Britons living in EU countries must have their rights protected after Brexit, scores of MPs said in a letter to European Council president Donald Tusk.
The letter, backed by 80 parliamentarians including 70 Tory MPs, calls for an early agreement on reciprocal rights for British citizens in European Union countries and citizens of those nations living in the UK – saying people should not be used as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negotiations.
The letter, organised by Tories Michael Tomlinson and Steve Baker, calls for the issue to be put on the agenda of the summit of European leaders in December and hits out at the refusal of Brussels officials to allow formal talks on the matter to take place.
Theresa May has said she wants to guarantee EU citizens the right to remain in the UK and has said that the only reason that would not happen is if other European countries do not offer the same privileges to Britons.
The Prime Minister has also indicated she would like the issue resolved at an early stage to end the uncertainty affecting people’s lives.
But the MPs said the European Commission was refusing to work on the issue until the formal Brexit process begins with the triggering of Article 50, even though leaders of EU countries backed Mrs May’s position.
The Prime Minister has said she will trigger Article 50 by the end of March next year.
In their letter to Mr Tusk ahead of December’s European Council summit in Brussels, the MPs highlighted the stance taken by the commission’s lead Brexit official Michel Barnier who said in a message on Twitter after talks with Brexit Secretary David Davis there would be “no negotiation without notification”.
The MPs – including former Cabinet ministers Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and John Whittingdale – said: “We warmly welcome the news that individual member states are working with the Prime Minister and Her Majesty’s Government to resolve the status of EU citizens in the UK and our citizens living and working in Europe, but we are extremely concerned that members of the commission – particularly commissioner Barnier – seem worryingly indifferent to securing reciprocal rights for our and your resident citizens.
“His attempts to prevent negotiations taking place on this issue between the democratically-elected governments of EU member states are making it harder to achieve what is in everyone’s interest: ending the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens living in one another’s territories.
“It is the only just and humane thing to do and anything else would be unworthy of Europe’s common values.
“People are not bargaining chips. Human beings are not cards to be traded ‘tit for tat’ in a political playground.”
The letter’s author Mr Tomlinson, deputy chairman of the pro-Brexit European Research Group (ERG), said: “At the October meeting of the European Council, Donald Tusk said that there was nothing to discuss about Brexit.
“With respect I disagree with him. People are not bargaining chips. Theresa May wants to secure reciprocal rights for our citizens.
“This letter is a call to Donald Tusk to liberate Theresa May to achieve what is in all of our national interests and to end the anxiety and uncertainty for UK and EU citizens. It must be discussed at the next European Council meeting. But not only discussed, it must be resolved.”
ERG chairman Steve Baker MP said: “Michel Barnier’s intransigence is inhumane. It is only compounded by the petulance of his recent tweet.
“He should apologise and immediately agree in principle the continuation of reciprocal rights for resident UK and EU citizens”