LIBERAL DEMOCRAT and Labour MEPs sparked fury tonight as they urged Brussels to directly intervene and slap sanctions on Britain for trying to reduce migration.
Eurosceptics said the move by left-wing politicians showed they had “learnt nothing” from the Brexit vote and accused them of once again trying to undermine the referendum result.
A coalition of Brussels politicians, including Lib Dem and Labour MEPs, urged Jean-Claude Juncker’s EU Commission to consider “infringement proceedings” against the UK over its migration controls.
They said that strict new Home Office guidelines requiring EU citizens to have enough money to pay their way without claiming benefits and to buy health insurance so they do not drain the NHS were discriminatory.
And they argued Theresa May’s government is now in breach of European treaties guaranteeing freedom of movement for all people in the bloc and should be forced to alter its border policies.
Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said EU migrants “pay their taxes and contribute to our society” and should have their residency rights guaranteed by the Government.
She said: “They are not political bargaining chips. They are real people real lives worried and fearful. Is that how we should be treating people we promised we’d welcome?
“We need to protect the UK I know open tolerant and united but it is for this house and its MEPs to speak for all European citizens. The threats from Mrs May’s government must stop now no ifs no buts.”
Labour MEP Claude Moraes added: “There is compelling and building evidence since the Brexit vote that some EU citizens in the UK are experiencing great uncertainty about their position.
“Suspicion that far from having their rights protected the UK has already begun to use them as bargaining chips.
“The UK Government has a moral political and legal duty to protect the rights of all EU citizens.”
Others welcomed the vote in the House of Lords tonight in which the Government was defeated over Article 50 by peers who demanded they guaranteed EU migrant rights.
Green MEP Jean Lambert said: “Many of us will welcome tonight’s vote in the House of Lords on the Article 50 bill. They don’t want to be used as bargaining chips they feel it’s insulting and demeaning and it is.
“[The Government] should strongly condemn the rising racism and xenophobia we’re seeing in the UK. We really hope the Commission will get on please and initiate the infringement proceedings on which they’ve been hanging fire for so long.”
And Labour MEP Richard Corbett added that using EU citizens as “pawns” was a “disgrace we will fight all the way”.
But Tory MEP Anthea McIntyre attacked Lib Dem and Labour MEPs for “political opportunism” and “scaremongering” and said their motion would do nothing to help the EU regain the confidence of voters across the continent.
She said: “The Prime Minister could not have been clearer regarding the value she places on the contribution made by EU citizens to Britain, to its economy, its society, and its culture.
“That is why securing the status of EU nationals already residing in the UK, and UK nationals residing in the EU, is a priority for the Prime Minister once Article 50 is triggered.
“Debates such as this do nothing other than fuel scaremongering amongst our citizens who may already be unsettled by the changing political landscape. The political opportunism displayed by some here today, does little to strengthen our goals of a better Europe.”
And Ukip Home Affairs spokeswoman Jane Collins MEP said the complaint by the liberal MEPs “shows that these fanatical europhiles have learned nothing from Brexit and have no desire to listen to the concerns of the people”.
She said: “Net migration into the UK is still in the hundreds of thousands yet we have MEPs calling for the UK to face sanctions for wanting to control numbers.
“You have to ask yourself at what point, if ever, will these eurocrats stop putting their desires for a United States of Europe before fairness?
“I hope people in the UK see that the Liberal Democrats have joined in this mass whinge against the UK. Not only do they want to overturn the democratic result of the referendum they want to attack their own people for having a different opinion to their policies.”
Ms Collins said that British people have “voted against free movement” in last June’s referendum in part because of the strain migration places on public services.
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EU Commissioner Vera Jourova told MEPs that eurocrats were “carefully assessing the compliance” of recent changes to border policy brought in by Mrs May.
She added: “The EU commission will continue to defend it as a top priority. As long as the UK remains a member state all rights and obligations continue to apply.
“I am fully aware that EU citizens living in the UK are concerned about their future rights. They deserve to know what their rights will be in the UK after it leaves the EU and vice-versa the same applies to UK citizens residing in the other 27 member states.”
In a question to the EU Commission, which sparked the debate, the liberal MEPs wrote: “As a full member of the EU, the UK must apply EU freedom of movement laws and it is the task of the Commission to ensure that these rules are properly applied in all Member States.
“There has been an increasing number of reports of the UK Home Office using restrictive interpretation of the requirements of sufficient resources and the possession of health insurance cover in order to restrict the rights of EU citizens in the UK.”
The debate came after Lib Dem leader Ming Campbell told a Brexit debate in the House of Lords: “Just as Brexit means Brexit, legally resident means legally resident.”