The House of Lords passed an amendment today which would force the UK government to grant EU nationals, who were resident in the UK before the Brexit referendum, rights to reside and work in the country on a unilateral basis, i.e. before the EU grants equivalent rights to UK residents in the EU. The Lords were encouraged on social media by people who think their amendment is a moral and principled one:
So the peers are “protecting EU citizens” by voting for this amendment. I’m resident in the UK by virtue of my EU citizenship. I have no fear for my future rights post Brexit, and certainly feel no need for any protection from the Lords. So I want to try to understand what this amendment is all about. On examination, the nonsensical and irrational foolishness behind it is so gigantic that I want to illustrate how silly it is with a simple diagram.
Here are the basic logical postulates for the diagram. The EU and the UK are both confronted with the same binary decision. Either:
- Grant rights (to UK citizens in EU or EU citizens in UK, respectively)
- Don’t grant rights (to UK citizens in EU or EU citizens in UK, respectively)
The UK government has already said it would offer rights to EU citizens in the UK, but only if the EU does the same for UK citizens in the EU. This is a conditional, reciprocal guarantee which exists for European citizens, like me, before any amendment from the Lords. Now, if you’re 100% sure that the EU will reciprocate in its treatment of UK citizens living in the EU – as many of the Lords’ supporters are – then, effectively, you can be 100% sure that EU residents in the UK will get their rights, based on the UK’s conditional guarantee and without any Lords amendment.
So if – like most supporters of the Lords’ amendment – you’re 100% sure the EU will reciprocate and play fair, there is no need for the Lords’ amendment at all. That makes the amendment seem pretty pointless.
However I don’t think many people are that optimistic. They may think it’s unlikely that the EU won’t offer UK residents there the same rights as those the Lords want the UK to offer unilaterally to EU residents in the UK. But they don’t think it’s 100% guaranteed the EU will do so. In other words, most people think there is a greater than 0% chance that the EU might not offer the same rights to UK citizens in the EU as those the Lords want the UK to grant unilaterally to EU residents (like me) in the UK. You could reasonably fear that the EU might try to punish the UK for Brexit, or use UK residents in the EU as a bargaining chip – after all they explicitly say they want to discourage other countries from leaving the EU. It might be unlikely they pull a fast one like this, but it’s certainly not impossible.
In logical terms, this means that both decisions are independent. The EU makes its own decision and so too does the UK. There are therefore four possible outcomes, represented in the following “decision quadrant”:
Let’s examine the potential outcomes if the Lords amendment had not been passed, before looking at the potential outcomes now that it has been passed. If the Lords amendment wasn’t passed, then the UK would offer rights to EU citizens only if the EU offered the same to UK citizens. From here there are two possible outcomes. If the EU were to agree to offer those same rights to UK citizens residing in Europe, then you are in the top left segment of the quadrant. Both EU residents in the UK and UK residents in the EU would have rights: “Everybody Happy.” If, for whatever reason, the EU decided not to offer UK residents the rights then the UK would do the same. In that case, neither UK nor EU citizens would have rights and you would be in the “Everybody unhappy” bottom right quadrant – because of the EU’s decision.
If the Lords amendment had not been passed, you would only have two options which are balanced and symmetrical (shaded in grey below). UK residents in Europe and EU residents in the UK would be treated exactly the same. Either both or neither would get rights.
Now the Lords amendment has been passed, we are on the left hand side of the quadrant. The UK will grant rights unilaterally to EU citizens living in the country (unless the House of Commons rejects their amendment). You then have two possibilities. Either the EU will reciprocate, or it won’t.
If the EU does reciprocate – as the Lords’ supporters expect – you then get the “Everybody happy” outcome in the top left quadrant again. In other words, with the Lords amendment, in the best case scenario you get exactly the same outcome as you would have gotten had the amendment been defeated. What would have been the point of that?
If the EU doesn’t reciprocate however, then you get a situation where EU residents in the UK have rights, but UK residents in the EU don’t. That would be completely unfair to the Brits abroad. Such a situation could be used by the EU to put pressure on the UK government during negotiations.
Now that the Lords amendment is passed, you have two options (shaded in grey below). At best you will get exactly the same outcome as the outcome you would have obtained had the amendment not been passed, and at worst you will get a situation in which the UK government and its citizens are at a serious disadvantage.
WWII references and words like “Quisling” are overused today. But they are deserved in this case. Look at it in purely logical terms: the Lords have not made possible any outcome that wasn’t possible before. All they have done is create the possibility of an unfair outcome which wasn’t possible before their intervention. And that outcome, i.e. EU residents in the UK being offered rights not offered to UK residents in the EU can only be unfair to British people or undermine the UK in its negotiating position.
As a Eurotrash foreigner in this country I was always given to think that the Lords are supposed to represent a kind of intellectual aristocracy, that they are experts in their field who can bring their intelligence to bear on legislation. In this case, they seem to have been unable to grasp a logical problem which most teenagers would solve in less than a minute. In other words, they have acted as though they were completely stupid.
The only other explanation is that they have passed an amendment which deliberately disadvantages British people and the British government in its Brexit negotiations. In that case, the Quisling epithet is well deserved.