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EU citizens’ rights ignored in first batch of government “no deal” plans
Credit: Chris McAndrew / UK Parliament

EU citizens’ rights ignored in first batch of government “no deal” plans

The UK government has published a series of papers on what a “no deal Brexit” would look like but the crucial issue of EU citizens’ rights is not covered in the first batch.

Earlier today the Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, launched the “first batch in a series” of technical notices advising on what happens if there is no UK-EU agreement on the terms of exit in time for Brexit day, 29 March 2019. Media reports suggest that around 80 notices are eventually expected; 24 were issued today, along with an overview. There is room in the first tranche for “Labelling tobacco products and e-cigarettes“, but nothing on the legal position of 3.8 million EU citizens and their families in the event of no deal.

Ministers have made reassuring noises about citizens’ rights ever since Brexit, including this week. But to solemnly pledge that millions of people would not be removed en masse from the UK — and to think that this is taking the “moral high ground” — misses the point. Nobody thinks that deporting 5% of the UK population is desirable or remotely feasible. The issue is the terms and conditions on which EU residents will be able to stay. That is what a technical note on the subject ought to cover. The Department for Existing the European Union was unable to confirm that there will even be one.

The UK government made various concessions in the course of negotiating the draft Withdrawal Agreement with the European Commission. For example, if that deal is finalised EU citizens would continue to enjoy enhanced rights to bring non-EU loved ones to join them in the UK, and a transition period would lock in free movement until the end of 2020. The UK government initially resisted both of these things.

The question, therefore, is whether the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Settlement Scheme that implements it, would be honoured in the event of no deal or whether the government would revert to its position prior to negotiations. It faces political pressure to row back on some of those commitments: when Jacob Rees-Mogg says that EU nationals “should have broadly the same rights as British citizens, no better or worse”, he is gunning for the enhanced protections of EU law that are enshrined in the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Those without a personal stake in citizens’ rights may think that this is just detail. But only yesterday, the BBC reported on 1,000 children of Eastern European families having their British passports effectively taken away because the Home Office now thinks they were never British to begin with. Immigration law being the complex beast it is, that is exactly the kind of thing that is bound to happen in future — only at much greater scale — if the government further waters down the rights of EU citizens.


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