multiple European countries. Signed by the chairmen of five EP factions and three members of the Brexit Steering Group, the best-known signatory is Guy Verhofstadt, chairman of the Steering Group. It is a rather rambling letter, that opens with the puzzling statement that:

in the European Parliament we accept that the Brexit decision was a democratic choice, but we were never convinced Brexit would be a positive development economically: certainly not for the standing of Europe and the UK in the world and, most importantly, not for citizens.

After consulting the version sent to Dutch media, this opening statement can be read to mean that Verhofstadt doesn’t think Brexit is a good idea. The bugbear, that according to the EP “would cast a dark cloud of vagueness and uncertainty over the lives of millions of Europeans,” is the latest UK proposal of how to deal with those EU citizens currently residing in the UK.

To put these “millions of Europeans” in perspective, according to EU numbers, there are 4.38 million people affected by this: 1.22 million UK citizens living in the EU, and 3.16 million EU citizens living in the UK.

Verhofstadt then goes on to compare the proposal by the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, with the actual proposal by the UK government. He writes that:

Barnier wants British people and Europeans to keep the same rights and the same level of protection they currently enjoy under European law. (…) That is what a majority of the British people want, when they indicate they seek to keep their EU citizenship.”

When Verhofstadt says “that is what a majority of the British people want,” he is referring to the outcome of a poll. How this poll can be conciliated with a majority of British people voting for Brexit is unclear.

The letter goes on to call the official UK position a “damp squib”. The signatories take issue with the fact that it proposes:

that Europeans obtain the status of “third-country nationals” in the UK, with fewer rights than British citizens are offered throughout the EU. Europeans will not only lose their right to vote in local elections, but family members will be subject to minimum income requirements, and it is unclear what the status of “post-Brexit” babies would be. This carries a real risk of creating second-class citizenship. The proposal is even in contradiction with the Vote Leave manifesto, which promised to treat EU citizens ‘no less favourably than they are at present’.

With regard to a ‘second-class citizenship’ being created, it seems odd for the European Parliament to claim that EU-citizenship should somehow confer full EU member state citizenship on EU citizens. This would be in line with Verhofstadt’s advocacy of the EU becoming a federation and ‘ever-closer union’, but that would call for a transformation of what the EU is now. It is also unclear what gives the ‘Vote Leave manifesto’ any real weight in these matters.

The letter then goes on with accusing Britain of “becoming the new champion of red tape,” and claiming that the real concern lies with continuing uncertainty. The letter itself states that negotiations will run until 30 March 2019. Surely, if Verhofstadt would like to negotiate a settlement with the UK, uncertainty now would be a small price to pay for an outcome more agreeable to his own ideas later?

The letter ends with Verhofstadt attacking the British legal system, claiming that those:

courts apply the laws adopted by British politicians, who are currently unable to give sufficient guarantees for the years to come, let alone for a lifetime.

His solution is to demand British and EU citizens should have access to the European Court of Justice. Because EU politicians come with a lifetime warranty?

The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not reduce them. We will never endorse their retroactive removal. The European parliament (sic) will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are at present. This is a question of the basic fundamental rights and values that are at the heart of the European project.

The democratic right of a people to stop being a member of that project, and to decide for themselves who they allow into their country and on what conditions, are apparently not one of those ‘fundamental rights and values’.