Theresa May. Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Right to remain: Theresa May can break the deadlock
This week has seen a string of headlines about prospects for EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU’s right to remain after Brexit.
Much of the media took aim at EU leaders – particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President of the European Council Donald Tusk – for apparently halting progress on the issue.
What Merkel and Tusk actually said was the same thing we have heard from all EU leaders and the European Commission since the vote for Britain to leave the EU: they will not start negotiations with Britain on any issue until the British government triggers Article 50. Or, the oft-repeated phrase ‘no negotiation, without notification.’
Despite Theresa May’s claims on Wednesday, however, the actions of EU countries do not tie Britain’s hands.
Theresa May could, if she chose to, unilaterally guarantee the right to reside for EU citizens living in the UK right now.
In fact, taking the lead and making clear that EU citizens living in the UK had the right to remain permanently in the UK, would make it more likely that other EU countries would offer the same security to British people living abroad.
By acting quickly to resolve the issue, as David Hanney at InFacts notes, Britain will start negotiations on Article 50 on better terms with other EU countries.
Time is critical.
The longer Theresa May leaves the question of EU citizens’ status in the UK unanswered, the greater the risk that they will lose secure status in the country. This puts over 2 million EU citizens in the workforce at greater risk of exploitation.
Bad employers are likely to use EU workers insecure status as a way to force them to accept exploitative conditions.
The TUC has called for EU citizens to be given the permanent right to remain in the UK – this has been supported by trade unions from across the EU.
We have made clear that it is unacceptable for almost 3 million workers from the EU in this country to be faced with uncertainties about their status. EU citizens contribute valuable skills to the economy and contribute immeasurably to our society.
As noted above, leaving workers uncertain about their status will fuel exploitation, driving down conditions for all workers. This will only increase the anxieties of workers about employers using migrants – as well as other vulnerable workers like young people – to undercut other workers.
The call for the government to guarantee EU citizens in the UK the right to remain has also been made by a cross section of groups.
The TUC is part of a cross-party inquiry convened by British Future inquiry looking into practical ways how securing the right to remain could work.
Major business groups – the CBI, the British Chamber of Commerce and the Institute of Directors – have said the right to remain must be guaranteed to provide security for their staff and the future of their businesses.
Health unions and employers have jointly called for EU citizens to have the right to remain through the Cavendish Coalition.Given that over 144,000 health and social care staff come from the EU, it is vital for our public services that assurances can be given to workers, without whom it could not function.
The government can, and must, heed these calls.