Right of Residence is not Enough: EU Citizens Need to be Truly Free in Post-Brexit Britain

28 July 2017

The government has made a lot of its offer for EU citizens living in the UK. Theresa May has talked about how the offer provides “certainty” for the 3 million EU citizens living and working in the UK, claiming that they would be “treated the same as if they were UK citizens”. This is materially not true. If the current proposed deal goes through, then it will limit the right of EU nationals to live a normal life in Britain to an intolerable extent.

The UK offer, as it stands, is to give EU nationals living in the UK ‘settled status’. This falls a long way short of full freedom to live and work. It is not for life – it can be lost if you spend too much time out the country. This is far from the certainty the Prime Minister claimed. The government is also unclear on when the cut-off date will be for when you can access these rights. If they are feeling generous, the Home Office might grant rights to anyone who moved to the UK before the UK leaves the EU. If not, they could set a historical date, so that no one who moved after the triggering of Article 50 is guaranteed anything. This leaves many people in limbo. At any time, the government could tell them that they have to leave the place they live and work.

But there is so much more than simply being able to live in a country that needs to be guaranteed. Legal experts talk about a ‘network of interlinked rights’ without which it is impossible to fully engage with society. Things like the right to work, the right to healthcare, and the right for your qualifications to be recognised are all essential for someone living in another country. If, for example, a doctor moves from Italy to the UK, it is crucial for them to have their Italian medical qualifications recognised for them to work and to contribute to the society they have joined. If this is not agreed then we could see not just doctors, but anyone from architects, to engineers, to lawyers who have practiced in this country for years, suddenly finding their qualifications are meaningless.

This also goes for the similarly important issue of access to public services. We have seen from Theresa May’s battle against so called ‘Health Tourism’ (an issue that according to official estimates costs only 0.3% of the NHS’s budget a year, whereas hammering down on it makes the lives of non-British people in the UK demonstrably more difficult) that the government will be uncomfortable with giving EU citizens access to public services. As it stands, in order to get a right to reside in the UK you must purchase private health insurance. If this doesn’t change, then we could see many people who live in Britain without the ability to afford healthcare. Or that the need for private healthcare makes them significantly less well-off. This is far from being “treated the same as if they were UK citizens” like the Tories promised.

To top all of this off, proposal on the table disenfranchises EU nationals who can currently vote in local, regional & European elections. In contrast, Commonwealth nationals can vote in all of these elections as well as in national elections. EU citizens would be left with no voting rights at all - effectively second-class citizens - revolutions have been waged for less as the slogan goes "no taxation without representation". Thus this wholesale undermining of civil, social & economic rights cannot be compared with the rights of UK nationals. While this government makes the lives of these people harder, they are also protecting themselves from any reaction against this. This is electioneering in action.

In response, many will say that these are fairly uncontroversial rights. That of course the government is going to grant them because it would only lose out if it didn’t. However, the fact is that even after setting out its plan for residency rights in detail, all these things have been omitted. This is either intentional, meaning they don’t want to guarantee these rights, or accidental, which means they aren’t even aware of the issue. In either case, this is alarming and people need to be vocal. There is consensus in the country on the need for these rights to be guaranteed, but the government continues to drag its heels. The only way to force them to act is to keep making these arguments for a post-Brexit settlement that is fair to the 3 million people who live, work and contribute to the UK on a daily basis. Otherwise, these issues can slip through the net and we sleepwalk into a crisis.

Are you an EU national living in the UK? Would you like to share your story with us? Email office@northeastlabour.eu with a letter, a message or a video and help us show the human face of what Brexit means.

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