Today Programme

Justin Webb interviewed Guy Verhofstadt, the EU parliament’s representative to the Brexit negotiations. My complaint is that Mr Webb failed to adequately challenge Verhofstadt on the EU parliament’s opposition to the UK Government’s plans for securing EU citizen’s rights after Brexit. The EU wants EU citizens post-brexit to have exactly the same rights as they enjoy now which from a EU perspective is not controversial but needs to be challenged if the requests are unreasonable. The only challenge was when Mr Webb stated (accurately) that this would create a new class of citizenship guaranteed in perpetuity which is of course different from UK citizens whose rights and obligations can be changed with successive parliaments. When Mr Verhofstadt replied that this was not the case (and it most definitely is) Mr Webb simply dropped the point. The obvious point that Mr Webb could have made is that EU citizens currently enjoy some rights that even British citizens do not enjoy such as bringing in spouses from outside the EU without restriction. Why should this continue post-brexit? The other point which Mr Webb alluded to but did not expand on is that it is a fundamental part of our constitution that one parliament cannot bind another. Could he not have put to Verhofstadt that it is a bit much to ask the UK to change its constitution in order to safeguard EU citizens’ rights when the UK would never ask France, Belgium, Germany etc to do the same. Next he asked whether the EU would expect these rights to be overseen by the CJEU (the European Court of Justice) to which the reply was yes. Again there was no challenge to this. The obvious point is that post-brexit the CJEU will effectively be a foreign court to which the UK is not a signatory. The UK does not allow the US supreme court to govern the rights of US citizens in the UK or the Indian Supreme court to govern the rights of Indian nationals in the UK? To allow the CJEU to have this jurisdictional oversight would be unprecedented and not something that any sovereign nation could agree to. There is also no precedent (to my knowledge) of any other bi-lateral treaty with the EU coming under the jurisdiction of the CJEU for the simple reason that no other country would accept it (example: the latest EU trade deal with Canada.) The third reason is the patent unfairness of having the EU choose its own court to be the arbiter of EU and UK citizens’ rights post-brexit. None of this was put to Mr Verhofstadt. Let me be clear, these are NOT pro-brexit points – simply points relating to the legal and constitutional status of the UK vis a vis the EU post-brexit. The interview ended with an incredibly bland and non-substantive point from Mr Webb that the EU parliament would not have much power as this would be decided by the nation states – a point easily rebutted by Verhofstadt as he is the lead negotiator for the EU parliament and rightly stated that the parliament has a veto on the withdrawal treaty. If you listen to the interview again, it is clear that Mr Verhofstadt’s views are not challenged adequately and his most outrageous points (from a UK perspective, although perfectly understandable from a EU perspective) are treated with undue reverence (compare with Evan Davies asking David Jones “what planet are you living on” on Newsnight 28th June 2017.) One might reasonably ask what planet Mr Verhofstadt is living on if he thinks post-brexit that EU citizens should have greater rights not just than other foreign nationals but greater than British nationals and that these rights should be guaranteed by a foreign court. I am simply asking for the EU arguments to be challenged as robustly as those of the UK government but that patently is not the case.

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