With every day that passes, the despair I see gets worse. The uncertainty and the anxiety of thousands of EU citizens are palpable. It was only yesterday that several wrote to me with essentially the same statement: that they cannot cope with the uncertainty anymore.
It would be a lie if I said that that does not have an impact on me personally as well. I am concerned about my own future, sure. But for me the much bigger worry is, and always has been, seeing the impact on so many other people; seeing all the pain and despair so many others feel. Never in a million years would I have thought any of this possible.
Yet despite that, despite a growing number of signs that settled status is not working and that the stress people are faced with is having a severely negative impact on many, some continue to distort reality. Of course, it is much nicer to say that all is fine. But that is simply not true. Jeremy Hunt recently went so far as to say the rights of EU citizens in the UK are now enshrined in law. That too is not true.
Our lives, and those of our British friends in the EU, those of our families and friends, continue to be on hold. We remain stuck on the backseat of the car, unable to reach the steering wheel of our own lives. We are forced to rely on others to drive us, and so far they have taken us down one dark and windy road after the next. Tired of hearing that? Well, tough luck. We are tired of being driven down that road. But the road is coming to an end. One way or another. 35 days to go.
Next week could mark the final watershed for citizens’ rights before Brexit day. And this time it could be a positive one. With an update by the Prime Minister and a motion scheduled, Conservative MP Alberto Costa is proposing an amendment that would require the Prime Minister to ask the EU to jointly ring-fence the citizens’ rights agreement already reached. This would mean that five million people could at least stop worrying about the impact of no-deal.
The UK government have already agreed a number of separate citizens’ rights agreements with select countries, including Norway, Liechtenstein, Iceland and Switzerland, that protects citizens from these countries in the event of no-deal. Irish citizens are also in the same position. If this is possible for citizens from these countries, then surely it is possible for everyone.
Just think of the impact of what would happen if this is not achieved and no-deal happens. There would be no co-operation agreements on aggregation of pension or social security entitlements. The provision of healthcare is another key concern. There are people now who have life-threatening illness and are receiving intensive treatment for those conditions. The provision of that treatment relies on arrangements for which there would be no replacement in the event of no-deal. The patients in care currently have no idea whether their treatment will continue after Brexit day.
British citizens at home in another EU country would be faced with catastrophic consequences in the event of no-deal as they would become third country nationals overnight. This means they would have to rely on contingency plans, if they even exist, in 26 countries. We cannot just assume that they will be protected and their legal status secured easily.
This is why the leading citizens’ rights groups, the3million and British in Europe, who have been working together for a long time to protect the five million EU and British citizens so immediately affected by Brexit, have written a joint letter urging MPs to support the Costa amendment.
I too urge MPs to do that same. On Saturday, I will be speaking at this year’s Karlsruher Gespräche — the theme this year is ‘The Responsible Society’. In a responsible society five million people cannot be sacrificed on the Brexit altar. So at the end of a week that has brought some fairly seismic shifts in the UK political landscape, but no resolution of the deadlock, let’s be responsible. Let’s ensure that the human cost of Brexit does not continue to rise.
Brexit has sown divisions everywhere. MPs now have an opportunity to overcome at least some of them and end the uncertainty for five million EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU at the same time. MPs must take that opportunity — there is no excuse.
If you want to help, please write to your MP and ask them to support the Costa amendment. A really easy way to do so is via the Write To Them website.