It was always clear that one of the most significant EU referendum “leave” voter desires was and end of free movement. It was not the intention to alienate current EU nationals who have lived and worked in the UK for years, and the backlash of racial tension – although hardly surprising – is generally considered very negative.
The feeling of uneasiness was worsened by the government’s U-turn on the original promise to give automatic Permanent Residency (PR) to current EU nationals. Theresa May was then challenged by the House of Lords over the issue, but she resolved to totally defy them, too. She wanted promises for UK expats first. The result: EU nationals were being used as a bargaining chip. The EU were understandably not happy with that.
Theresa May’s latest offer to give “third-country nationals” status has angered the EU further still, and nine leading MEPs – headed by Guy Verhofstadt – have slammed the offer, pointing out that it even falls short of the promises made by the original Leave Campaign. Even those who wanted an end to free movement never intended it to get quite this divisive.
The current system is clear. An EU worker has the right to work, claim benefits, use the state education system, and have access to all the same things that any other tax payer would. As tax payers themselves, does this not seem fair? If the rules were to change for future EU nationals coming to the UK, that might seem to be what was voted for. However, no-one ever said that those stuck in the middle we going to be subject to a kind of status segregation. Many of the 3.5 million have been living in the UK for ten, twenty, or even more years; settled routes; built families and careers.
Does Theresa May genuinely think the EU would swallow the idea of the UK treating these people as an “other”?
In short, what she has said is she will not allow EU residents in the UK rights under EU jurisdiction, removing their support of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from them. However, since we haven’t yet written the UK Bill of rights, no-one knows to what extent non-citizens will be covered by that, or how it will work. If this is what she wants to do to EU migrants, what does she have planned for non-EU migrants?
What this would result in is a strange limbo-status for EU nationals and it is hard to imagine them feeling anything other than as a second-class citizen.
It is alarming to see EU negotiations fracturing so quickly, and to hear people like Verhofstadt already threatening to veto UK requests unless the MEPs demands are met. The big-talk of the Brexit process, where politicians argue over trade and sums of money that we cannot pretend to understand, is one thing, but this is a grass-roots issue for people – families, children, and hard-working people.
Treating the current EU migrants with an apparent disregard was surely only going to inflame the negotiations. So, why is Theresa May doing it? Is this really done in our name? Did the voting British public really give her that mandate?