Thursday, 2 March 2017

Lords Urge MPs to get some Backbone with Amendment to Allow EU Nationals to Stay in the UK after Brexit

Yesterday the House of Lords voted by 358 to 256 in favour of amending the Brexit bill, to give EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay in this country. The amended Bill we now be passed back to House of Commons to vote on.

MPs rejected a similar amendment last week, but the tide may have turned on this issue. It is now said that around 30 Tory MPs are considering voting for the amendment, which could swing the vote in favour of the amendment.

Caroline Lucas, Green Party MP and co leader of the party tweeted:

'Great to see Lords defeat govt over rights of EU citizens. Govt must now concede - will fight for that in Commons.'

Government Whips will be out in force to try and ensure rebel Tory MPs toe the line and reject the amendment, and they may be successful. The government has promised that this will be the first issue to be resolved when negotiations begin, and hopes a reciprocal arrangement for UK nationals living in the EU, can be concluded early on in talks.

They also implied that the EU are holding things up, by not allowing pre-Article 50 talks, but this rings hollow, and is probably an indicator of how things will be spun, particularly in the right wing media. Expect furious stories in the Mail, Express etc on how unreasonable the EU is being by not letting us have everything we want out of a Brexit deal. It will not be pretty.  

There are around 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU and around 3 million EU nationals living in the UK. The government has refused to guarantee EU nationals the right to remain here, saying that this will be part of the negotiations on the UK leaving the EU. It does rather look like these people are being used as bargaining chips in the negotiations, which the government denies, but what other conclusion can be drawn?

Nicolas Hatton, the chairman of the 3 million campaign group which has been lobbying for the rights of EU citizens said that while he had some concerns about the amendment it was a relief that for the first time since the referendum, a majority was secured in parliament to support the rights of the 3 million EU citizens “who came in good faith to live and work the UK”.

I think the government is wrong on many levels in taking its approach:

First of all, we need to reassure people living in the UK about their future here. It is not fair to people, who need to make life decisions. It must be a worry for EU nationals in the UK. As even a Brexiteer like Michael Gove said just after the referendum result, ‘it is a matter of plain decency,’ to allow these people to continue to live and work in the UK (if they wish).

The vast majority of the EU nationals living in the UK are young, whereas the largest grouping of UK nationals living in the EU, are pensioners, living in Spain, roughly about half of the EU total. Younger people are productive in the UK economy, whereas our ex-pats in Spain are not, to a large extent, anyway. 

If these older people come back to the UK they will need more health and social care, a sector of the economy which at present has large numbers of EU nationals doing the work.

The idea of expelling 3 million productive workers is a recipe for a collapse in the UK economy. EU nationals work across all sectors of the economy, and of course pay tax here. It would be madness.

For this to be the opening salvo of negotiations, it will likely harden attitudes in the EU, when we want relations to be as amicable as is possible. To state unilaterally, that the UK will allow all those EU nationals already residing here, to remain, would be a gesture of goodwill.  

And, because it is just plain right to allow people to stay. Natural justice demands that people who came in good faith to this country should not be penalised.

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