MEPs will veto any Brexit deal that does not protect the rights of EU citizens, Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator said yesterday.

There are 3.5m EU nationals in the UK and 1.2m Britons in Europe.

Verhofstadt insisted that upholding citizens’ rights would help determine whether or not MEPs supported a Brexit deal.

“We will never give consent if the issues of citizens’ rights, on both sides, has not been dealt with in a satisfactory way,” he said at a special session on Brexit in the European parliament.

“What we could do is to envisage and to offer, as part of the future agreement, a possibility for UK citizens who have lost their citizenship … certain advantages, privileges, treatment. Can it be done? … We have asked for a conceptual paper to examine that,” he added.

Leona Bashow, a Manchester resident and immigration lawyer also spoke in the European parliament, calling for assurances that all British nationals would retain EU citizenship rights.

“There is a duty to protect every EU citizen within the member states, including all the British citizens living in the UK, who now face the involuntary loss of their EU citizenship,” she said.

No representative from the British government attended the European parliament’s session, even though invitations were sent out three weeks ago.

“We would have preferred them [the British government] to be here at any level,” said Labour MEP Claude Moraes, who chaired the meeting. “There is a genuine question mark about the approach the British government are taking … It is playing a Brexit election and that makes people nervous.”