Guy Verhofstadt: It is important the EU is generous and open to British citizens

Since the UK referendum on European Union membership, I have received thousands of letters from UK citizens angry that their European identity is being taken from them against their will. From a 15-year-old in the South West of England upset with his parents and grandparents for voting to leave because he hoped to study in Germany, to a 90-year-old man who survived the Blitz in London, but still believes that, for all its failings, the EU has a fundamental role in cementing peace in Europe.

Within days of Article 50 being tabled we were reminded of the important role the EU has played in unifying European nations, when some who should know better compared Gibraltar to the Falkland Islands and suggested the British Prime Minister would be justified in taking military action against Spain, despite the fact that no one threatened the sovereignty of Gibraltar.

Yes, it is inevitable that the EU will now support the economic interests of Spain and the Republic of Ireland in any forthcoming discussions about the EU’s external borders, but in the coming years the EU’s interest will be to secure peace on our continent, not stoke division. As Theresa May made clear, these issues will be solved by “jaw-jaw” and not “war-war”. The draft guidelines of the European Council on Gibraltar made clear that any future agreements concerning Gibraltar will need Spain and the UK to agree. This is a statement of the obvious, not a threat to the sovereignty of Gibraltar.

It was with great sadness this week that MEPs debated Brexit in Strasbourg. Discussions in the coming months will be tough and at times, intense. The scale of the talks ahead are unprecedented, but there is unanimity among MEPs that our priority will be to prioritise the rights of citizens.

To read the full article in the Independent click here.

Guy Verhofstadt is chief Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament.