Tourists as well as foreign residents may opt in to the "associate citizenship".

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Britons could be offered the chance to remain as EU citizens after Brexit, a top Brussels negotiator has announced. Guy Verhofstadt, who will lead the Brexit negotiations for the EU Parliament, said he will discuss the idea of Brits being offered ‘associated citizenship’ status with Theresa May once she has triggered Article 50 next year.

Plans to allow British nationals to retain their EU citizenship after Brexit are to form part of the European parliament’s negotiating position. The "associate citizenship" status, plans for which were first revealed in The Times, would give those who adopt it the right to freedom of movement and residence throughout the EU as well as the right to vote for a representative in the European parliament.

It would be made available to citizens of former member states who "feel and wish to be part of the European project". The proposal was put forward last month by the Luxembourg member of the European Parliament Charles Goerens for inclusion in a future EU treaty.

But following Wednesday’s House of Commons vote backing prime minister Theresa May’s plan to trigger withdrawal talks by the end of March, Goerens agreed with Verhofstadt that it should be brought forward more quickly.

Goerens said that Wednesday’s vote had made the prospect of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which triggers negotiations to leave the EU, being invoked "very real indeed". Treaty change could therefore take too long for associate citizenship to be created before Britain left the EU. Verhofstadt told a meeting of the European parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs on Thursday that he would ensure associate citizenship status was "on the table" for the Brexit talks. "Some things cannot wait until treaty change."

David Davis, Britain’s Brexit secretary, has meanwhile revealed that he has a hardball strategy in case other EU countries do not cooperate during exit talks. Davis was reported in a memo to have said that he did not expect Germany or Spain to pose a problem in the two-year negotiations, but that France "would be the most hostile and difficult to compromise with".

He indicated that a mechanism was being sought to prevent Paris "pulling out the rug" on talks. He added that if the EU took a hard line on "punishing" the UK, the government was ready to compete with the union to attract businesses with lower taxes and softer regulation. The memo described Davis as "bullish and not receptive to negative special pleading".

According to the document, obtained by the Financial Times, Davis told representatives of the City of London Corporation, the governing body of the area containing much of the UK’s financial sector, that he thought it "unlikely" that Britain would stay in the European single market after Brexit, as the EU would be "inflexible" about the need to retain freedom of movement. He suggested that Britain could secure a trade deal like the one between the EU and Canada, which would remove most trade tariffs.