A cross-party delegation of MPs is meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to ask for UK citizens’ rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Tory MP Alberto Costa warned that 1.3 million British citizens living, working and studying in Europe could have their rights extinguished “literally overnight” after a no-deal Brexit.
Both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, the Tories fighting to become the next leader, have said they are willing to depart on a no-deal basis if necessary.
Front-runner Johnson has pledged to secure the rights of the 3.6 million EU citizens in the UK, but he has no legal power to protect UK citizens in Europe.
The South Leicestershire MP is leading the cross-party delegation to meet Barnier in Brussels.
“In the event of no-deal the United Kingdom parliament can take measures to protect EU nationals in the UK,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “But we do not have powers to pass legislation extraterritorially, in other words within the EU, to protect our own citizens.”
He pointed out that, contrary to stereotype, most UK citizens in the EU are not retirees but are working people and students.
An amendment tabled by Costa in February asking government to ringfence citizens’ rights from the Withdrawal Agreement was supported by parliament, though it cost him his job. In June, Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay wrote to Barnier asking him to look again at proposals to ringfence citizens’ rights.
The government would be “abrogating its responsibilities” to UK citizens without bilateral agreements with member states, Mr Costa added.
“If Britain chooses to exit without an agreement in place, it would be terminating the rights of British citizens overnight.
“I want to understand from Michel Barnier what his position is in carving out citizens’ rights, why he has said, thus far, no to that … And if he continues to say no, we want to understand what authority [he has] if any, he can encourage member states to enter into in emergency bilateral agreements with the UK.”