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EU citizens living in UK mustn’t be used as pawns

by Hugo Dixon | 28.07.2016

Theresa May still won’t give a hard guarantee that EU citizens living here can stay. The prime minister seems worried that such a unilateral gesture would leave British citizens living in other EU countries vulnerable to expulsion.

But it would be morally repellent for either us or other EU countries to kick out each other’s citizens. We’d never carry out such a threat. Nor would they. So there’s nothing to lose from saying now that we wouldn’t dream of doing so.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee is the latest body to say that EU citizens “should not be used as bargaining chips in the negotiations.”

But May, at a press conference in Rome on July 27 with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, would only say:

“I want to be able to guarantee their rights in the UK, I expect to be able to do that, I intend to be able to do that, to guarantee their rights. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be if the rights of British citizens living in other EU member states were not guaranteed. But I hope that this is an issue we can address early on.”

This is, admittedly, an advance on the prime minister’s position when she was still running to become Tory leader. Then she gave the impression that she would be prepared to use the 3 million EU citizens living in Britain as pawns in the wider negotiation of our exit terms. After all, a tit-for-tat expulsion might seem to hurt the EU more than us: only 1.2 million Brits live full time in the rest of the bloc.

However, such a mass repatriation would turn Britain into an international pariah. It would guarantee the ugliest of divorces from the EU, thwacking our economy and making it next to impossible to cooperate with our former partners on fighting terrorism, climate change and a host of other common problems.

Expelling EU citizens would also damage our public services and economy directly. One in 11 doctors comes from the EU. So do lots of nurses, scientists and bankers, not to mention less skilled workers.

Such a drastic policy would also not be acceptable to the vast majority of Brits. Even Vote Leave was adamant during the referendum campaign that EU citizens already here should stay. It said: “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK.”

May would be wise to recognise all this now and guarantee that anybody who is already settled in Britain will be allowed to stay with no loss of rights – and then ask for a similar gesture from EU countries towards our citizens. Apart from removing a cloud of uncertainty hanging over 3 million people, it would show that Britain values their contribution to our national life. It would also generate goodwill in advance of the tough negotiations ahead.

Edited by Michael Prest

4 Responses to “EU citizens living in UK mustn’t be used as pawns”

  • I agree that Teresa May should guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, but as a British citizen living and working in France since 2005, I would particularly like the British government to guarantee the rights of British citizens living in the EU.

    I have no doubt that we will be able to continue living in France as far as the French are concerned – President Holland said as much the other day when he met with Teresa May. But what about our rights to receive a British State pension and receive future increases just as all British citizens living in the EU do now?

    This is fully under UK control as it is for British citizens living elsewhere in the world, yet with the notable exception of the USA, Brits living elsewhere in the world outside the EU receive a State Pension which is then frozen for the rest of their lives. In the first instance I want to see a guarantee for Brits living in the EU when and if Brexit actually happens (one can still hope it doesn’t…).

    In addition to that there are more complex pension arrangements for those who have worked in two or more EU countries where years worked in one country count towards a pension in another, particularly where there are minimum periods that have to be worked to qualify like the 10 years required for the UK state pension.

  • To me it seems at least arguable that using EU citizens resident in UK as pawns is in violation of their rights under the EU convention, Article 8. This has ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life.’ And I should have thought that to allow a threat of deportation to hang over someone’s head would amount to a failure to respect their private and family life.

  • Any agreement must guarantee the human right for people in relationships living in different countries in Europe to have permanant right of free movement to live and work in each others’ countries

  • I don’t doubt that Brit ex-pat pensioners in the EU will still receive their pensions paid into a foreign bank. Brits in Australia “enjoy” this, and the process of moving money around the globe has nothing to do with being in or out of the EU. What may stop, is the annual cost of living increase, as Marcus says, however I have to say that this is a paltry sum anyway so, although there may be ex-pats on the breadline whom it will hurt, it won’t signify too much. However, our right to enjoy the same social security benefits as the citizens of the country we’re living in may very well change. HMG currently pays €4000 for each S1 holder’s health costs and I can see that the penny-pinching misers in Whitehall might seize on the opportunity to end this. So we’d have to take out full health insurance – expensive.

    Given the monstrous challenges ahead and the general chaotic state of the world at the moment, Brexit should be kicked down the road out of sight and, preferably, lost for good. Sure, tidy up immigration and all the other EU issues, but do it as a member, not as a deserter.