Michael Gove is on the House of Commons’ Brexit committee which unanimously urged Theresa May to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens. Other prominent Brexiters including Dominic Raab backed the recommendation at the weekend.
That would be great if Gove et al were now prepared to put their votes where their mouths are. But sadly that’s far from clear. According to the Guardian, “friends” of Gove and Raab say they will not vote in favour of precisely such a requirement when the Brexit bill comes back to the Commons next week.
Last week the House of Lords passed an amendment by a large majority requiring the government to set out its plan for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens within three months. May is now trying to overturn that amendment when it goes back to the Commons, where she has a majority.
The government argues that giving such a unilateral guarantee would undermine the rights of UK citizens in the EU. The snag is that Brits living across the Channel are saying that we should make precisely such a gesture; they think it would create the best atmosphere in which to secure their rights. They don’t want their futures to be traded off against those of EU citizens living here.
What’s more, the argument that we should hold back recognition for EU citizens until there is parallel recognition for Brits only makes sense if, in some situations, we would be prepared to take away their rights. But using people as negotiating pawns in this way would be morally objectionable.
Gove et al accepted such arguments when they sat on the Exiting the EU Committee. Apart from blind party loyalty, it is hard to see what reason they can now have for not taking the same stand when the Brexit bill comes back to the floor of the Commons.
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