20 MAR 2017

EU citizens and the Archbishop of Canterbury

There has been recent attention to the issue of EU citizens in the UK and I spoke about this issue on BBC Radio Oxford. In the debate on the Lords amendments to the Article 50 Bill a former Leader of the Liberal-Democrats spoke about the plight of EU citizens in the UK, mainly his mother and his wife. What he did was to sell the 1.2 million British people in Europe down the river. By claiming that we picked the fight and therefore should deal with the issue on our own, he sought to punish the UK for having reached a decision with which neither he nor indeed I agreed. Another speaker described the British people in Europe as old and retired as if this meant that they were not worth protecting. I disagree.

What we are after is reciprocal rights for both EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in Europe. As the Polish Prime Minster said: "Of course, these guarantees would need to be reciprocal. It's also important what guarantees the British citizens living and working in other member states of the European Union will have." It is wrong to describe this as using people as a bargaining chip. It is getting agreement to a principle. The idea that we can act unilaterally on this issue reduces the negotiations to nothing more than a fireside club chat or one in which we seek to set an agenda which the other side can simply ignore having nothing much else to gain. As the Polish Prime Minister said, this is about reciprocity and it is good that it will be high on the issues to negotiate with the EU.

I would also draw your attention to a very good speech made by the Archbishop of Canterbury in the House of Lords. In his speech he said "neither is the complexity of a further referendum a good way of dealing with the process at the end of negotiation. It will add to our divisions; it will deepen the bitterness. It is not democratic; it is unwise. Even if circumstances change ....—even if they change drastically—a dangerous and overcomplicated process is the result of a referendum." It is a thoughtful speech and he ended with the following words: "I have seen two cardinal errors made in seeking to bring reconciliation and building common vision. The first is to complicate the process; the second is artificially to simplify complicated substance. ...... I fear we risk making the process too complex and the substance too simple."

He could have been talking about the same issue as I started this note with. He pointed out that division in our country was something to be healed. Reciprocity of rights is the obvious way to go.

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