The British government has the “unilateral” power to grant the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK the rights to continue to live, work and retire in the country post-Brexit, a legal expert has said.
Their rights are not legally tied to those of the 1.5 million British living abroad, said Ruvi Ziegler, a lecturer in law at the University of Reading.
He said many of the rights that flow from EU laws, allowing all 500 million European citizens reciprocal rights in each other’s countries, have been incorporated in separate British laws, and therefore the issue is a “domestic” one.
“I think, notwithstanding the political difficulties, legally it is in the unilateral gift of parliament to [ensure rights continue after Brexit],” he told a House of Commons meeting.
He was speaking as the former Labour MP Roger Casale said the government’s attitude was like something from the 1920s, using people’s rights as a bargaining chip for some trade-off in political negotiations.
Many EU citizens have been panicked, post-referendum, into applying for permanent residency and filling in complicated 80-page Home Office forms.
Ziegler told the meeting that the right to permanent residency in the UK is enshrined in the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2006and that this could in principle continue to apply post-Brexit.
Up to now, international public law experts have said that no rights, apart from the right to own property and to own a business, would be protected after the UK exits the European Union.
Nicolas Hatton, founder of the3million, told the meeting: “I love this country; I love the history of the country, the culture of the country. It’s a wonderful country. When we moved to the UK, it was in the EU and we didn’t think of the implications that we are faced with now.”
Hatton is a French citizen and has lived in the UK for 21 years. Since he launched the campaign, he has been inundated with stories of concern from EU citizens ranging from Italian doctors to German solicitors and Greek currency traders in the City.
One Dutch man who came into the UK in the 1970s and who now has British grandchildren told the3million he would refuse to fill in any Home Office form to stay in the UK.
Others though are applying for permanent residency, even though they have no legal obligation to do so.
“People are feeling the pressure,” Hatton said. “The rise in hate crime is not healthy. All of us would feel we don’t belong any more. And that’s very sad and we don’t feel part of the discussion. We believe the solution is political.”
He wants all MPs to pledge their support with the launch of a petition that states: “I pledge to support the right of EU citizens living in the UK to remain in the UK after Brexit.”
The3million pledge campaign was launched as the Polish and Romanian governments urged Theresa May to clarify what rights their citizens would have post-Brexit.
Casale called on the government to remove the issue of the rights of EU citizens from the negotiating table immediately.
“This is not the 1920s where you can bargain with people’s collective rights. It’s ridiculous,” said Casale, who founded the New Europeans civic organisation three years ago.
He called on the government “to pass a law, not just utter warm words” guaranteeing the rights of all EU citizens.
“This would be the clearest signal that EU citizens are not going anywhere,” he said. “This is very important because what is happening is that people think they can just go round telling EU citizens to leave. It would help community cohesion.”
He said it was also important for the other EU member states to remove the 1.5 million British citizens living abroad from the Brexit negotiations.
About the author:
Lisa O'Carroll is The Guardian's Brexit reporter
Reproduced with kind permission: