The EU’s chief Brexit coordinator has suggested that Boris Johnson take a leaf from the Queen’s book and demonstrate ‘flexibility’ in by allowing more time for negotiation during the Brexit transition period.
In the debate on citizens’ rights in the Withdrawal Agreement – the final in which British MEPs will participate – he suggested that the PM takes a look at the Queen’s willingness to compromise on Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s participation in royal duties.
The prime minister made significant changes to his guarantees on citizens’ rights soon after he received a large majority in the general election, sparking concern from several EU leaders.
Warning that the issue of citizens’ rights must be addressed sooner rather than later, Verhofstadt called for automatic recognition of the right to stay, for paper rather than digital documentation of settled status, and for citizens’ rights campaigners to have a role in the watchdog that will oversee applications.
As well as a lighthearted reference to the Queen, he also made a jibe at the expense of the Conservatives in his request for automatic recognition of rights.
“There is a Tory government. The Tory government always say, ‘we want less bureaucracy’. Well, ok, let’s make less bureaucracy! And the best way to do it is an automatic recognition. So then you don’t need all this.”
He also repeated calls for EU citizens with settled status in the UK to receive a physical document rather than simply a digital confirmation that they can stay.
“In a normal world, you have a document,” he said, pointing out all the practical issues that could go awry with only an emailed version of the status.
He expressed concerns about the independent monitoring authority being set up to assure the fair implementation and application of EU citizens’ rights.
After the general election, Boris Johnson revised sections of the WAB to empower the government to abolish this authority if it wished – raising alarm amongst rights groups, who have already questioned the body’s future transparency.
But Verhofstadt called on Johnson to bring campaign group the3million, who advocate for EU citizens’ rights in the UK, on board with the authority.
“Then we are sure that both sides are there,” he said.
But he decided to finish his speech “on a lighter note” by referencing the Queen’s recent conference with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
“I ask for a little bit of flexibility from prime minister Johnson,” he said. “Maybe he can take an example from the Queen – because the Queen yesterday gave a transition period to leave, to Harry and Meghan. So maybe the flexibility on the side of Mr Johnson could also be very useful.”
The Brexit coordinator’s comments echoed the spirit of warnings made by chief negotiator Michel Barnier last week, which also raised “issues of concern” about the citizens’ rights watchdog prior to Ursula von der Leyen’s visit to the PM.
In parliament, following Verhofstadt, Belgian Green MEP Philippe Lamberts put his concerns more starkly.
He said: “There is a threat that is written in black and white within the withdrawal agreement that provides the UK government with the possibility of simply doing away with the indpendent authority which will be responsible for implementing the WA and the respect for EU and UK citizens’ rights. And all of these things worry us.”