THE European Parliament’s top Brexit negotiator has warned Theresa May’s Government not to attack the “fundamental rights” of EU citizens living and working in the UK.

Guy Verhofstadt said the outside world was watching the increasingly xenophobic Britain with “worry and disbelief” and promised that the EU would defend its people.

This week’s Tory party conference was overshadowed by rows about immigration.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd was forced to insist she wasn’t a racist, after announcing proposals to make companies list their foreign workers in a bid to shame them into taking on more locals.

Brexit Minister Liam Fox referred to EU nationals living in Britain as “cards” to be used in negotiations, and Prime Minister May shared plans to force foreign staff out of the NHS if a capable British replacement could be found.

May also used her conference speech to insist EU migrants caused lower wages and job losses, an assertion widely disputed and debunked by a number of academics at the LSE, and the Bank of England.

Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium, made his comments on Facebook, saying

Britain had “always been a beacon of tolerance and diversity”.

He posted: “It is sad to see that Amber Rudd inflames tensions by denigrating ‘foreigners’ who work in British hospitals, schools, on construction sites; in short, people who contribute to the British society.

“After recent reports about the rise in xenophobic violence, the outside world watches this latest statement with worry and disbelief.

“I want to be clear: the EU will defend the fundamental rights of its citizens, wherever they are.”

The veteran MEP, who was appointed to lead on Brexit nego- tiations for the Parliament, has been a forthright critic of the Brexiteers, insisting the UK can only have access to the single market if it accepts the free movement of people.

Verhofstaft also previously said there would be no “big obstacle” to an independent Scotland joining the EU after Brexit.

His comments came as First

Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she would stand beside any company that refused to comply with Rudd’s proposals.

SNP, Labour, Lib Dem and Green MSPs in the Scottish Parliament joined forces during First Minister’s

Questions to condemn the Tory proposals.

Sturgeon started the session by saying she hoped Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson was “thoroughly ashamed of the xenophobic rhetoric by which she had been surrounded over the past few days”.

LibDem leader Willie Rennie said the people being referred to as “cards” by Liam were “our neighbours and our friends. They are our families.”

“People who voted for Brexit across the United Kingdom did not vote to send their friends home,” he added.

Ross Greer from the Greens, asked the First Minister to refuse to comply with the “sinister” proposals to force companies to disclose what proportion of their workers were born outside the UK. The First

Minister said she would “absolutely stand four-square beside any company that refused to comply”.

She said: “What I find particularly offensive is the idea that companies will be named and shamed for the foreign workers that they employ, as if there was something shameful about employing workers from other countries. It is absolutely disgraceful.”

However, polls produced by YouGov suggested there was widespread support for making firms publish how many foreign workers they employ.

Around 59 per cent of those asked back the plans.

There was support from voters of all political parties, with the Tories split 73 per cent for and 10 per cent against. Labour was on 51 per cent for, 312 against, while the LibDems were on 48 for, 47 against.

The SNP were split down the middle on 46 per cent for and 46 against.