May’s latest farce sounds alarm bells for EU citizens in UK

by Nick Kent | 25.07.2018

Theresa May’s new white paper on the EU withdrawal agreement once again prolongs the uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK.

The government rushed out its paper on the details of the Withdrawal & Implementation Bill (WAIB) yesterday.  It revealed that such is the farcical state of Brexit preparations, parliament will have to repeal parts of the EU Withdrawal Act passed only a month ago.

But this was at least an opportunity for ministers to show they are on top of the highly sensitive issue of EU citizens’ rights.  Once again they failed to do so. Indeed, the white paper contained the surprising announcement that they will use the Immigration Act 1971 to legislate in detail for the EU settlement scheme and not WAIB.  

Why does that matter?  First it means that at least two pieces of primary law will now deal with EU citizens’ rights, increasing the scope for confusion and mistakes.  This is despite the fact that a number of important issues concerning EU citizens’ rights remain unresolved.

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Second, it puts EU citizens’ into the same category as all other migrants and by doing so sends a negative message to those citizens and to the governments of the other EU member states, each of whom still have to legislate to protect the rights of UK citizens living in their countries after Brexit.  Was that signal intended? Given the way Leave campaigners used the immigration issue in their 2016 campaign, it seems likely it is.

Thirdly, by using the 1971 Act, the rules for EU citizens’ rights won’t be able to be amended by Parliament.  Indeed, there is no requirement for any debate at all in the Commons.  If there is a debate, Parliament will have to accept or reject the rules.  The last time a similar legal instrument was rejected by the House of Commons was in October 1979.

Astonishingly, the white paper revealed that the government has still not reached agreement with the EEA countries (including Norway and Iceland) and Switzerland over their citizens’ rights.  The white paper casually says that this issue may, or may not, be covered by WAIB. What on earth does that mean for UK citizens who live in those countries?

Why has the government handled EU citizens’ rights this way?  Why could they not have taken this whole issue out of the negotiations from day one?  A generous offer to EU citizens in the UK to protect their rights regardless of the negotiations would not only have been the decent thing to do, it would have been politically sensible too.  By insisting on using citizens as a bargaining chip in the negotiations, ministers rejected an opportunity to secure goodwill that could have eased the UK’s path in the EU negotiations.

By coming up with a complex arrangement using existing immigration law, the government has now raised new concerns, just when trust in the Home Office’s ability to deliver for EU citizens – never high – has collapsed in the wake of the Windrush scandal.  A miserable farce indeed.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

8 Responses to “May’s latest farce sounds alarm bells for EU citizens in UK”

  • An aspect that Mrs May totally ignores is that the citizens’ rights issue is bound to work both ways: the more we restrict the rights of those from the EU27, the more we restrict the rights of UK citizens in the EU27 countries. Why is she so determined to do that? Exactly the people on whom good trade relations in the future will depend. Many were improperly deprived of a vote in the 2016 referendum to be sure, but they are still UK citizens and deserving of fair treatment.

  • I think EU citizens have every right to be suspicious as to why, as I understand it, their fate is to be shared under the Immigration Act, that covers general immigration. They are in a special situation having acted in good faith under the EU treaties, and their lot is very much part of the Brexit process.
    I hope the Barnier team and European Parliament are keeping a close eye on all of this, and block any Agreement which doesn’t fully address the future rights of these people.
    It should be remembered that if the EU acts on the reciprocal principle, as seems likely, then the futures of UK expats in Europe could be similarly effected.

  • While I do not agree with how May is treating EU citizens .. The EU have hardly played fair on this issue either . I am a UK citizen in Spain and we are completely in the dark about what is happening to us . Nobody is telling us anything . At least EU citizens have the EU fighting for them . Nobody is fighting for us . Both sides have thrown UK citizens in the EU under the bus .

  • @ Anon – To be fair to the EU countries, they have not got us into the current mess, and the onus has to be on the UK to take the lead in coming up with solutions. If the UK can be transparent in offering clear unambiguous guarentees to EU citizens, then I’m sure the EU will reciprocate for UK expats, so long as it is within their power.
    That brings me onto reports yesterday that certain categories of pensions for British expats may be at risk, in the event of a No Deal. This could be a consequence of the UK not having access to the Single Market. If this were to happen, it would be a complete outrage, and I hope the Barnier team and/or the European Parliament would block any agreement with the UK until this matter was sorted out.

  • I have written several letters to my MP-Suella Braverman – and asked her straightforward questions about the status of U.K. nationals living or owning holiday properties in the EU27. She gives no answers. It is very low on their list. If the UK treats EU nationals badly here the Brits in Europe will not get good treatment from the EU. Reciprocal health care could go, there many be entry charges, and increased taxes. All sorts of mundane things that affect every day lives have not been considered,. Politicians are not bothered about individual lives, look at the damage caused by austerity and the DWP benefit ‘reforms’. Politicians care about their own interests and saving their own skins. If they cock things up, like Cameron, they walk away as if nothing has happened. When the public learn how Brexit will impoverish them and mess up their lives it could lead to civil unrest. Never has the stock of politicians in this country been lower. Never in recent times has this country been so deeply divided and unhappy, but there is still loads of trouble ahead, What a bunch of morons.

  • The fact that EU citizens in the UK are merely a collateral damage in Brexit is inhuman and heartbreaking. People who lived and worked in the U.K. for years, decades even, raised children in this country, paid taxes to this country etc. are merely an afterthought and have been treated like a commodity by this government for over 2 years now and counting. It is vile and outrageous and guess what, it breaks international law to throw EU citizens, who have acquired rights, into the same drawer as a refugee or immigrant from the rest part of the world.

  • We have no idea what the plan is, as it changes very week. A while ago May said that anyone from the EU already here would have right to remain. She’s now changed that. So what happens to EU citizens with a mortgage here, with a business here, an NI number here, been paying into? it’s a total farce. All those ‘ex pats’ (migrants) that retired to Spain for example. They can’t afford to move back here. And if they did, they be just in time to put more of a strain on the NHS.