10/01/2017 11:45 GMT | Updated 11/01/2018 05:12 GMT

The EU Must Match Theresa May's Commitment To An Early Deal For Expats

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It is beyond me why we are still talking about EU nationals needing the certainty that they can stay in the UK permanently. Obviously Theresa May's government can do more but surely the EU could do something too?

There is a clear economic case for providing certainty now. Employers need to be sure that the workforce they have today will not be thrown out of the country in two and a bit years. They also need a workforce that feels secure and is not questioning whether to jump before they are pushed.

As strong as that argument is, it doesn't come close to the moral case. Expecting men, women and children to leave a country where they have contributed and built a life will always be wrong, but not least when their departure would be due to no fault of their own.

The vast majority of people see this. Immediately after last June's referendum British Future found that 84% of the British public supports letting EU migrants stay, including three-quarters of Leave voters.

Then we come to the practical reality. This government would not march millions of Europeans out of the country when we separate from the EU. Likewise, would any member state sanction a policy that saw their own people having to leave a country they were building their lives in? Would the EU allow British people to be forced out of another European state?

Despite all of this, we are in a wholly unhelpful and apparently one sided situation. No, the UK government shouldn't use people as bargaining chips, refusing to guarantee the status of EU nationals in return for a good deal from Europe on Brexit. But is that what they are doing?

The official line suggests otherwise - Theresa May is increasingly talking about reciprocity. She will guarantee the status of EU nationals when the EU does the same for Brits in Europe.

That may be a new line - I'm pretty sure I heard it used for the first time three weeks ago - but it makes sense. What makes less sense is the lack of a similar commitment from the EU. I get that they won't negotiate Brexit until Article 50 is triggered, but is that position more important than reassuring millions of people they will not have to find a new home in two years?

Ultimately a lot of work will be needed on the precise detail of whatever policy allows EU nationals to stay here and for British people to stay in Europe after separation. Thought will be needed around what it means to be living here, for instance - where should the line be drawn between a frequent visitor and a person resident?- but that can come a little bit later.

Right now the priority should be for the EU to match Theresa May's commitment. They need to say with certainty, on behalf of their Member States, that the future of millions of Europeans in the UK and British people in Europe is not in doubt.

If the EU will not give that certainty, the UK should take the lead and guarantee residency even before negotiations begin. The view from the moral high ground always looks good and being on the front foot in negotiations never does any harm.