Last night, the British government suffered its first setback of the process to trigger Article 50 (the mechanism by which we formally give notice of our intention to leave the European Union). During the committee stage of the “Article 50 Bill” in the House of Lords, a majority (358 to 256) of peers backed an amendment calling on the government to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens living permanently in the United Kingdom in conjunction with giving notice of departure to the European Union. Theresa May and her government have vowed to reject the amendment when the bill returns to the House of Commons, but talk of a Conservative backbench rebellion, coupled with the likelihood of the europhile Labour Party, Liberal Democrats and Scottish separatists voting as a bloc in favour of this amendment could spell defeat for Theresa May.
This is problematic in the extreme, but should further expose to the people of this great nation that their elected officials care little for the British people.
The most obvious argument against this unilateral guarantee of rights for foreigners living in this country is that the European Union has not offered us the same courtesy, in terms of guaranteeing the rights of British nationals living on the continent. Therefore, it is a very poor negotiating strategy indeed to concede this issue of utmost importance before the discussions have even began. It sends a signal to the European Union that we are weak, that our compassion for foreigners will stand in the way of our ability to ruthlessly seek the best deal for our country and our people. If we are prepared to be so foolish as to give away points of leverage so easily, then they will take whatever they want from us and we will be left licking our wounds.
Continuing on this theme of nationalism, that is, putting Britain first, it must be said that this amendment and the enthusiasm of it amongst our political class is very telling. It is telling because, as Lord Tibbit put so frankly, they appear to care more about the rights of foreigners than those of the British people. Our political class is prepared to sell British people living abroad down the river, all for the sake of some misplaced humanitarian gesture. The European Union has already proved to have some morally questionable people amongst its senior negotiating ranks, nasty little weasels like Guy Verhofstat who will gladly erect barriers to British expats on the continent despite our little virtue signalling exercise. With this amendment we are letting down British people who live abroad but are relying on Her Majesty’s government to get a deal that works for them too, for we have already given up on that line of negotiation before we’ve begun.
However, perhaps one of the biggest issues with this amendment is that it essentially subjects our government to the same constraints regarding European immigrants as it would have should we remain under the jurisdiction of the European Courts of Human Rights. With this guarantee of continuing rights of the same nature, we are restricting what we can do with any future immigration policies. For example, should we wish to alter the law regarding the deportation of foreign criminals to make it easier to do so or lower the threshold above which this would be considered, we can not do this for they will have the same rights as they currently enjoy, which is essentially a free for all.
Furthermore, this creates a disparity between the rights that current EU nationals residing in the UK enjoy and the rights (or lack of) that any future EU immigrant will be subject to should we change our immigration laws. This could lead to a situation whereby the future of a Dutch scientist who settles in the UK after Article 50 is triggered could be less certain than that of a Romanian thief or a Latvian murderer who happened to have their existing rights guaranteed by this amendment.
Simply put, our government will be shooting themselves in the proverbial foot if they even consider accepting this amendment. There are so many areas in which it could come back to bite them and there is no question that this decision will do so. It may seem unpalatable to some to use real people with real lives as bargaining chips, but then perhaps you should have thought about that before you advocated open door immigration without consulting the British people.