A Brexit negotiator at the European parliament has said that British citizens should be allowed to keep the benefits of EU membership.

Guy Verhofstadt, an EU Parliament Brexit negotiator, said allowing individuals to keep rights, such as freedom to travel and vote in European elections should be a priority.

Speaking to the BBC Radio 4's Today programme, he said Brexit had been a "tragedy" and a "disaster" for people in the UK and EU.

He said that he had received thousands of letters from UK citizens who did not want to lose their relationship with "European civilisation".

Mr Verhofstadt said the situation "is a crisis for the EU". "The fact that a large country like Britain is leaving the EU...? It's shown a crisis in the European Union – it's a disaster. That Britain goes out of the EU is a tragedy, a disaster, a catastrophe – you name it."

Negotiations on Britain's exit from the EU will begin once Article 50 has been triggered, something which Prime Minister Theresa May wants to have done by the end of March.

Speaking about Ireland, he insisted that there could be "no hard border" between the Republic of Ireland, that will remain in the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is leaving.

"What can't happen is that we destroy all the efforts that have been undertaken over the last 20 to 30 years to have peace there, so no hard border," he said.

Theresa May has indicated that the UK Parliament will vote on the terms of exit before the European Parliament but that the UK will leave the EU anyway, irrespective of whether MPs approve or reject them.