Tom Brake fights for the rights of EU citizens in the UK

The 3 million EU citizens currently resident in the UK must not be bartered over in this country’s exit negotiations with the EU. They must not be treated as political pawns, or like children caught up in their parents’ divorce. So said Liberal Democrat MP Tom Brake as he introduced his “EU Citizens in the UK (Right to stay) Bill to the Commons this week. The Bill has support from MPs from Labour, SDLP, SNP and Greens.

I’m glad to see Lib Dems calling the Brexit vote for what it is – a disaster. Someone needs to point out that we are on the edge of a massive precipice and the tanking of the pound is just the start. Already business is starting to feel the pinch as investors delay investing in the UK. The collapse of the travel firm Lowcostravel is just one example of jobs being lost as a result of the Brexit vote. People haven’t yet even begun to experience the effects of Brexit and when they do, they need to see who was speaking out from the start.

I’m very proud that it is our lot who are working to preserve the rights of people who are already worrying about their future. It is only fair that those who have made their lives here are allowed to stay and not have the goalposts moved. Imagine if you have moved here, fallen in love, established a social network, a family, a career, in this country. Would you like to be treated that way?

Here is Tom’s speech in full:

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a bill to grant EU citizens the right to stay resident in the UK following the UK’s withdrawal from membership of the European Union; and for connected purposes.

On 24 June, 3 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.3 million British citizens in the EU woke up to an uncertain future because while the Brexiteers had pithy slogans aplenty, our Government had no plan for the long-term future of EU citizens in the UK or the UK post-Brexit. EU citizens were unable to vote in the referendum and were therefore left without a voice during the campaign. They now find themselves without the protection of their EU citizenship rights in the UK. EU citizenship includes not just the right to live, work and study in the UK but, for example, the right to participate in local, regional and European elections.

The current Prime Minister gave an assurance that there would be no immediate change, but this now carries little weight, given that we will have a new Prime Minister tomorrow. His assurances are therefore time-limited and have an imminent sell-by date. He has offered no protection for the rights of EU citizens and Brits abroad in the future. By calling and then losing the referendum, the current Prime Minister pulled the rug out from under the feet of these citizens. He needs to get that rug out of the removals van that is parked outside No. 10 and put it back before he departs. EU citizens need certainty about their long-term future in the UK, and they need this assurance now, before their futures are used as bargaining chips in our negotiations with the EU.

The Prime Minister has just appointed a new EU commissioner to replace Jonathan Hill, rather than leaving that to his successor. He should also act now while he still has time to secure the rights of EU citizens by unconditionally granting the right to stay to all EU citizens who were resident in the UK on 23 June. He can never make full amends for triggering a chain of events that will lead to economic and diplomatic disaster for the UK, but this would help to restore a modicum of credibility in the dying day of his premiership. If he fails to do so, there are three ways in which EU citizens’ rights could be safeguarded in the future.

First, a legal challenge might rely on an appeal under article 70.1(b) of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties. However, as Professor Douglas-Scott pointed out in an article for the UK Constitutional Law Association entitled “What Happens to ‘Acquired Rights’ in the Event of a Brexit?”, there is no consensus among lawyers about the application of the convention to EU citizens living in the UK. Neither does there seem to be much scope for protecting the position of EU citizens in the UK or Brits abroad through customary international law. EU citizens might have to wait years before any rights that they might have under the convention could be tested in court.

Secondly, the Government could negotiate an agreement with EU member states to allow the right to remain on a reciprocal basis for EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU. The problem with that approach is that it turns EU citizens into bargaining chips. Such a negotiation does not yet have a start date, and the House has already condemned it, by 245 votes to two, as wrong in principle. To barter over the future of EU citizens and Britons in the EU would be to treat EU citizens as if they were children in a divorce settlement. That would be humiliating to the individuals concerned and their families, and it would demonstrate a shameful lack of political judgment on the part of the British Government. It would also be a very weak negotiating strategy, because there is a good chance that EU member states are likely to act to guarantee the rights of British citizens unilaterally.

Unless a future UK Government intended to hold EU citizens hostage in order to achieve concessions in other areas of the negotiations, such as access to the single market, there would be nothing else to negotiate. In his evidence to the Home Affairs Committee this afternoon, I am sure that the Immigration Minister will be pressed further on this issue. There were signs over the weekend, given comments by the Foreign Secretary at the NATO summit and reports on Saturday, that the Government’s position might be softening.

The third approach, which is that proposed by my Bill, would be for the Government to legislate now to secure the rights of EU citizens unilaterally, thereby providing desperately needed certainty for all EU nationals living here. We must make EU citizens feel welcome and safe in Britain. This reassurance would also help the 1.3 million British people living in the EU, help to secure the future of the 9% of NHS doctors who work in the UK and are from the EU, and help to ensure that Britain remains open and welcoming.

Yesterday, I met the campaign organisation New Europeans, which is a voice for EU citizens in the UK, and other charities and non-governmental organisations  representing migrant communities. New Europeans has gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a letter to the Prime Minister asking for the issue to be resolved now. I also draw the House’s attention to early-day motion 259 on the status of British citizens resident in the EU and EU citizens resident in the UK, which makes the same call.

As I have mentioned, following a debate on a Labour motion, the House showed by a clear majority of 245 votes to two that it favoured sorting out the situation of EU citizens living in the UK immediately. Thanks to New Europeans, in the next few days I will also be meeting the EU Commission in the UK and ambassadors to EU member states in London to discuss the issue.

It is quite clear that many EU citizens no longer feel welcome in Britain and that many are leaving. I met someone earlier this morning who said exactly that: he and his partner feel that the only thing to do is to leave the UK, and they will be doing so shortly, even though they have lived here for more than 20 years and paid significant tax during that time. They no longer feel welcome. Numbers of race hate crimes and xenophobic attacks have increased since the referendum. In London alone, where more than 800,000 EU nationals live, there have been three race hate crimes every hour. These threats and acts of discrimination will continue unless and until the Government make it clear that they will ring-fence the rights of EU citizens who were living in the UK before 24 June. Providing such clarity is the purpose of the Bill, and I commend it to the House.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Read more by or more about , or .
This entry was posted in Europe / International, Op-eds and Parliament.


  • It is absolutely right that any EU citizen living in the UK as of 23rd June should continue to enjoy all the same rights and protections that they woud have done had the referendum gone the other way. This is the fair thing to do for all the factors Tom Brake lists, and it is what he should be arguing for.

    But that isn’t what he is arguing for. Instead he is arguing that EU citizens should be given much more enhanced rights than they have currently. EU citizens have never had an automatic right to live in the UK. Generally, they have had to be a “qualified person” (working, studying or looking for work), an eligible family member of a qualified person, or have “permanent residency” status having been here for at least five years.

    Those rights should certainly be protected, regardless of any negotiations, but Brake is suggesting we go much further than existing rights and simply give everybody here on 23rd June permanent residency status.

  • And what about the 1.3 million UK citizens currently resident in the EU? Who equally must not be bartered over in this country’s exit negotiations with the EU. Surely they also must not be treated as political pawns, or like children caught up in their parents’ divorce.

    Remember once the UK exits the EU, in the absence of an EU wide agreement, the individual EU members are free to set their own rules concerning the continued residence of UK nationals…

  • @Roland

    Of course the UK citizens resident in the EU should have their status protected. However that it not for our parliament to legislate on.

    It is basic human decency that those who made their homes here before the referendum should be allowed to stay. This is will still be the case in the unlikely event that some other EU nations decide to deport UK citizens post-Brexit.

    However, I firmly believe that the UK should take the high road and guarantee EU citizens right to stay here premptively. It will help set a positive tone in the negotiations to come.

  • @Nick – We aren’t actually talking about the UK parliament but the policy and actions of LibDem’s who were elected to represent the interests of their UK electors.

    If the LibDem’s were really keen on all the things raised in the article and previous articles on the matter they would have and be using their position as the UK branch of the ALDE to push for this matter to be raised by MEP’s in the EU Parliament and for Brussels to be directly lobbied on this matter. The fact that they are not, speaks volumes…

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

If you are a member of the party, you can have the Lib Dem Logo appear next to your comments to show this. You must be registered for our forum and can then login on this public site with the same username and password.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Jason Connnor
    I agree with Simon R. And there is a difference between lawful and unlawful immigration. I remember a Lib Dem politician saying exactly that on QT, and her name...
  • Michael BG
    Joe Bourke, According to the Budget book (page 37) the current budget deficit for 2022-23 is 0.6% with general government net borrowing being forecast to be ...
  • Adam
    Sorry for any grammatical mistakes - tooth extraction! Rum!...
  • Adam
    We certainly had Halloween where I lived in the North East back in the '60s/ It was generally called "mischief night" and usually involved either shoving excrem...
  • Nonconformistradical
    @Helen Dudden "I would live in France." How's your French? Enough for the basic necessities of life? Do you already have relatives in France with whom, i...