Standing Up For EU Citizens' Rights

05/03/2017 00:04 GMT | Updated 05/03/2018 10:12 GMT
the3million - Jane Campbell

Last month saw an event that would have been unheard of in Britain a year ago: over a thousand EU citizens coming together in Westminster to lobby parliament to unilaterally guarantee their rights.

They made history when the Lords voted in favour of amendment 9B - allowing them to live and work in the UK. This was the result of tireless lobbying of countless supporters of the3million and UK nationals in Europe, because neither EU citizens in the UK nor British citizens in Europe want to be bargaining chips. These unsung heroes deserve credit for sharing their stories and urging the Lords to undo some of the damage inflicted by hostile and careless rhetoric about those who found themselves "citizens of nowhere" as a result of the referendum.

The vote in the Lords restored some much-needed sanity to the debate about EU citizens' rights. It finally gave a public, and a political, voice to three million people who couldn't vote in the referendum and have been feeling speechless ever since. The Lords sent a strong message to Theresa May: people have been struggling with the uncertainty, and leaving their future hanging during the negotiation process goes against the very British principle of fairness. Or, as Axel from the3million Facebook Forum put it as the Lords began their debate, "this afternoon the House of Lords decides whether the three million EU citizens will be treated like humans or whether they are going to be used as negotiation capital during the Brexit negotiations alongside cars from Sunderland and lettuce and tomatoes from Spain."

The amendment isn't perfect - it talks about "legal" rights, which under current Home Office interpretation would exclude stay-at-home parents, carers, disabled and students who don't have private Comprehensive Sickness Insurance. It also has the wrong cut-off date - when Article 50 is triggered - since the Home Office has expressly written that nothing will change for EU citizens until the UK leaves the EU. Therefore the cut-off date cannot be before the withdrawal date.

But the Lords recognised something very important about the need to act now: it is not just about "allowing people to stay," it is about telling people who have made their lives in Britain that they are still part of this country, that this is still their home, and their future. "Whether we've planted trees, given birth to children here, worked, studied or watched the birds, we've all made homes here, and most of us don't have another," writes Dorothea from Germany.

The government's silence and lack of clarity on the conditions for Permanent Residency have left the door wide open for speculation and discrimination. A recent report that Mrs May is to end rights given to EU nationals under freedom of movement rules caused panic, only to be denied by the government a day later. People are being advised to apply for Permanent Residence "just in case" only to find they are being turned down. Some are even being asked to leave the country immediately under new Home Office regulations for appeals. Suddenly we discover that some people who are not in employment are required to pay for expensive private health insurance. If this is happening while Britain is still part of the EU, what can we expect once Britain has left?

Both Leave and Remain campaigns were in agreement that a unilateral guarantee should be given immediately. All major British Expat organisations support this as they don't want to become bargaining chips either. You can't bargain unless you sincerely mean to carry out the threat.

Baroness Altmann rightly said that this is about "how we leave the EU and in what way we treat the people who are damaged by the decision that we take, through no fault of their own."

The latest group to support the EU nationals' demand to have their rights guaranteed is the cross-party Committee on Exiting the EU who have unanimously agreed that this needs to happen immediately.

In a country that has so often earned the moral high ground throughout history, surely this is the decent thing to do.