THE BLOG

EU Citizens' Rights, Wasting Time Climbing A Molehill

28/09/2017 11:17 BST | Updated 28/09/2017 11:17 BST

Here we are, 15 months post referendum, the week after the Prime Minister's Florence Speech and at the end of the 4th round of negotiations with the EU on monetary obligations, Northern Ireland and EU nationals citizens' rights. As Michel Barnier said, the clock is ticking. This is the last chance to move on to the next stage of negotiations, progress is vital.

Whether you supported Leave or Remain over the last 15 months we have all learnt that exiting the EU is a complex issue. Without a framework for the future relationship planes will be grounded, cancer patients will not receive radiotherapy, the police and secret services will be cut out of crucial data sharing and lorries will be queuing for miles at Dover and Calais. There is so much still to sort out before we are leaving the EU and so little time.

This week the UK is sending yet another 90 plus negotiators to Brussels to discuss citizens' rights. For the fourth time. In light of the Brexit challenges ahead the three million EU nationals in the UK and 1.2 million Brits in Europe are wondering why the UK government is wasting so much time and resources on something that could be solved so easily. We are talking about a limited number of people, who already here, and no more rights than they already have.

The UK government insists that the electorate knew what they voted for at the referendum. Some of the areas are grey with varied voices on custom union, single market and future of Northern Ireland pre referendum for example. On the rights of the 3 million EU nationals the referendum promises were clear though. Boris Johnson, Gisela Stuart and Priti Patel said that EU nationals will be treated no less favourably than at present. Nobody objected and the electorate voted to leave the EU in the knowledge that their French neighbour, their German colleague, their Romanian son-in-law and Polish friend had nothing to worry about whatever the result of the referendum.

This all changed during the Tory leadership contest only 12 days post the referendum. Despite protests from Angela Leadsom, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove Theresa May decided to divert from the referendum promise on citizens' rights - making the rights of the3 million EU nationals in the UK and 1.2m British in Europe part of the EU negotiation capital, a Bargaining Chip.

During her conference speech in October last year, Theresa May closed yet another door unnecessarily. By ruling out any involvement of the ECJ post Brexit she removed the option of safeguarding the rights of not only for the 3 million EU nationals in the UK but also for the 1.2m British in Europe through a single court.

In her Florence speech Theresa May proclaimed that she wanted to avoid divergence of citizens' rights across the UK and the EU27. By ruling out a single body to interpret the intend of the Withdrawal Agreement she has just put all British in Europe at the mercy of 27 different courts and legal systems though. This is a sure recipe for galloping diverging rights especially for those British Citizens in the EU she vowed to protect from day one.

All this has now led to more than 90 UK negotiators spending another four days fighting a war of words over semantics. "Rely on the ECJ" vs "can refer to the ECJ", Withdrawal Agreement "directly enforceable" vs "UK courts can directly rely on", "permanent residence" vs "settled status". With negotiations on Northern Ireland potentially meaning the return of violence, with weeks needed to assess what financial obligations the UK really has I have to conclude that Theresa May and her government has managed to make a mountain of a molehill regarding the smallest issue, citizens' rights.

My advice, get on with business, simply stick to the Vote Leave promise and please, for God sake stop wasting precious time on citizens' rights, something that should have been resolved so easily months ago. The EU offer is on the table and matches exactly what Vote Leave had promised during the referendum campaign, the same rights as today. Something Theresa May said we would have during the Florence speech only a few days ago. Theresa, it's time to bite the bullet, just commit and move on.