The House of Lords has passed an amendment to the Brexit Bill, Amendment 9B, which states that the government must bring forward proposals to ensure that citizens of other EU and EEA countries and their family members who are legally resident in the UK must be allowed to remain in the UK and continue to be treated in the same way in respect of their EU-derived rights post-Brexit. The amendment was passed by 358 votes to 256, a majority of 102.
The idea that we shouldn’t kick out EU nationals currently in the UK is a good enough one, but for three reasons I have a huge problem with this amendment:
1. It is remarkably short-sighted. We need a reciprocal agreement between the EU and the UK: “We will allow EU nationals to remain in the UK post-Brexit, and in return UK nationals will be allowed to remain in the EU nations post-Brexit.” It’s much harder to gain such a reciprocal agreement on behalf of British ex-pats currently living in other EU nations if we’ve conceded their half of the negotiation position first. Yes, we do care about EU citizens living in the UK – but we also care about British citizens living abroad, and this Amendment damages our ability to help them.
2. There is one point where we would not wish to continue offering identical rights to EU citizens post-Brexit. The vast majority of those who come here are law-abiding citizens, but a small minority are not. Those who abuse our hospitality by committing serious criminal offences should not continue to have immunity from deportation. The current standard, which effectively requires us to show that an EU national poses a specific tangible threat to the United Kingdom, has been proven to be insufficient.
3. I do not believe that the House of Lords should be amending this Bill in particular. I recognise the Lords amend many Bills placed before Parliament in their role as a revising and scrutinising chamber. There is a question as to whether the unelected Lords have become an anachronism in the 21st century, neither one thing nor the other, since it was stuffed with political appointees. I would prefer a democratically-elected second chamber, but that is a discussion for another time. This time, though, the Bill is a response to an Act of Parliament which provided for a referendum on the European Union, and to implement the decision of the British people in that referendum. It is not for the Lords to add pre-conditions to those negotiations or to tie the hands of the British government to make their job harder.