Theresa May has finally seized the initiative on the matter of EU citizens’ rights and offered Brussels a deal which would see any EU migrant who has been living in the UK for five years acquire ‘settled EU’ status, along with access to health, education and other benefits.
It’s a welcome, if belated step, but it is however contingent on the EU accepting the terms, and applying them to UK citizens on the continent. Frankly, it’s not good enough. Yes, the UK government has an obligation to do the best by expats abroad, but bargaining for them with the lives of so many people who give so much to our country is incredibly tasteless.
There have been precious few people from the Leave side who find this an acceptable position. Even as far back as July 3 last year, a mere ten days after the referendum, prominent Leavers like Dan Hannan, Douglas Carswell, and Matthew Elliott, among many others, signed a letter to the Telegraph calling for the government to guarantee the rights of our fellow citizens. Even Nigel Farage has called the position ‘disgusting‘.
The government’s current position begs the question, what if the EU refuses? Worst case scenario and Brussels decides that all UK citizens currently residing in the EU must be booted out, are we really going to reply in kind? One would hope that even if Brussels decided on that course of action that we would nevertheless adopt the position of guaranteeing the rights of those that contribute so much to our society regardless.
We should be taking the moral high ground here. By unilaterally defending the rights of those EU citizens already here before the triggering of Article 50 back in March, we seize the initiative and set the agenda. It also sends a message that the UK is not closing itself down or is wary of foreigners as some overseas have interpreted the referendum result. The UK’s image may well be damaged somewhat overseas by the Brexit vote. A show of good faith such as this would repair some of that damage.
Those EU citizens currently living here have already had to endure 12 months of complete uncertainty as to their status. They have no doubt been extremely worried that the country they chose to adopt as their new home, and contribute to the success of, may turn on them. Guaranteeing that their lives shan’t be disrupted by the UK’s new course, EU be damned, would do much to reassure them that they are more than welcome here. It would be a good first step in repairing the relationships that have frayed since the referendum.
It also sends a strong message to the handful of morons who have taken the referendum result as licence for their bigotry, that the rest of Britain finds their actions repugnant.
So Mrs May implement your plans unilaterally and dare the EU not to follow suit. The heads of the various EU states would surely be more than wary if Barnier took the UK’s olive branch and beat us with it. Moreover, he would have very little reason to go hardline on this having just been given assurances for all EU citizens in Britain. These negotiations after all are not necessarily the confrontational affair the media circus would have us believe. Both sides have said they are acting in good faith, and there’s no reason to believe the EU wouldn’t follow our lead on this.
Part of the reasoning behind Brexit may very well have been taking back control of our immigration policy, but at no point was there any suggestion from any leave campaign that further control over our borders meant turfing out people who were already here. The government should stop acting like it’s a possibility and put it’s message of an open, global Britain into practice.