The problem with Britain’s “bargaining chips”
Brexit isn’t just all over the news in Britain, it’s also causing quite a bit of consternation on the continent.
At least that’s what I found out when I went back to the Netherlands recently.
Reports that EU nationals living in the UK might have to give up their EU passports if they decide to get British citizenship have reached the Dutch shores.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte confirmed that Dutch rules on dual citizenship wouldn’t allow Dutch nationals to become a UK citizen without handing in their Dutch passport.
I heard about this from my alarmed mother who immediately vetted me about my loyalty to (the Dutch) queen and country.
After I had reassured her that I had no intention of getting rid of my Dutch passport, I thought for a while longer about why that was.
Apart from the emotional aspect that I will probably always feel Dutch, there are two main reasons why I value my Dutch passport more than a potential British one.
The British Great Repeal Bill means a lot of EU legislation will be hanging in the balance for years to come.
Why would I trade the certainty of keeping the rights I enjoy now as an EU citizen for the uncertainty of the UK parliament deciding what it does and does not like about EU law?
Besides, being able to live and work in 27 countries without a problem is a big plus of EU citizenship.
The other reason is that the British government doesn’t seem particularly motivated to protect the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK.
Although the Leave campaign claimed a vote for Brexit wouldn’t change anything for EU citizens, the government has failed to guarantee their rights up to this day.
All it’s done is make an offer that was deemed “inadequate” and “unclear” by European leaders after Brussels made a much more generous offer to UK citizens living in other EU member states.
The bargaining chips approach doesn’t even make any sense to me. I believe it damages Britain in two ways.
EU migrants as a group are net contributors to the UK economy, paying more into the system than they take out.
So there’s a direct economic downside to restricting the inflow of EU nationals.
The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) recently argued against government plans for an arbitrary 100,000 immigration target as it underlined the crucial role of EU workers in the UK economy.
The NHS is a good example of this.
There’s a shortage of 30,000 nurses in England alone. EU nurses working in the NHS filled gaps that wouldn’t be filled otherwise.
But the number of EU nurses registering to work in Britain had fallen by 96% in April compared to July 2016.
This is highly relevant if you consider that the promise of more money to the NHS played a factor in the Brexit debate.
After the vote it immediately became clear that the magical £350m per week figure wouldn’t be spent on healthcare. Now the government’s failure to reassure EU citizens stands to actively harm the NHS.
The government’s bargaining chips approach also harms Britain’s global reputation and may impact its ability to attract immigrant labour in the future.
Despite all the talk of the Global Britain Prime Minister Theresa May says she wants to create, her government has been sending out quite a different signal to the world.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s controversial plans to have companies list foreign workers provoked a backlash.
May’s cabinet has also been criticised for not excluding students from the immigration cap.
None of these policies is likely to make Britain a more attractive destination. Nor is making migrants fill out an 85-page document to apply for permanent residency.
Combined with the government dragging its feet on guaranteeing EU nationals’ rights, Britain could struggle to attract the immigrants it needs to keep the economy running in the future.