The answer is not just legal protections themselves but a cultural change inside governmentby Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos / November 1, 2019 / Leave a comment
The final hurdles Boris Johnson’s government had to overcome to clear the path to a pre-Christmas election were opposition amendments seeking to give EU citizens with “settled status” (as well as 16 and 17-year-olds) the right to vote. The symbolism will not have been lost on the more than three million EU citizens living in the UK who were not only disenfranchised in the EU referendum, but were also—quite disgracefully—treated as “bargaining chips” in the ensuing negotiations.
EU citizens will have listened intently as Jeremy Corbyn made the argument that “[w]e do recognise [EU citizens’] contribution to our society […] they have made their future in this country in our society, they should have a right to vote on their future as well.”
There was not a chance in the world the amendments would pass, of course. Nor should EU citizens have any illusions that their continued Brexit-generated predicament is going to be an election decider.
This does not detract from the fact that the rights of EU citizens remain one of the paramount issues that the new Withdrawal Agreement seeks to resolve and, simultaneously, a primary area of vulnerability in a no-deal Brexit scenario.
The next government should therefore prioritise the protection of these fundamental rights. The proposed creation of an Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), which was one of the innovations of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), can serve as a useful vehicle for achieving that.
Let us rewind a little here. Put yourself in the shoes of EU citizens in the UK (and UK citizens in the EU), experiencing the chaotic political rollercoaster since the referendum and living through the gut-wrenching “do or die, come what may,” rhetoric of the last few weeks. The government was determined to “get Brexit done,” regardless of cost. Citizens’ rights seemed an afterthought.
Despite some assurances that rights would be protected in a no-deal scenario, these were not worth very much: for example, there would be a shorter deadline for applications, and the introduction of a cut-off point for family members to join EU citizens with settled status. Most importantly, there would be a loss of external oversight, due first to the loss of the Independent Authority, which will have powers equivalent to those of the European Commission…