Britons 'could pay to keep EU perks'

LONDON • Britons wanting to retain benefits of European Union membership after the country leaves could pay Brussels for individual citizenship, the European Parliament's lead Brexit negotiator, Mr Guy Verhofstadt, said yesterday.

"Many say 'we don't want to cut our links'," the former Belgian prime minister told The Times. "I like the idea that people who are European citizens and saying they want to keep it have the possibility of doing so. As a principle I like it."

British Prime Minister Theresa May has vowed to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by March, setting the ball rolling on two years of negotiations to set the terms of the divorce.

Trade and immigration are set to be the key issues, with European leaders saying they will not compromise on open borders within the bloc.

Brexit-supporting MP Andrew Bridgen accused Mr Verhofstadt of trying to sow division in Britain.

"It's an attempt to create two classes of UK citizen and to subvert the referendum vote," he told The Times. "The truth is that Brussels will try every trick in the book to stop us leaving."

Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny on Friday said Brexit could be softened by a transitional deal, allowing time to set the terms of a full divorce.

"I think it would be impossible to do all of the negotiations inside the contemplated two-year period," Mr Kenny told Sky News. "There's a growing feeling in Europe that there should be a transition period, and that transition period might well be longer than those two years. I wouldn't like to put a timescale on it."

The Irish leader insisted that there had been "no substantial discussion" at the European Council about Brexit, but that fellow EU leaders saw free movement of people as a "red-line issue" in any future trade deal with Britain.

Mr Kenny said he hoped that Britain would retain access to the EU's common market in order to avoid tariff complications at the Republic of Ireland's land border with Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain.

"It would mean inconvenience, delays and time-wasting, extra costs and job losses," he said.

Former British prime ministers John Major and Tony Blair angered Brexit supporters on Friday by raising the idea of a second referendum on the terms of the divorce.

Maltese President Joseph Muscat, whose country takes over the EU's rotating presidency in January, earlier told the BBC that European leaders were "not bluffing" about maintaining open borders and that he would "not be surprised" if an ongoing legal challenge delayed Mrs May's plans to trigger Article 50.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 27, 2016, with the headline 'Britons 'could pay to keep EU perks''. Print Edition | Subscribe