UK citizens living in the EU will be turned into bargaining chips in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, as a result of Wednesday’s vote in the House of Lords.
If Peers get their way, the rights of EU nationals to continue living in the UK will be guaranteed, but those UK citizens living in the EU will remain open to question. A factor the EU will undoubtedly use to its considerable advantage over the government when Brexit talks begin in earnest.
This move by the 358 Peers who backed amending the Article 50 Bill represents an extraordinary dereliction of duty to its citizens by a UK governing institution and is a self-inflicted hammer blow to the Lords’ already precarious legitimacy.
An offer of a reciprocal guarantee to all UK and EU residents was, rightly, made by the government back in January. But according to Theresa May, the deal was rejected by “one or two” EU leaders. So the government can hardly be held responsible for the uncertain situation in which that refusal leaves the citizens of those countries.
The Lords’ actions have even disappointed groups representing EU residents and UK expats. A coalition of 13 groups responded with concern that “the amendment makes no mention of UK citizens in the EEA” who were “also facing huge uncertainty about their futures, livelihoods and the security of their families – the same concerns facing EU and EEA citizens in the UK,” said coalition spokesman Jeremy Morgan QC.
The House of Lords already stands on increasingly unstable foundations. Membership has grown beyond reason to over 800. There are ever more frequent reports of Peers adopting a ‘cash in, clock off’ approach to their £300 daily attendance allowance. Lifetime rights to a say over our laws have been granted to an array of political party workers, spin doctors and short-term ex-MPs kicked out by public vote but projected straight back into parliament’s second chamber. The Liberal Democrats enjoy the influence wielded by over 100 Peers yet public votes have left them with just 9 MPs.
Talk of reform has, as a result, been growing. For Peers to now go out of their way to leave a million UK expats high and dry in the Brexit negotiations will inject huge new impetus to demands for change or indeed complete replacement of the institution.
MPs will at least get the opportunity to reject this extraordinarily ill-judged amendment. In doing so they must take the chance to remind the House of Lords exactly who they are meant to be there to serve.