The UK vote to leave the EU has left the lives of 5m EU citizens (est. 3.4 m EU citizens in the UK and est. 1.6 m UK citizens in the EU) in limbo.
Although a cross-campaign consensus about the rights of EU citizens in the event of a Leave vote, no advance preparations were made by the EU in respect of this issue prior to the referendum.
Consequently when New Europeans briefed EU Ambassadors at Europe House in London on 24 July 2016, there was no clarity from EU member states about the strategy for safe-guarding the right of EU citizens.
There was clarity at that meeting about the level of distress that the Brexit vote was calling because Samia Badani, Head of Campaigns, New Europeans presented the results of the survey she had carried out in the aftermath of the vote.
Roger Casale presented the case for unilateral guarantees. He reported on the letter to Prime Minister, David Cameron that he had handed to Downing Street with over 2,000 signatures and he called on EU member states to avoid the “reciprocity trap” by moving swiftly to grant unilateral guarantees to UK citizens in EU member states.
One year later, the position of EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU has still not been clarified and guaranteed.
In that time, New Europeans has continuously and consistently lobbied for unilateral guarantees, including through the setting up of an All-Party Parliamentary Group, the organisation of the first ever mass lobby of parliament by EU citizens.
We were a co-organiser of the Unite for Europe march which saw 100,000 people protest against Britain’s decision to leave the EU and the treatment of EU citizens since the referendum.
Through our contacts in the House of Lords, we tabled an amendment to the Article 50 Bill which would have required the rights of EU citizens to be secured before Britain gave formal notification that it would leave the EU.
The amendment was passed in the Lords but subsequently overturned in the Commons where a government revolt was bought off with the promise to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the ‘Great Repeal Bill’.
The Labour Party changed their policy in response to our representations. As soon as we showed Sir Keir Starmer MP a statement we had requested from a coalition of UK expat groups stating that they did not want a reciprocal agreement, the Labour Party position changed from reciprocity to unilateral guarantees “on our first day in office”.
All the other parties followed suit except Theresa May’s Conservatives. However, we now know from the former Chancellor, George Osbourne, that David Cameron’s cabinet had wanted to grant unilateral guarantees but this was blocked by the Home Secretary at the time, Theresa May.
In November, Liam Fox made a speech in which he said that it was necessary for the UK to withhold guarantees from EU citizens. This would allow the UK to use EU citizens as bargaining collateral in the forthcoming trade negotiations with the EU.
In December, Roger Casale spoke with Peter Altmaier, Chief of Staff to Angela Merkel in Berlin who confirmed that the EU would be looking to make “reciprocal arrangements” to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK (with the possible exception of UK citizens working for the EU institutions who might be given unilateral guarantees).
So the UK went from a position of favouring unilateral guarantees before the referendum and immediately after the referendum to one of demanding “reciprocity” under Theresa May’s government.
The EU went from a positon of having no position on the issue, to one of insisting on reciprocity despite calls, including form EU citizens in the UK, for the EU to grant the rights of British citizens in the EU unilaterally.
The EU fell into the “reciprocity trap” and has taken 5m EU citizens with them (Brits in the EU are still EU citizens until declared otherwise).
By doing so it has unwittingly turned 5m EU citizens into negotiating collateral or in other words, into bargaining chips.
One year on from the referendum, the status of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU remains unresolved.
New Europeans continues to fight for the rights of EU citizens to be guaranteed unilaterally.
Meanwhile, we have also set up a counselling service to help EU citizens cope with the increasing distress caused by not knowing any longer which place they can call home.
To persuade the EU to grant unilateral guarantees to British citizens in the EU with immediate effect.
To insist that the UK government give parallel guarantees to EU citizens in the UK asap and before negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU can begin.
To lock these parallel sets of guarantees into an international agreement regardless of the outcome of the withdrawal negotiations themselves.