Brexit, flags of the United Kingdom and the European Union
Something we can (almost) all agree on: the #right2remain
Yesterday the immigration think-tank British Future launched a report setting out hot to put into effect the right for EU citizens living and working in the UK to remain in the UK after Brexit. The report was drawn up by a panel chaired by Labour MP and prominent Leave campaigner Gisela Stuart, and I was there as the trade union voice (the TUC also helped fund the report, along with the Institute of Directors.) Fellow panel members* included Fraser Nelson from the Spectator, Seamus Nevin from the IoD, MPs Suella Fernandes and Kate Green from the Conservative and Labour parties respectively, and Suzanne Evans from UKIP (I hope it wasn’t membership of the panel that led to her defeat in the UKIP leadership contest!)
The fact that such an eclectic bunch – bosses and unions, MPs from across the political spectrum, Leavers and Remainers – could agree a report setting out how to implement a right to remain is partly testament to the talent of British Future’s Sunder Katwala and Jill Rutter and our academic panel member Professor Steve Peers. But it also demonstrates that providing certainty about the future to the nearly 3 million of our neighbours, friends and colleagues should not be difficult (even if the detail of what needs to be done to give that principle effect really is – immigration law is hopelessly complicated which is one element of the vulnerability migrants experience.)
As I said about the report:
“EU nationals working in the UK and making a contribution are anxious about what happens to them when Britain leaves the EU. They need to know about their future rights to live and work here.
“Everyone agrees this needs to be resolved quickly and fairly. Our inquiry now has practical recommendations for how to do it.
“This shouldn’t be a matter for negotiation. The Prime Minister should make the first move to unblock this ghastly uncertainty. It is morally right and pragmatically sensible.”
We all started from that position of principle, and while we were also all agreed that Brits abroad should also be given the right to remain, we were addressing the British government about what it should do, ahead of negotiations even starting. As Gisela Stuart said:
“Britain should make clear at the start of the Brexit negotiations that EU citizens already here before that date can stay. This would send a clear signal about the kind of country the UK will be after Brexit and the relationship we want with Europe. We should expect reciprocal deals for Britons living in European countries, but Britain should make the first move to demonstrate good will.”
We wanted to minimise the obstacles standing in the way of the Government in granting the right to remain.
We showed by the broad spread of opinion on the panel (and the breadth of submissions we received from organisations like employers and unions in the health service and individuals) that this is an area of consensus, even if there are a minority of politicians who want to use EU citizens in the UK as ‘human shields’ or negotiating pawns. Whatever our views on Brexit, the panel members all agreed that we needed to treat them as people, rather than as things.
And the report made practical recommendations so that the government doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel (or, indeed, make the process overly complicated). That included a cut-off date for earning the right to remain of the date when Article 50 is triggered: a key concern for the TUC is that people should know in advance what their eventual position will be once Brexit happens, and be able to make arrangements. We don’t want Article 50 triggered until the right to remain is agreed, so there is now a case for urgent action by the government to implement the panel’s recommendations.
So the panel report is not the end of the story as far as we’re concerned – we need to increase the pressure on the Government, at the same time as raising the issue around Europe, as the European Trade Union Confederation has agreed to do through national trade unions putting pressure on their governments to take similar steps.
* we were all serving in a personal capacity – but our backgrounds are obviously indications of where we were coming from!