So the House of Lords, with a pretty solid majority, voted to unilaterally protect the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK post-Brexit, passing an amendment to the Article 50 notification bill with a majority of 102. Even a few Tories voted for the amendment.
But – surprise, surprise – the government is seeking to overturn the amendment as the bill passes back and forth between the Lords and Commons, as The Guardian reports here.
One line of the Guardian piece especially struck me:
Anna Soubry said that she was convinced by the government’s argument that this issue would be dealt with as a priority once article 50 had been triggered.
That may indeed be true, but that does not render what the Lords are trying to do meaningless.
The devil is going to be in the detail of this, because even if the rest of the EU and the UK can agree early in the Article 50 process the principle that rights are to be mutually protected, that is not going to explain exactly how getting those rights is going to work in practice for the individuals concerned.
Look at the work Faisal Islam has been doing over the past few days if you doubt this. He has dug up the forms used to apply for permanent residency across the EU, and the costs for doing so. All these forms are based on the same rule – that permanent residence in an EU country should be allowed after 5 uninterrupted years in a country. But the form to get permanent residency is 2 pages long in Germany, 5 pages long in Ireland, and a massive 85 pages in the UK, and the costs vary too. The same will inevitably be the case with the amended rules are for EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit, and indeed for UK citizens in the rest of the EU. Plus, as Alex Barker argues in the FT (€), much of the detail beyond the bigger principle remains to be worked out.
So that is why the House of Lords needs to stick to its position, and bulldozer its view through against the Commons. It is vital that how these rules – and the details of these rules – for EU citizens in the UK are debated openly and transparently in the UK Parliament. A drip, drip, drip of negative stories about the woes of EU citizens in the press is not enough – only a parliamentary debate about the specifics of the rules can bring clarity here, and that’s why the Lords are right, and Soubry and the rest of the Commons would do well to listen to them. Otherwise the UK government can stick to talking about principle, while the reality of the matter could remain as pernicious and complicated as it is currently.