This week the Brexit saga took its most recent twist as the House of Lords voted for an amendment to the Brexit bill which will seek to guarantee the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK. The amendment was passed in the House of Lords by 358 to 256 votes and the bill will now go back to the House of Commons where MPs will have to vote on the amendment.
On the face of it, the amendment seems to be a perfectly reasonable one as, realistically, EU citizens in the UK were always going to be allowed to keep their rights because there would have been uproar if the government had made any significant changes. However, if the amendment does get passed in the Commons – and I think it probably will – all that will happen is that the government will have had one of their key bargaining tools taken away from them. As Theresa May said, it is impractical to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK before the rights of UK citizens living in the EU have also been guaranteed.
The House of Lords are undoubtedly trying to do the right thing in protecting EU nationals living in Britain, but in my view they are simply weakening the UK’s position in negotiating any trade deal with the EU. If the amendment is passed by the Commons then the EU will be able to threaten Theresa May with a poor deal without having any worries about needing to protect their own people. If the amendment is not passed, all that will happen is that the leaders of EU nations and Mrs May will agree to guarantee the right of everybody living in the UK or EU already, but now there is no incentive for the EU to make such a promise to the UK.
Angela Merkel was asked by Mrs May to remove the issue of citizens’ rights from the post-Brexit negotiations, but the German Chancellor refused which suggests that there is a real chance that Uk nationals living in the EU will not have their rights protected, especially if the rights of EU citizens in the same position are not negotiable. At a time when Britain needs all the bargaining power possible, the last thing they need is to have one of the main incentives for the EU to give them a positive trade deal taken away.
I have no doubt that the House of Lords is trying to do the right thing with the amendment to the Article 50 bill, but i fear that the only result will be weakening the country’s position in negotiations with the European Union. Everybody wants the best deal possible for the UK, so I feel we need to leave negotiations to the government to try and do that, and the House of Lords getting involved can only have a negative impact. I’m just hoping that the Commons vote against the Lords’ amendment, as well as any other amendments they make to the current bill, so that the government can have the freedom to come back from negotiations with the very best deal possible for the country.