Last week, the so-called “Brexit White Paper” stated that:
The UK and the EU have already reached an agreement on citizens’ rights which provides EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU before the end of the implementation period with certainty about their rights going forward.
With the new “settled status” for EU citizens in the UK set to be trialled next month, this assertion of certainty might be cause for celebration – if it was not patently false.
Indeed, yesterday the Exiting the European Union Committee in Parliament issued a report calling for “urgent clarification” of citizens’ rights in the future, both for EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU.
As the Committee Chair, Hilary Benn MP, put it:
Citizens’ Rights was one area of the Brexit negotiations marked as green in the March draft of the Withdrawal Agreement which implied that it was all sorted. But the evidence we have heard suggests it is far from being finalised.
The sense of urgency comes after leading campaign groups The 3 Million and British in Europe have repeatedly raised alarm bells about previous statements and agreements’ shortcomings (including, in a UK context, the aforementioned “settled status” scheme). Urgency is also reinforced by the fact that a “no deal Brexit,” in which the UK and EU fail to reach an agreement over the terms of withdrawal, is being increasingly touted as a likely scenario.
From the Committee report’s conclusion:
The negotiators for the UK and the EU have said that citizens’ rights are a priority. However, it is not clear what would happen to citizens’ rights in the event of no deal. Kalba Meadows said the uncertainty was continuing to create “stress and uncertainty” such that “many people stick their heads in the sand because they do not know how else to act.” Jane Golding told us that the EU-27 authorities “are in preparedness mode, but there is nothing clear yet that they can implement” and that while the draft WA was not finalised, “there is no certainty for the two groups because there is no legally binding agreement.”
In response, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said that “EU citizens living lawfully in the UK will be able to stay. No matter what happens.” It is still unclear what he means by lawfully, how this criteria will be assessed, and who will enforce such a commitment.
Immigration Secretary Caroline Nokes was even less reassuring and simply stated that “in the event of no deal I personally hope that we will uphold everything that we have said and make sure that we deliver on our commitment to EU citizens.”
In this context of increasingly frantic uncertainty and precious little government reassurance, it is no wonder the number of EU citizens moving to the UK has reached a 5-year low. We must keep pushing for more than a minister’s personal hopes!