EU citizenship post-Brexit: one step closer?


Guy Verhofstadt is a hero in our unheroic age. Whilst confusion and fear over Brexit stalk the lives of many, Theresa May hides behind the camouflage of providing “no running commentary” – helpful cover for a government with no plan and no idea – and European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier understandably asserts that he cannot negotiate a British exit from the EU until Britain confirms it actually wants to exit the EU.

Into this vacuum steps Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP and former prime minister who heads the Liberal group in the European Parliament. Relatively quietly, it is Guy who has put the first concrete proposal onto the exit talks agenda: opt-in EU citizenship post-Brexit for Brits who want it. It is something I have been making a pitch for here and elsewhere for the last couple of months, including two articles (here and here) in The New European newspaper.

In the last few days, Guy has made this commitment: “I, as Brexit negotiator for the Parliament, will ensure that it is included in the Parliament’s negotiating mandate.” With a single, decisive act, he has done more to include Britain’s pro-Europeans in the Brexit process than our own government has attempted in six months.

The idea of opt-in EU citizenship was being pushed in the European Parliament by another Liberal MEP, Luxembourg’s Charles Goerens. He wrote for the Independent last month, setting out his case. He had put forward an amendment, due to be voted on last Thursday in one of the Parliament’s committees, which called for the creation of a new category of associate EU citizenship, for nationals of former member states (i.e. us in a few years’ time)

Following Wednesday’s vote in the House of Commons, which suggests Labour is likely to wave Brexit through Parliament when the time comes, Goerens withdrew his amendment and Verhofstadt made his commitment to put the idea directly onto the negotiating table instead.

What had promised to be an appeal by the European Parliament for a future treaty change will now be a live issue in the exit talks. It is correct that the UK Government would itself need to consent for it to feature in the final agreement, but if they don’t then the original Goerens amendment could simply be brought back as a purely EU initiative. And if that happened it would be something over which the UK – by that time, outside the EU – would have neither veto nor influence.

And when it comes to the UK Government taking a position on this, it would say something about Theresa May, wouldn’t it, if she blocked it? She would be a modern-day Walter Ulbricht, leading a country with so little self-confidence that she feels she has to wall us in to stop us going elsewhere.

Stepping back for a moment, it does feel shameful that whilst the UK Government talks about using our fellow Europeans in the Brexit negotiations as if they are playing cards in a game of poker, our fellow Europeans are spending their time thinking up ways in which they can help us.

Liam Fox and I may both carry passports with a lion and a unicorn on the cover, but I have far more in common with people like Guy Verhofstadt and Charles Goerens. It is individuals like them who remind me how much we, as Europeans, have in common and, sometimes, how little we have in common with those with whom, by chance, we happen to share these islands.

When I wrote a blog post on 16 October setting out the idea of opt-in EU citizenship for pro-European Brits post-Brexit, I thought that it was a scream into the void, frankly. I can’t claim credit, but it is amazing that now, two months later, it is the very first concrete proposal to be placed on the negotiating table. And it’s been put there by Liberals. It is perhaps a glimmer of hope at the end of an awful year.

* Stuart Bonar was the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate in Plymouth Moor View.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • How can you be a citizen of a country that doesn’t exist ?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Dec '16 - 1:29pm


    Are you playing umpire here or hard ball tennis ?! You are turning me into the new John McEnroe , “you cannot be serious !” No one is keener on people like Guy than me , when they do the Liberal and Democrat oriented thing , but to overtly scorn our prime minister at the same time as cringe making sanctimoneus praise for , the apparently general level of caring sharing EU co operation since the summer is ludicrous !

    The effort by the two Liberals have been the only helpful so far from the EU. Every leader from Hollande to Merkal , even the Polish , all either neutral or antagonistic, quite apart from the actual EU co hort .

    I do not expect jam today or tomorrow from them unless we deliver as a country in negotiations.

    This party should , and contributers to LDV, should , expect ,more in the way of both Liberal patriotism and common sense fairness in our own approach , including this article.

    Liberalism relate to the word libra in the zodiac . Balance .

  • ethicsgradient 12th Dec '16 - 2:15pm

    As a leave supporter, i would whole-heartedly embrace a dual-citizenship scheme as long strings attached because it gives me everything I would desire.

    That is to be free and out of a political union, fully sovereign and democratically accountable. At the same time I would retain many of the benefits which come with being a member of the EU. (there was always positives and negatives on each side, for me the positives of leave were stronger).

    This idea would be ‘have your cake and eat it’. I am not so sure the rest of the EU will be willing to play ball with this one, once they think it through.

  • Barry Snelson 12th Dec '16 - 2:36pm

    I think this is a fine idea in theory but this could easily be dashed expectations, in practice. Currently, EU citizenship only exists as a consequence of being a citizen of a member state. So will the EU set itself up as a ‘nation’ ? I’m all for it but would it involve a ‘tax’? Based on income? or a flat rate?
    Will it mean I will have free movement to EU states even though they won’t have the same rights to come to my country?
    Will it involve military service? including the over 65’s? ( very important this last point).
    Please don’t tell me to stop asking awkward questions and stick with the dream. It seems great, but I’m a practical person and I won’t get worked up until I hear something more than just the word “citizenship”.

  • Barry – I wouldn’t dream of suggesting you stop asking questions, although I do think sometimes as a party we get too bogged down in the prose of an idea and don’t look for the poetry. Look at the Leave campaign, they didn’t have a single answer to a single question, and they seem to have done rather well.
    Anyway, your questions… If you look at what Charles Goerens suggested in his amendment, it would be an “associate citizenship”, which would have some of the hallmarks of citizenship (e.g. right to reside), but avoids the legal complexity. I think this is fine. In terms of “tax”, yes, Goerens envisaged a contribution from participants (it is all entirely voluntary, after all). It would have to be a flat rate because I doubt the EU has any interest in establishing a system for administering personal taxation just for this scheme. On free movement, yes, because the UK as a state would not be participating. Would it involve military service? No. And if it ever did (which it won’t) and you objected, you could simply cancel your citizenship.

  • ethicsgradient – Thanks. I welcome the fact that as a Leave supporter you have no problem with it. It wouldn’t block exit, and nobody would be compelled to participate.
    Mark – the EU wouldn’t really be giving us citizenship, but rather allowing us to keep it. I am sure similar issues would have been faced if Scotland had voted to leave the UK.
    Lorenzo – not sure why I shouldn’t judge Theresa May extremely harshly. She has done nothing to reach out to the 16 million who voted Remain. I happily condemn her, and believe myself well within my rights to do so. Guy Verhofstadt on the other hand is trying to find a solution for those of us who wish to remain, and he is doing that in a way entirely compliant with the referendum result.

  • Matt (Bristol) 12th Dec '16 - 3:01pm

    Mark Wright’s point 2 is the most powerful point I have seen used to counter this proposal and is giving me pause.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 12th Dec '16 - 3:15pm


    I did not and would not suggest you or any of another party ie ours , refrained from criticising , or, your choice of word , judgeing , the prime minister harshly , but want some balance , if possible from our party , which seems absent .We are not the Conservative party but are the citizens of Britain.

    Five minutes ago we were able to agree to a level of cuts many thought wrong , amongst other things with Tories. Can we not see May as a reasonable fellow citizen at least ?! And can we not criticise the many who I and Mark , above , in the EU see as roadblocks not only to a soft Brexit , but to the reform the EU needs .

    Your points , examined carefully by Barry , Matt, others too on here , are good ones at best , dreams , at worst , but it is your tone that is not good , when it means we in these islands cannot be on the same side even in these times and this party when it comes to levels of irritation. Mine is as much caused by Juncker and friends as by May to December !

  • Eddie Sammon 12th Dec '16 - 3:17pm

    I think it’s a good idea but it mustn’t be too expensive. A liberal visa-regime would have been practically free to UK citizens, this won’t be.

    I think it’s also a mistake to defend the EU’s stance on Article 50.

  • To Mark Wright and Matt (Bristol) – it depends on the cost of course. If the cost was the same as that of a UK passport, then you could simply forego a UK passport (since you have citizenship already), buy associate citizenship and use a Euro passport for travel purposes.

    I suspect in practice it will take more than being able to afford associate citizenship to allow anyone to dodge the effects of globalisation. The reality is that rich people have little problem choosing to live and work wherever they like in the world already, and Brexit won’t change that.

    I like this idea (subject to the cost), but am not overly confident of this proposal surviving contact with the exit negotiations.

  • Alan Garriock 12th Dec '16 - 6:18pm

    If 17 million or more UK citizens were to become associate EU citizens would that automatically indicate that the UK wants to Remain (or Regain)?

  • ethicsgradient 12th Dec '16 - 6:46pm

    @Alan Garriock

    I would say not.

    I voted leave, I would vote leave again. I am definitely interested in taking a duel citizenship if it becomes a possibility. This might initially seem dichotomous but it isn’t.

    I want all the free- trade benefits, I want easy ability to do business. I just don’t want and never wanted all the political stuff that came along with the EU. On balance we will better off out. However if the EU are going to offer me a way to keep that ease of business and movement without the UK having to belong to a political union and remain self-governing and accountable. Deffo… bring it on!

    So a large up take in dual citizenship cannot be taken as a direct indication of wanting to remain in the EU.

    Conversely if the dual EU citizenship came with caveats meaning the UK would still effectively be an EU member, then I’d reject it.

  • jedibeeftrix 12th Dec '16 - 7:23pm

    “If 17 million or more UK citizens were to become associate EU citizens would that automatically indicate that the UK wants to Remain (or Regain)?”

    Yes, indeed.

    What if we don’t get 17m british applicants, or even 5m…?

  • Alan & jedibeeftrix – no, I don’t think so; after all, 17 million people do not constitute a majority of the UK electorate, #cough.
    Eddie – I agree that it should, hopefully, be affordable, although equally I think it would be cheeky of us to expect the EU to subsidise it – they would already be doing us a favour.
    On the wider question of a fee – to address the point made by Matt & Mark – I agree with Nick, I can’t see how being able to move to another part of the EU would help me dodge the effects of globalisation.
    ethicsgradient – I am sure many other Leave people might do the same. It’s why I would personally support a requirement for applicants to make a public declaration of support for the EU. I suspect that wouldn’t stop you, but it would be amusing for the rest of us.

  • Noorderling 12th Dec '16 - 8:00pm

    I fail to see how creating an one-sided freedom of movement, giving rights to UK citizens without creating comparable rights for EU citizens, would be either in the interest of the EU27 or very popular. IT’s not up to us to solve the problems the British have created for themselves.

  • An interesting development since this went up:
    “Theresa May would consider ‘associate European citizenship’ for British people”

  • Noorderling – there are some reasons; I wrote about them here – I’d also point out that this Government won’t be in power forever. Favours and generosity to a friend can be returned, when the opportunity arises. And please do remember that the 16 million British people who voted Remain did not create this problem.

  • Steve Comer 12th Dec '16 - 8:38pm

    Lets be clear we’re talking about a right to opt into Associate Citizenship of the EU. UK Citizens are already EU Citizens, so unless something like the Goerens /Verhofstadt proposal happens we will be stripped of our EU Citizenship when the UK leaves the EU.

    There are over two million people like me who have opted to live in another EU country. We face the real threat of being deported back to the UK ion a few years time, about the time EU citizens resident in the UK, are forced out. Do we really want to see this mass involuntary movement of people who’ve chosen to make new home and lives in another land?

    I don’t know how many people would wish to opt for Associate Citizenship of the EU, but it is for the EU to offer, not for the UK’s Tory Government to try to sabotage.

  • Little Jackie Paper 13th Dec '16 - 9:07am

    Steve Comer – ‘There are over two million people like me who have opted to live in another EU country. We face the real threat of being deported back to the UK in a few years time, about the time EU citizens resident in the UK, are forced out. Do we really want to see this mass involuntary movement of people who’ve chosen to make new home and lives in another land?’

    Is there some reason you can’t seek citizenship where you’ve moved to? Many in the UK have done so, my wife included.

    In all sincerity, and to be clear I’m not getting at you here, what do you think the purpose of A50 is? That clause has always been there, it wasn’t secret. There was nothing to prevent the UK or indeed the country you are in exercising an explicit treaty right to leave the EU. The risk was always rather more than theoretical.

    In years to come I will take citizenship of my wife’s country, possibly including some sort of national service. I will do so because outside of citizenship I am promised nothing and am owed nothing by that country. If I plan to move the centre of my life elsewhere then I have to realise and understand that not having citizenship carries risk.

    For what it’s worth I’d be reasonably happy with a Norway-ish option. But let’s at least be honest. That so-called EU citizenship is a form of citizenship unlike classic citizenships – and you knew this. Or as an adult you really should have done. And as an adult there are steps you can, and I would suggest, should take now.

  • Little Jackie Paper 13th Dec '16 - 9:15am

    Stuart – ‘I am sure many other Leave people might do the same. It’s why I would personally support a requirement for applicants to make a public declaration of support for the EU.’

    I realise that you probably meant this as frivolous, but it raises a serious point. There are a lot of people across the EU with EU citizenship who probably don’t like the EU. The flipside of this proposal seems to me that people could opt-out of the EU and get a payment back for doing so. I know remainers wouldn’t like that but it would be amusing for a lot of us.

    More generally I really do think that some remainers are far too blasé about the gaping asymmetry in the EU at the moment –

  • Alex Macfie 13th Dec '16 - 9:18am

    Lorenzo: “Liberalism relate to the word libra in the zodiac . Balance .” No it doesn’t. And the clue is in the ‘e’. “Liberal” comes from the Latin 1st/2nd declension adjective “liber” meaning “free”. Whereas some nouns and adjectives in “-er” drop the ‘e’ in inflected forms, “liber” keeps it, hence “libEral”. By comparison, “library” comes from the Latin noun “liber”, meaning “book”, which is an e-dropping 2nd declension -er noun. If “liberal” had been derived from either this or “libra”, it would be spelt “libral”.

  • Isn’t associate citizenship of the EU just a form of visa, and the whole brexit thing a jobs worth for a lot of civil servants and politicians? I can’t really believe that anyone seriously thought that Britain in the EU wasn’t a sovereign country. All that’s happening is a jobs swap; civil servants from Brussels to London, bankers from London to Frankfurt and more carrot pulling for the residents of Lincolnshire. Quite bonkers and a typical British farce.

  • Steve Comer 16th Dec '16 - 6:41pm

    Little Jackie Paper asked:
    “Is there some reason you can’t seek citizenship where you’ve moved to?”

    YES! The problem is you need to have lived in my country of residence for 5 years before you can apply for permanent residency, and 7 years before you can apply for citizenship.
    I have temporary residency status AS AN EU CITIZEN, so if Britain leaves the EU in 2019 I could be deported long before I can even qualify for permanent EU citizen residency, let alone citizenship. I have no home in England, and property prices there are at least double what they are here.

    I’m not alone, there are about two million others in the same situation.
    That is why the Goerens /Verhofstadt proposal is so vitally important to us. I’m proud of the fact that the ALDE Group has tabled it.

  • Gordon Postlethwaite 19th Jan '17 - 4:47pm

    Probably a bit late in adding to this but, We bought a house in France 6 years ago with a view to retiring there,since then we have slowly improved it,bought a French reg car and have a bank acct. Brexit has put all this into doubt,would I go for asscociate citizenship even at a cost? Yes because I have not lived in France the requisite 5 yrs (don’t actually move till May 2017) and if I want the benefits I should be taxed like everyone else.I have to say that living in a Brexit voting area I’m getting fed up of brexiteers(hate that term) getting angry when I disagree with them,I respect their views why are mine traitorous? Is it any wonder I want to go hide in a French field? Gordon

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to           show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Brad Barrows
    Sorry - I need to show proof of identity to get to borrow a library book so I don’t see why the UK should not adopt something that is perfectly common in othe...
  • Brad Barrows
    A well written and timely article....
  • Lorenzo Cherin
    John Thanks, appreciate that comment. I have for years, researched and thought about the issue as I care about real public services. My proposal is tha...
  • John Lamb
    As member who joined the Liberal Party in 1979 the values that Michael Taylor speaks of were self-evident then. We need renew these values now more than ever in...
  • Peter Hirst
    Fraud like many crimes is performed in the expectation that you can get away with it. We don't know how many do. Even ethical marketing pushes the boundary of w...