Theresa May has always played her cards close to her chest in her political career, and she has a reputation for standing by her decisions with steely determination. When it comes to the issue of UK Permanent Residency for EU migrants, however, there is growing opposition from cross-party politics that make this episode a bit more tricky.
One of the unusual aspects of the EU referendum was how it became a cross-party issue, seeing MPs from all sides being free from the “whip” and able to take the side they preferred. Or rather take the side they genuinely understood represented their constituents’ opinion.
The UK Permanent Residency Promise
But far beyond the referendum, and even after MPs had crawled back to their own sides – some with tails between their political legs – we now see a different cross-party action in play. There is a lot of debate surrounding all aspects of Brexit, but none more than the issue of UK Permanent Residency being afforded to current UK migrants – or at least those in the UK pre-23rd of June 2016.
As recently as 7th February, Theresa May said herself that the UK would be “poorer” and services “weaker” without EU workers. A logical assumption, indeed, given the reliance on EU workers in the NHS, for example. However, since then her stance seems to shift as she focuses more on pushing through the Brexit Bill, which currently denies any such guarantee. After the Lord’s defeat last week, May has dug her heels in on the issue and has promised to defy the challenge to her PR stance.
Late last year it was May herself who told the Sunday Times that “if you know you are doing the right thing, you have the confidence, the energy to go and deliver that right message.” The problem with such an attitude approach is that it sails closely to arrogance, and is sure to ruffle feathers when it comes to negotiations. If you are negotiating a house price, or the sale of your car, that’s one thing. If you are negotiating terms of millions of people’s UK permanent residency entitlement – and therefore their whole future – it could be seen as somewhat risky and unfair.
Challenges from all Angles
The cross-party committee put together to handle the Brexit negotiations is chaired by Hilary Benn, MP and he has been making opinions very clear.
“…[EU Citizens] have worked hard, paid their taxes, integrated, raised families and put down roots. They did not have a vote in the referendum, but the result has left them living under a cloud of uncertainty. They are understandably concerned about their rights to remain, and their future rights to access education and healthcare…”
Hilary Benn, MP
Michael Gove has also spoken out against the current uncertainty, calling it “unacceptable” to treat EU migrants in this way. The committee is also making it clear that the substantial 85 page application document is “complex and onerous,” “not fit for purpose,” and was in need of streamlining “as a matter of urgency.”
Take all of these comments into account, it is worth noting how that form was in existence when Theresa May was in charge of the Home Office. It could make one wonder why this hasn’t been questioned before. Considering the Shadow Home Office minister is Keir Starmer – previous Director of Public Prosecution, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, and highly experienced QC – is also standing up against this stance of stalemate, perhaps it is time for Theresa May to listen and act.
UK permanent residency applications are on the increase, but so are refusals. With each refusal brings a possible re-application, earning more money for the Home Office. Some might say there is as much potential corruption in knowingly perpetuating this cycle when so many top politicians are calling for May to give EU migrants UK permanent residency without all the red tape to jump over in order to get it.
When the Chips are Down…
Theresa May is gambling on high-stakes with her refusal to include the guarantee for UK permanent residency in the original Article 50 bid and suggesting that the Commons will seek to defeat the Lords rather than adhere to their recommendations. Hilary Benn has been quick to criticise the “disproportionately burdensome” application process, and how May’s actions thus far have not been in the benefits of the UK, let alone EU migrants.
Campaigns have been launched, and even many Brexit voters are now making a lot of “this is NOT what we voted for” noises – something that May could do well to listen to. When MPs, parliament, and the PM are suffering major criticism from the people we have to wonder how much it takes to make them listen. After all, it’s a dangerous game throwing down the chips when you sit high upon an ivory tower. In the end, it’s only the people down below that get hurt.