It hasn’t been the best 12 months to be an EU national living in the UK. Practically invisible to the entire political spectrum during the referendum campaign but for when accused of stealing British jobs,milking the British benefits system or overburdening the NHS; then after the referendum’s outcome, whilst still in utter disbelief, targeted by the surge of revamped xenophobic attacks; now left hanging as to their future in the country once the UK leaves the EU, these 2.9 million people are among those who arguably have the most to lose with Brexit. And yet they have been incredibly left, despite some commendable displays of support by the First Minister of Scotland or the Mayor of London, hanging and worrying for their future by Her Majesty’s Government.
Finally, a week ago, the Commons backed a Labour motion – with the votes of some Tories and in particular of Brexit champion Boris Johnson – to urge the government to guarantee EU nationals living the UK the right to stay after Brexit. Albeit not binding, the motion constituted indeed a significant political move that could not be left unheard by the Government. And in fact, at last, yesterday the Government has spoken on the matter, with a joined statement (‘the Statement’) by the Cabinet Office, the Home Office and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that reassures EU nationals living in the UK as to their status post-referendum (and not post-Brexit). Is this what the Commons asked for? While hundreds of EU nationals channel their relief through social media in welcoming the news and British businesses praise the Government for giving them the reassurance needed, to a more expert eye – pace Michael Gove – things seem much less reassuring.
The Statement interestingly opens up with what seems like a declaration to the effect that
The decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal process of leaving the EU will be for the new Prime Minister.
So the Government has eventually taken official position on the hottest legal debate since the vote, rejecting the opinion of some academics according to whom the last word in triggering the mechanism ex Art 50 should reside with Parliament. As a legal challenge is currently under way, we shall see what happens in this regard.