London mayor Sadiq Khan’s trip to Brussels to argue “heartbroken” Britons should be offered “associate citizenship” of the EU has been dismissed as a “gimmick”.
Mr Khan Travelled to the Belgian capital on Tuesday to meet the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and European Parliament president David Sassoli.
He also held talks with European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt over the idea of UK nationals being given the chance to retain their EU citizenship and keep a “link” to the bloc.
However, with less than three months until the London mayoral elections, Mr Khan was told to instead focus on combating violent crime in the capital.
Shaun Bailey, the Conservative Party candidate hoping to stop Mr Khan being re-elected in May, said: “Three more Londoners were stabbed on the weekend and a teenager is fighting for his life as we speak, and where is our mayor?
“In Brussels, announcing a gimmick he has no powers to implement.
“The mayor has got to focus on his actual responsibilities; he should be in London, urgently speaking with the Met Police, over whom he does have actual powers.”
Rory Stewart, the former MP and independent mayoral candidate, accused Mr Khan of chasing a “soundbite”, adding: “The policy cannot work.”
At a news conference in Brussels alongside Mr Verhofstadt – a long-time champion of Britons being offered associate citizenship after Brexit – Mr Khan described how many Londoners were “heartbroken” by the UK’s departure from the EU last month.
He said: “I’m going to bang the drum for our city and to be close to our friends in Europe … but also seeing if there’s a possibility, even though we’ve left the EU, of some sort of associate citizenship going forward.
“I’ve been pleased with the response and it gives hope to Londoners and others across our country.”
Mr Khan hailed associate citizenship for Britons as “the next best thing” to the UK staying in the EU’s single market and retaining the bloc’s freedom of movement rules, which he admitted “clearly is not going to happen”.
He said: “Even if the British government does reciprocate in relation to associate citizenship, we think the EU will put out the fraternal hand of friendship and rec ognise there are people in our country who want to stay close to the EU. “
Mr Verhofstadt was challenged as to whether associate citizenship would mean Britons enjoying the benefits of EU membership without the UK having the obligations of being part of the bloc.
He insisted the UK would have to offer “reciprocity” to EU citizens.
But the Belgian politician Also admitted there would be an uphill task in convincing EU leaders to back his campaign.
“The first thing to do is to convince European governments to come forward with the idea,” he said.
Jean-Claude Piris, a former legal adviser to the European Council, claimed the plan for associate citizenship was “not doable” without first changing EU treaties.
“No member state [would be] willing to do it in any case,” he added.