Theresa May's proposals over how to treat EU nationals after Brexit have been dismissed by some of the most senior figures in the process as "a damp squib", carrying the "real risk of creating second-class citizenship".
Guy Verhofstadt, MEP and the European Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator, said this morning that the British Prime Minister must improve the offer regarding Europeans remaining in the UK or face outright rejection of the deal.
The UK proposal of "settled status" would give EU citizens fewer rights than Brits living in Europe would enjoy.
"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”," Verhofstadt wrote in a letter to a number of newspapers.
"It also seems that Britain wants to become the new champion of red tape," he added, noting that each family member - including children - would have to apply for this status separately, and in some cases make two applications. The letter, which was co-signed by a number of other MEPS, noted that there was little clarity regarding what it would mean for individuals in positions that currently enjoy certain privileges - students and doctors, for example.
The Brexit deal must be completed by March 2019, because any delay would require the UK to hold European elections in May 2019. "That is simply unthinkable," he wrote.
However, the MEP warned May and other senior British figures not to assume that a deal would be accepted simply because of a looming deadline.
"The European Union has a common mission to extend, enhance and expand rights, not reduce them. We will never endorse their retroactive removal," he said. "The European parliament will reserve its right to reject any agreement that treats EU citizens, regardless of their nationality, less favourably than they are at present."
British in Europe coalition chair person, lawyer Jane Golding said: "The European Parliament’s statement is a clear indication of how seriously it takes the rights of UK citizens living in Europe and confirms its members' intention to 'put citizens first'. The EU proposal is seen as the starting point and we appeal to both sides not to stoop to a lower negotiating position. Any UK offer must confirm the existing and acquired rights of EU citizens living in the UK, rather than its current offer of a status less favourable than they have now, effectively giving them third country citizen status under UK law.
"We support the European Parliament’s position that citizens rights are a red line. No country’s citizens should be affected retrospectively by Brexit.”