Why don’t Remain supporters talk about UK citizens in Europe?

Why don’t Remain supporters talk about UK citizens in Europe?

One of the starkest aspects of how divided our society is currently, is in the way language can differ so greatly even on matters where people are in agreement.

I follow many active Remain supporters on various social media platforms, most of whom are people I greatly respect, despite disagreeing on whether we should leave the EU. Every week I see dozens of tweets and posts expressing concern about the situation of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit. I struggle to think of even a single occasion when a Remain supporter has expressed concern for UK citizens in the equivalent position in the EU. Discounting formal organisational statements, almost any statement on social media that refers to protecting the rights of both UK and EU citizens will come from a Leave supporter.

I don’t think this is a disagreement on position. I’m confident that almost all those who share such tweets would, if asked, immediately say that of course UK citizens in the EU should also have the right to stay and work there – just as I, and 90% of Leave supporters I know, believe that all EU citizens who came to the UK prior to Brexit should have their rights here unchanged. I don’t even think there’s a difference in priority: again, if pushed, I think most Remain supporters would say that both are equally important, and might also be happy to acknowledge that, right now, there might be reason to be concerned that whilst the UK has made a unilateral guarantee of rights in the event of no deal, the EU has made no such pledge. But nevertheless, they only talk about one side.

I could speculate on why this is, and offer up theories such as that perhaps to Remain supporters locality is more important than sovereignty, but I’m not going to do that – because I don’t believe most Remain supporters are making a conscious decision not to talk about the need to protect the rights of UK citizens in the EU. I think it’s a subconscious manifestation of how polarised are our two tribes. Unfortunately, this division in language only serves to feed further polarisation: as a Leave supporter, seeing the apparent concern for one side serves to feed the narratives that Remain supporters don’t care about Britain, want to punish British people or don’t care about citizenship. This is only reinforced by the way in which a much smaller proportion of Remain supporters refer derogatively to UK citizens overseas in bigoted, stereotyped terms (as, indeed, they do about Leave voters). It is difficult to shake off the impressions these give, even where I know that if we got round a table, we’d agree that the rights of both sets of people should be respected.

We’re not going to solve the divisions in language overnight, much less the more fundamental divisions. And I recognise that Leave voters, including myself, will sometimes – often inadvertently – do similar things which highlight divisions, though I have tried to avoid doing so in this post. But, on this specific issue, if you’re a Remain supporter who regularly tweets/posts a lot the rights if EU citizens, please consider also speaking up for the rights of UK citizens in the EU, even if it’s just to say once, clearly, what I’m saying now: that I believe that, whether or not there is a deal, that all EU and UK citizens currently living in each others’ countries should have their current rights protected after Brexit.

2 thoughts on “Why don’t Remain supporters talk about UK citizens in Europe?

  1. I certainly agree on the sentiment, and am guilty of focussing on EU citizens in the UK, rather than the reciprocal (I’ve added to my latest tweet & facebook posts to clarify). I’d add a few points to this, as someone who has recently posted about this..

    1) The Withdrawal Agreement (henceforth, WA) states (at least at time of writing – Monday lunchtime – it may have changed by time of reading – Monday teatime?) that the respective citizens will keep their rights, and that this is reciprocal. So whatever applies to EU citizens in the UK also applies to UK citizens in the EU. It’s worth noting that even with that, EEA/Swiss citizens are possibly still in limbo.

    2) While the WA states that rights remain, the mechanism for doing so is not defined. It could be that they are declared automatically, particularly for countries with mandatory ID cards/social security number/registration etc. In other countries (like the UK), it will have to be applied for. It’s the uncertainty of applying that must be particularly worrying. Will someone’s right to remain hinge on a having paperwork from 20 years ago, or a previous employer sending in documentation? Will their application be accepted, or will they suddenly be told they’re below some threshold? What happens if they’re here on the basis of a European Grant that disappears after March 2019, so are jobless shortly afterwards? Scaremongering, perhaps, and one would hope that the Home Office have learned the lessons from Windrush, but still concerning…

    3) I don’t have a route to lobby the governments of other countries regarding how they deal with UK citizens, other than through the UK government. As mentioned above, this is a matter for the individual countries, as the UK and EU have (at present) agreed on reciprocity.

    4) One difference between EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU is that the former had no say in the referendum, while the latter were eligible to vote (providing they’ve been abroad for <15 years). While I am by no means saying that they should "accept that they lost and deal with it" (that would be rather hypocritical of me!), it does mean that EU citizens in the UK have, to a greater extent, had this issue forced on them without any say in the matter.

    5) One option for UK citizens in the EU is to sign the European Citizens' Initiative on Permanent European Union Citizenship [https://eci.ec.europa.eu/002/public/#/initiative ]. While this is due to close after March 2019, if successful it could in principle be brought in before the end of any transition period in 20xy (where xy is a number between 20 and somewhere around, oh 35, at a guess).

    6) In the case of No Deal (which has a likelihood of z, where z seems to be a random number between about 0.3 and 0.7), all bets are off!

    1. Chris, glad you agree on the sentiment and thank you for adding to recent tweets. You make a really good point about which government you’re able to lobby, which is one I hadn’t considered but is absolutely true.

      I agree the Withdrawal Agreement is fairly positive here – though to my mind this should have been resolved early and unconnected to any of the other negotiating points such as NI and payments (people’s lives should not be bargaining chips). My impression is that the UK wanted to do this but the EU refused, though this is an area it’s hard to tell.

      In the case of No Deal, EU citizens can take some comfort from our government’s unilateral declaration (though I appreciate the mechanism still creates uncertainty). There’s a lot of emotion and anger around this issue, which I understand, and I suppose the lack of criticism of the EU for not making a similar offer just seems to be an area where people are giving them a real free pass.

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