But officials quickly stamped on his claim that the ability of millions of EU citizens to print out a letter confirming they had been granted ‘settled status’ amounted to a concession.
“It has always been the case that people could print a copy of their confirmation letter, but this can’t be used as evidence of status,” the Home Office said.
The estimated 3.6m EU residents in the UK fear victimisation by prospective employers and landlords – and potentially immigration enforcement, as happened in the Windrush scandal – without physical documents.
But the Home Office defended its ‘digital-only’ approach, saying: “The EU settlement scheme grants people with a secure, digital status which future-proofs their rights. Physical documents can get lost, stolen, damaged and tampered with.”
The stance was again condemned by the3million group, representing EU citizens, which is also furious to have been shut out of recent meetings on the controversy.
“Being able to print a PDF document to provide evidence would raise many concerns of forgery and fraud,” said Nicolas Hatton, the organisation’s founder.
“When we campaign for a physical document, we mean a biometric card similar to the one issued to non-EU residents in the UK.”
Mr Verhofstadt also spread confusion by claiming he had been reassured that there was no risk of deportation for EU citizens who fail to secure settled status by the deadline of June next year.
“The idea would be that even these people, after the grace period, they will have the possibility to apply giving the grounds for why it was not possible [to apply for settled status] within the normal procedures,” he said he had been told.
But it was quickly pointed out that this was an “easy promise” to give, but failed to address the fact that anyone in the UK without a legal right to stay – whether from the EU or not – is at risk.
It was revealed this week that up to 900,000 of the estimated 3.6 million UK-based EU nationals have yet to apply to secure their status.
Many appear to be holding back because they wrongly believe they will be rejected because they earn less than at least £30,000.
In fact, that is the salary threshold currently applied to skilled migrants from outside the EU – and may not even be extended to new arrivals from the EU after Brexit.
Luke Piper, a legal adviser to the3million, said on Twitter: “This is an easy promise, what about those who face hostile environment without status? What happens to their rights to access health care, jobs.”