Should the government unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals in Britain?

Law Lords sit on the cross benches as th
The government suffered a defeat in the Lords over EU nationals earlier in the week (Source: Getty)

Jon McLeod, chairman of UK corporate, financial and public affairs at Weber Shandwick, says Yes.

We have already heard the moral case for guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK. While it is important, the main reason to take the step endorsed by the House of Lords is naked self-interest.

For a start, whatever immigration rules we adopt after leaving the EU, we will need to retain a large number of European citizens for our workforce. It only makes sense to start with the people who are already here and well-integrated into existing businesses.

A unilateral guarantee is also about establishing our strength in negotiations – holding out until we get reciprocal guarantees from the other 27 countries shows weakness.

Moreover, we can’t afford to be painted as an extremist, close-minded country which other EU member states should seek to punish in negotiations. The UK already has a fairly limited stock of goodwill in Europe, so we need to take action now to ensure we have the credibility to get a good deal.

Rupert Myers, a barrister and writer, says No.

The government should not unilaterally agree the rights of EU nationals in Britain before Article 50 has been triggered, before formal negotiations have even begun. Of course the government should not use the millions of EU nationals living and working in the UK as political footballs, but that does not mean that the House of Lords is right to tie its hands behind its back.

The right way to concede the rights of EU nationals is as part of an offer, part of a package of measures designed to establish right at the beginning of the negotiations the terms on which Brexit is to be negotiated: with goodwill, in good faith, and in good time.

Theresa May gave up the UK’s presidency of the EU Council, has said she wishes to see a strong Europe, and is making conciliatory messages towards her negotiating partners. In time, the government should agree the rights of EU nationals, but it should not be denied the opportunity to choose the timing and context of that agreement.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles