We should guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK – they contribute to our country and boost our economy

We should guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK – they contribute to our country and boost our economy

There has been a lot of fake fuss concerning, post-Brexit, the 3 million EU citizens currently residing here in the UK, and the 1 million UK citizens currently residing in the continental EU.

Undoubtedly, some Remainer Lords indulged in frantic virtue signalling, while others, worse, argued with a blatant intent to put spokes in the Article 50 wheel. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t need to put the matter of our 3 million EU citizens to bed. Let’s face it, we all know that, eventually, the UK will allow those EU citizens, who are currently here, to stay. We’re not going to kick them out.

40% of founders of new tech companies and over 50% of software engineers in London are from overseas, with the majority of those from the EU. Just as we’ll want existing EU citizens to stay here, we can assume that the EU will take the same approach with our citizens who are over there, letting them stay (although we can’t know for sure because it is not up to us).

We know that our Government has quietly reached out to the EU and asked for a quick deal to be done, on the basis of both sets of citizens being allowed to stay where they are; and that the EU has slapped us in response, refusing to talk about it until we agree to pay them their “exit tax”, the €60 billion they allege we will owe them… not likely, matey. This EU manoeuvre has induced the Government to treat the topic as part of the Brexit negotiations, viewing a guarantee to the 3 million as a negotiating concession that should only be surrendered in return for something conceded from the other side. But is that right?

Well, all this fuss is predicated on the assumption that the EU would actively prefer us to guarantee to their nationals that they are free to stay in the UK; and that from our side we need, and should want, to give away negotiating capital in persuading the various EU countries to allow our overseas UK citizens to stay in those countries.

But both assumptions are wrong, as a moment’s reflection will reveal.

For a start, there’s no evidence that the negotiators on the EU side give a damn about their EU citizens who are living (most of them productively working) here. The EU negotiators may or may not see those EU citizens in the UK as outright traitors, but the EU’s need to be nice to them is not going to be high. After all, these are striving entrepreneurial types who upped sticks, left the EU on the other side of the Channel mostly without a backward glance, and came here for a better start and a better life.

Yes, a lot of them – many Bulgarians and Romanians for example – came here because anything was going to be better than staying in their low-wage, high-unemployment home country, but the larger part of the 3 million are hundreds of thousands each of well-educated, well-qualified Germans, Irish, French, Beneluxembourgeois, Scandinavians, and so on: almost all (so long as adult and below retirement age) working; adding to our society; an integral part of our country’s make-up and productively contributing to our economy.

For the higher-paid, higher-qualified of them – those in the City of London, say – the presence of each one generates on average several jobs for British citizens. In short, overall the 3 million are a great resource for our country. Only a government with a static view of how an economy works would consider it better to have them away from their home country rather than back in it, contributing to that economy. The EU will not beg us to keep them; it should see it as a great victory for the EU if we sent them home.

Likewise, there’s no economic reason on our side – only, rather, a moral one, a sense of justice and fair play – to make us want UK citizens who have gone abroad to stay in those other parts of the EU. We’re not the kind of country that would try to force these UK citizens to come back to the UK, but the money they are spending (most are retirees, the large majority receiving a state pension from the UK and most with considerable savings on top of that) is being spent abroad when they could be spending it here – which, were they forced by their current host country to return home, would improve our economy.

(When these UK citizens get to the expensive stage of needing healthcare in very old age, by the way, a lot of them will return here to the NHS and home care. Spain, for example, where over 100,000 of our 1 million EU expatriates live, makes them pay for health insurance; the NHS won’t, when they return old and ill to the UK, as will be their right.)

The key point though is that EU countries such as Spain love having our UK citizens, who in their expenditure patterns contribute significantly to the local economy – why would we agree thatnot kicking the Brits out” should be something that the EU should be paid in negotiating coin to agree to?

What all this means is that it’s foolish to assume that bargaining with the EU for us to be nice to EU citizens living here will cut any ice with the Brussels; likewise, it’s foolish to expend political capital on seeking to ransom our citizens living in other EU countries, when their economic contribution, and thus their presence, is wanted there anyway.

So what should our position be with regards to EU citizens residing in the UK?

It’s one thing to say that our infrastructure is over-strained and that we cannot let as many in, going forward, as we have in recent years. But for those who are already here, settled and contributing to the economy, one thing should be clear: having these EU citizens here in the UK is good for us, not bad. We should laugh at attempts to make these citizens ‘negotiation hostages’.

If those EU citizens were forced to go back to their respective countries, they would just end up adding value over there, with a corresponding subtraction of economic value here. The EU isn’t going to give us any significant concessions in return for our letting them stay, so why pretend otherwise? Why not just go ahead and assure these anxious 3 million people living here among us?

No doubt we could hedge whatever we say with remarks about the need to keep an acceptable employment history, not to commit crime, and so forth, but our policy should primarily focus on the large majority of the 3 million who are productively adding to our economy, not on the marginal group that is unemployed or criminal. In general we should pro-actively be saying – to ourselves, to the EU – that we want these people; that we’ll keep them; that we value them; and that the EU is crazy if it thinks we might ever want to do anything to get rid of them.

Saying that right now would make all of us feel better about themselves, and it would certainly be a great relief to those 3 million EU citizens currently productively living in the UK, who have been thrust into so much unnecessary uncertainty.