Senior German politicians have suggested offering dual citizenship to young Britons in a bid to keep the UK in touch with the EU.
Sigmar Gabriel, the German vice chancellor, said he would raise the issue of dual citizenship, which is generally forbidden in Germany for non-EU citizens, in the country’s national elections next year.
“Let’s offer it to the young Britons living in Germany, Italy or France so that they can remain EU citizens,” Gabriel said at a meeting in Berlin of his centre-left Social Democratic party.
“It’s a good sign that the youth of Great Britain are more clever than their bizarre political elite,” Gabriel continued. “For that reason we can’t raise our drawbridge on them. We have to think now about what we can offer Great Britain’s younger generation.”
The opposition Green party has also called for Germany to make it easy for Britons living in Germany to get a German passport.
Volker Bouffier, premier of the German state of Hesse – home to Germany’s financial capital, Frankfurt – told the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that “quite a number of Brits” were currently applying for German citizenship.
The statements came as Theresa May, the leading Conservative candidate to lead Britain into exit talks, repeated her warning that the status of EU citizens in the UK would be a factor in negotiations.
“We will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU and I want to ensure that we’re able to not just guarantee a position for those people but guarantee the position for British citizens who are over in other member states, in other countries in Europe, and living there. Nobody necessarily stays anywhere for ever.”
A British Influence poll showed a majority of UK citizens are heavily opposed to the ejection of EU citizens from the UK.
UK politicians will argue they cannot make guarantees about the status of EU migrants in the UK until similar guarantees are made by the EU about the status of Britons living there, or they would be unilaterally throwing away one of their few negotiating cards.
Yvette Cooper, the former shadow home secretary, said: “The prime minister must not wait to sort this as it is causing great anxiety for EU citizens living hereand British citizens living abroad. It is being exploited by extremists to run horrible ‘go home’ campaigns that no one wants to see in Britain.
“Whatever the new immigration rules are for the future, people on both sides of the referendum campaign all agree that EU citizens who are living and working here now, and British citizens currently living in Europe, should not be affected.”
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “There is real, and legitimate, upset and worry from European citizens across our country about their long-term status in the UK. Liberal Democrats will not stand by whilst our communities are divided by uncertainty. Regardless of the outcome of any negotiations with Europe around Brexit, EU citizens who have made Britain their home must be allowed to stay.”
Research for the thinktank British Future by ICM found that 84% of the British public supports letting EU migrants stay – including three-quarters (77%) of leave voters.
Among Conservatives support for protecting the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe is even higher, at 85%, with 78% of Ukip supporters in agreement, the poll found.
Just 16% of the public think EU citizens should be required to leave the UK and that UK citizens in Europe should return home, with 23% of leave voters and 15% of Conservatives agreeing.
A joint letter published in the Sunday Telegraph, signed by politicians of all parties and from across the leave and remain divide, as well as business, NGO and academic voices, calls on the government and politicians of all parties and on both sides of the referendum debate “to make a clear and unequivocal statement that EU migrants currently living in the UK are welcome here and that post-referendum changes would apply only to new migrants”.
The call was made by prominent leave politicians including Daniel Hannan MEP, Gisela Stuart MP and the Ukip MP Douglas Carswell, together with the Institute of Directors, the TUC and industry bodies. The migration thinktank MigrationWatch, which seeks cuts to future immigration, is also backing the call to protect EU migrants in the UK and UK migrants overseas.