By Alastair Macdonald
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament's Brexit negotiator will propose that Britons can have "associate citizenship" of the EU once their country leaves, but senior officials have dismissed the idea as an unworkable gimmick.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister, told a parliamentary committee on Thursday that he would push to include the proposal in a negotiating mandate that fellow lawmakers will give him in March before talks start.
"It's a good idea," Verhofstadt told the constitutional affairs committee of a suggestion by a fellow liberal lawmaker that Britons could opt to live on the continent as "associate citizens" and retain a vote in EU parliamentary elections.
On Friday, through a spokesman, he added that it "captured the imagination and hopes" of many of the 48 percent of participants in Britain's June referendum who voted 'remain', and that he would "ensure that it is included in the parliament's negotiating mandate".
However, other EU officials involved in preparing divorce negotiations that British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will launch by late March say they see little legal scope for the kind of arrangement Verhofstadt proposed, and little appetite among other governments to discuss such ideas.
"This is one of many ideas that will be floated in the European Parliament and will never see the light of day," one senior official said. "It's a gimmick."
National governments and the EU executive have not yet even established what role in the negotiating process to give Parliament, which must approve any final deal; the subject may well be discussed when EU leaders meet on Thursday.
The associate citizenship idea was first floated by Charles Goerens, a Luxembourg liberal, as an amendment to a report on EU treaty reform that Verhofstadt is trying to steer through the parliament. Goerens agreed to drop the amendment after Verhofstadt promised to pursue it instead in the Brexit talks.
Goerens wants to change EU treaties to create "associate citizenship for those who feel and wish to be part of the European project but are nationals of a former member state".
May has called on EU leaders to reach a quick agreement that the rights of expatriates on either side of a new EU-UK border will be protected after Brexit. EU leaders say they agree but insist that a deal can only be struck after formal negotiations.
(editing by John Stonestreet)