When are EU Citizens Bargaining Chips? When They Are!

Published: Oct 20 , 2016
Author: Robin Copland

This isn’t going to be popular; to write it – even to think it - sticks in my throat as it offends against my innate sense of fair play and good will to all people, but there really are times when I want to take our elected representatives to one side and slap them about the face.  They pontificate and they grandstand; they puff themselves up into rice krispies of righteous indignation; they adopt their “holier than thou” positions; they occasionally demonstrate a frightening lack of common sense and commercial nous and, at the same time, they would have us weaken our position in future negotiations.

The SNP has tabled a motion for an opposition debate today in the House of Commons.  The party has a long history of tabling such motions; one of the less well-received was one congratulating Star Trek on its vision for the future. Its latest deplores the poor treatment of EU citizens currently resident in the UK (I do hate the term “EU migrants”) and demands that they be taken off the negotiating table. “They are not bargaining chips”, thundered one senior member of the SNP hierarchy and, do you know what?  He is right.

But he also, sadly, misses the point.

We are about to enter a negotiation the likes of which we on the outside and, I daresay, those on the inside as well have never seen in our lifetimes.  It will be fraught and it will be hard-fought.  The negotiators need every concession that they can get their hands on to help them strike a better deal with Europe.  I hate to say it, but ongoing citizenship in the UK for EU citizens currently resident here is one such concession.  It is matched, of course, by the exact same plight in Europe – what about the fate of UK citizens currently resident in Europe?

“Oh no,” say the SNP.  “Worry not about them.  Europe will see reason the same way that we do here in the UK.”

Aye.  Right.

Look, it’s very simple. Negotiators should never, ever give anything away without getting something back in return.  If they do, they will have to make further concessions down the line, for example to protect their own citizens’ futures in Europe.  “How appalling,” the SNP will rant, “to treat people in this way…”  Well, that’s as may be, but trust me, that is what will happen if we unilaterally concede the other way. 

I despair sometimes.  Really I do.


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Robin Copland
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