UK Brexit boss David Davis told MPs in London yesterday that he is interested in discussing the idea of optional EU citizenship for Brits. This is a good sign ahead of next week’s negotiations.
The offer, originally floated by the European Parliament’s lead Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, aims to allow UK citizens who want to continue to benefit from the advantages of EU membership – including free movement and the right to vote in European elections – to do so.
Backed by a number of MEPs and other politicians, the offer was grasped enthusiastically by Remainers and scorned by Leavers, who smelled a Brussels conspiracy to carve up British society and stop the UK from ever cutting itself loose.
Replying to a plea from Conservative MP Jeremy Lefroy to “look seriously” at the proposal, Davis said he will “listen to anything of this nature” when he is next in Brussels.
“The point of this exercise is to be good for Europe, good for Britain, and that means it has to be good for the citizens of Europe and Britain,” the UK’s chief negotiator said.
From a government that has previously accused the EU of making “threats” and being the “enemy”, this openness is a welcome breath of fresh air. And it comes just in time for the next round of Article 50 negotiations, which begin on Wednesday (8 November).
The fact that even Brexiter-in-Chief Davis admits that keeping the benefits of EU membership would be “good for citizens” does beg the question of what the point of Brexit really is. But that is already familiar territory for The Brief.
While the idea behind associate citizenship is laudable, rolling it out would not be easy as it would require a bespoke arrangement touching on both EU and UK citizens’ rights.
Important details such as who would pay for the scheme and how the EU would manage non-reciprocal free movement with people from a non-member state will take some serious ironing out.
Not only would such a deal require treaty change agreed unanimously by the EU27 but London would have to agree too. This means – presumably – that it would have to be written into the final Brexit deal alongside the chapters on citizens’ rights.
And there’s the rub: in the end, it all comes down to the deal.
What happens to associate citizenship if there is no deal? It will likely end up down the drain along with the frictionless Irish border and single market access.
Nevertheless, a positive verdict on associate citizenship would be a welcome bright spot in an otherwise gloomy situation.
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Look out for…
The COP23 begins on Monday. This year’s UN climate conference is hosted by Fiji and will take place in Bonn, Germany.
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