The #right2remain must apply to expats as well as immigrants
The TUC has joined with a host of others across the political and business spectrum to call for citizens of other EU countries living and working in the UK to be given the right2remain after Brexit. That’s in the gift of the UK government, and there are good reasons for granting it unilaterally. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also be arguing for the same right to apply to British citizens living and working in the rest of the EU. The TUC will work with trade unionists across Europe through the European Trade Union Confederation to insist on it, as well as pressing the UK government to seek agreement by the EU27.
At the moment, the official UK government position is that it wants – and expects – a right2remain to apply to both groups, and that this is something that should be agreed reciprocally or as part of the two year Article 50 negotiations. But public opinion seems more in favour of allowing people to stay regardless. People across the political spectrum have been revolted by the idea that human beings should be used as bargaining chips in that way, and indeed Theresa May was the only candidate for Conservative Party leader who didn’t promise a unilateral deal. The view has also been expressed that the May Government is simply reluctant to agree anything until it has agreed everything.
I’ve already set out why unlilateral steps are the right way to address the issue: it’s morally wrong to treat people this way; it would be self-defeating to do anything else (take the example of the NHS which would collapse without providing such a right2remain); and unilateral steps are at least as likely to lead to reciprocation- if not more so.
But we shouldn’t put British citizens in the position of awaiting ‘a deal’ any more than the EU27 citizens living & working in the UK. There are knotty problems to be sorted out: the uprating of pensions, access to social security benefits and healthcare, whether people can hold joint citizenship, and qualifying periods and other conditions. I’m part of the British Future panel examining such issues of detail for the EU27 citizens in the UK, and the same questions arise for Brits abroad. Already, campaigns have been set up by expats with similar objectives.
Next week I’ll be in Brussels as part of the TUC delegation to the European Trade Union Confederation, and we’ll be seeking the support of our fellow trade unions around the rest of the EU for unilateral declarations on the right2remain, with the aim of guaranteeing Brits working abroad (as well as those who have retired or own their own businesses) get the same fair deal as the EU citizens in the UK. Not as part of a quid pro quo, but as a matter of principle.