Sometimes a nation has to set a good example and do the right thing, the moral thing. Although we need all the bargaining chips and leverage we can get for what will inevitably be extremely challenging negotiations with the EU as we seek an exit settlement; we shouldn’t toy with the lives of human beings. That’s why the government should make a clear and unequivocal commitment to protect the status of EU nationals. Those already lawfully resident in the UK should not see a change in their status and must be offered permanent residence.
We must not forget the enormous social and economic benefits of EEA immigration. For the most part we have invited into our country some of the most industrious, entrepreneurial and well-educated people that Europe has to offer. Why on Earth would we not be grateful for that? They have greatly contributed to our society and we must now strive to offer reassurance that the vote to leave the EU is not an act of hostility against them (despite what a tiny minority of xenophobes believe). They are an asset to Britain and they have acquired rights that we absolutely must respect.
In the immediate aftershock, we had the ludicrous news of banks concerned that they’d lose their EU national staff adding to the hysteria. They are not alone, businesses across the country will be concerned about their workforce and our public services too are packed full of hard working migrants from EU countries. At a time of economic uncertainty, this is the last thing we need.
Guaranteeing their rights will be both economically and socially beneficial. Above all else it is the moral and humane thing to do. There are people now feeling nervous and uncertain about their future, unsure how to interpret the referendum result and concerned with that sick minority of racists who wrongly feel emboldened. Let’s stop contributing to their anxiety in the utterly misguided notion that we shouldn’t reveal our hand too early and make a pledge to them.
The current government line is to say that we cannot guarantee their rights until we are sure that other Member States will reciprocate and protect the rights of Britons in the EU. On closer inspection, it is difficult to see how this would work in practice. If France guaranteed the rights of Britons but Spain did not, are we really saying we would therefore treat French nationals different to Spanish? Would we really punish them for their government’s actions? The idea that we would implement mass deportations is ludicrous and ghastly. This wouldn’t work on a practical basis and would be morally repugnant in any case.
A far better policy would be to act now in good faith and guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK expectation of reciprocity, which we will almost certainly receive. If, and I don’t for a moment believe it would happen, the rights of UK nationals were not guaranteed in reciprocation then we would have every right to purse their rights in court and would be likely to succeed.
Was the vote to leave an expression by the 52% for EU nationals to leave? The evidence is clear that this is not the case. ICM’s new post-referendum research for British Future that 84% of people (including 77% of Leave voters) want existing EU nationals to stay and any future changes to apply only to new migrants. The British people know that it is the right thing to do. Some of those who have migrated here may intend to return back to their country of origin eventually, as is their prerogative, but many others now consider Britain their home. What kind of a country would we be if didn’t tell say they were very welcome to stay?
Ben is the Conservatives for Liberty Online Director. Follow him on Twitter: @TheScepticIsle
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty