Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Who's out of step here?

The initial position taken by the UK Government over the future rights of EU citizens does not bode well for the Brexit negotiating strategy.  Denying rights to people who have not yet arrived in the UK at the point of exiting the EU is one thing, but retrospectively removing rights from people who are already here is another thing entirely.  It's a strange logic which leads the UK Government to believe that removing rights from EU citizens is anything resembling the ‘fair and reasonable offer’ as which they are describing it, especially when the EU27 have already stated that they want to protect all those rights currently enjoyed by UK citizens elsewhere in the EU.  Given the importance of getting this issue right before trade talks can even start, it seems a very curious way of trying to earn a bit of friendship.
Craig Murray describes it well as a bit of ‘pointless cruelty’, and it has already emerged that it will require even those EU citizens who have applied for and obtained residency rights to apply again for a new and lesser status.  What on earth is the thinking behind this which enables apparently intelligent people to conclude that there is anything fair or reasonable about this?
It strikes me that part of the issue here might well be very differing conceptions about citizen’s rights.  It is already true that EU citizens living in the UK have more rights, in terms of bringing family to join them for instance, than do UK citizens.  And it is revealing that in drawing attention to that apparent unfairness, the implicit assumption is that EU citizens’ rights should be curtailed rather than widening the rights of UK citizens.  Indeed, in more general terms, the government seems to have a real problem in acknowledging the whole concept of people having ‘rights’ at all – it’s a very un-British concept.  Although the term ‘citizen’ is more widely used than it used to be, the underlying reality is that people in the UK are subjects with obligations, rather than citizens with rights.  They are two very different perspectives.
If we start with that implicit assumption about subjects with obligations, it becomes a lot easier to understand how the ‘offer’ which the government has made might indeed appear to be a ‘fair and reasonable’ one; but it was never going to appear that way to anyone who starts from the other perspective.  It seems typical of May and her team that they have no real conception or understanding of the gulf between the two perspectives, and therefore are making no real effort to bridge it.  Understanding the thinking of other parties is key to any successful negotiation but on this issue, as on so many others, the UK Government seems determined to insist that it’s everyone else who is out of step.

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