On 13 July, the Children’s Commissioner for England wrote a letter to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator outlining concerns over the status of children with non-UK EU passports living in England. Nando Sigona argues that by placing the blame for the current situation on the EU, the Commissioner has obscured the role of the UK government in creating uncertainty for EU nationals and their children.
Michel Barnier, Credit: European People’s Party (CC BY 2.0)
Unhelpful, patronising, misinformed, politically motivated, disgusting: shocked parents of EU children living in the UK took to Twitter to react angrily to the intervention of the Children’s Commissioner for England in the Brexit debate. But what did the Commissioner Anne Longfield say? And why are people feeling so strongly about it?
In a letter to the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, Ms Longfield turns the blame for the unresolved issue of the status of EU nationals in Britain and Britons in Europe on the EU. She accuses the EU of using children in the UK as ‘bargaining chips’. She argues that by demanding that citizens’ residence rights are under the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), the EU is responsible for keeping the children in a situation of protracted uncertainty.
She said: ‘If the EU genuinely wants to resolve the question of residence rights of EU nationals, they need to separate out the two issues to enable a negotiation in good faith which can give certainty to the hundreds of thousands of children and their families left in limbo. Two more years of uncertainty feels like a long time to a child.’ According to ONS data, there are 588,000 children with a non-British EU passport in England, many of them are UK-born and have never lived in the country of origin of their parents, apart from at Christmas and during summer holidays.
Steve Peers, Professor of EU law at the University of Essex, pointedly lists the faults of the Commissioner’s letter in a Twitter thread, and there are quite a few. First and foremost, Professor Peers writes: ‘the “limbo” situation could have been solved by the UK unilaterally. It still can be’. However, this is unlikely to happen if George Osborne’s allegation that Theresa May was the sole minister to veto such a proposal last June is true.
In her letter, the Children’s Commissioner praises the ‘detailed proposals put forward by the UK’ and contrasts them with the EU’s offer that consists in ‘a set of principles without any detail’. As Peers notices, ‘while it’s true to say that the EU proposal contains less detail on UK implementation, that’s not the EU’s job’ and ‘as a matter of underlying law, the EU position offers far more detail’. Is the Commissioner trying to convey a value judgement on the contents of the proposals on the basis of the level of detail they contain?
This would be surprisingly naïve, if not disingenuous. As many observers in the past few weeks have pointed out, the so-called ‘generous offer’ to EU citizens tabled by the UK government is far less generous than what the EU is demanding and would remove several acquired rights that they currently enjoy. Only a few days ago, the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier reaffirmed EU concerns for the status of EU nationals in post-Brexit Britain by stating: “The British position does not allow those persons concerned to continue to live their lives as they do today.”
For the 3 Million Forum, a campaign group of EU nationals in Britain, Anne Longfield ‘is using the terrible plight of EU children and their families to twist public opinion against the EU blaming the Commission for a problem caused solely by Theresa May and her red line on the ECJ’. EU nationals also resent Ms Longfield’s appropriation of their campaign slogan ‘I’m not a bargaining chip’ against their interests. In fact, a number of EU parents pointed out that they know what is best for the future of their children and while current uncertainty is certainly a burden on them and their children, the prospect of diminished rights envisioned in the UK proposal is far more so.
The Children’s Commissioner should be far more concerned by the position of the British government who has demonstrated few scruples time and again in using the future of EU nationals and their children as a bargaining chip in the Brexit negotiations and is prepared to go as far as to state in the Great Repeal Bill that if no deal is achieved, it wants power to remove EU citizens’ rights altogether.
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Note: This article gives the views of the author, and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy, nor of the London School of Economics.
Nando Sigona – University of Birmingham
Nando Sigona is a Senior Lecturer and Birmingham Fellow in the School of Social Policy at the University of Birmingham. He is the Deputy Director of the Institute for Research into Superdiversity.
Seems fair enough to me. The EUs determination to keep attaching caveats to any agreement is fully responsible for any uncertainty being experienced by Nationals of EU member countries living (and working or self sufficient) here.
Why should the UK resolve this unilaterally?
Because it chose to leave and ruin the lives of these parents and children quite unilaterally.
they’re not caveats, they’re vital protections to ensure a future UK government doesn’t change the status of EU nationals in 5, 10 or 20 years time.
Oh, and the UK voted leave and created this problem, so morally it is the UK’s responsibility to solve the problem unilaterally. It seems that Theresa May was the only one to oppose this a year ago, which shows just how dangerous her inflexibility on immigration is.Today EU nationals are paying the price, tomorrow we all might if she’s not stopped.
The Children’s Commissioner should be ashamed of herself for bringing an important office into disrepute.
Come off it, Nando, no group has got copyright on the phrase “bargaining chip”, it’s been in common usage for centuries. May offered a solution to Merkel last December. The ongoing uncertainty is entirely caused by the EU. If the parents of EU nationals in the UK want certainty they should tell Barnier to agree to the UK proposal. If they want Barnier to try to get something better, then they are choosing to live with uncertainty. Is the UK offer so bad that uncertainty is preferable? That’s a personal choice for each family to make for themselves, your opinion, Nando is just your opinion.
If I choose to live abroad I have to accept the terms and conditions offered by the host country. The idea that I have a right to expect these will never change is ludicrous, just as ludicrous as imagining things in my own country will never change in my lifetime.
“May offered a solution to Merkel” yes she did, with full knowledge that as the leader of only 1 EU country, Mrs Merkel cannot accept any proposal on behalf of the EU27 because it’s not in her power to do so. I know some British people believe Germany runs the EU, but they don’t. So Theresa May conned people that “the EU refused her proposal”. It was never presented to the EU.
Throughout the EUref campaign, Leavers repeatedly said that there would be no change to the status of EU citizens already living in the UK and it was Remain “scaremongering” to say otherwise. Now on this page, we have Brexiters saying that it’s natural that the UK could choose to change the status of EU citizens already living in the UK retrospectively i.e. strip them rights they currently hold in the event of Britain leaving the EU. Nationalistic jingoistic sentiments don’t take long to surface do they? (sadly).
It’s fundamentally un-British to remove people’s rights retrospectively; we’re a country that prides ourselves on behing democratic and respecting the rule of law and people’s rights. Brexiters seem to want to destroy our international reputation further and trash the British value of fair play.
It’s also worth noting that Brits living across the EU, in whose interest the government claims to be acting, are deeply unimpressed with what has happened so far and do not trust the British government to protect them. If the government cared at all about Brits living in other EU countries, they would be listening to their concerns and act on them; they’re not doing that. Many Brits abroad feel that the EU is standing up for their rights more than their own country, which is a disgrace.
NB: I accept that future arrangements for EU citizens may well change subject to negotiations, but that’s a totally different issue.
Where on this page do you get any of :
“Now on this page, we have Brexiters saying that it’s natural that the UK could choose to change the status of EU citizens already living in the UK retrospectively i.e. strip them rights they currently hold in the event of Britain leaving the EU. Nationalistic jingoistic sentiments don’t take long to surface do they? (sadly). ”
Remainers seem to be of that class of people who are determined to mis-read between the lines – or believe what they have been told about Leavers.
One commenter said that future laws may change – and they do – for all of us.
I have no expectation that a future UK Govt. would discriminate unfairly against former EU nationals.
But I DO have an expectation that the EU, if it could, would continue to interfere with purely domestic matters – adding costs and red tape to our daily lives.
“But I DO have an expectation that the EU, if it could, would continue to interfere with purely domestic matters – adding costs and red tape to our daily lives.”
The only people trying to add “costs and red tape” to people’s lives are Brexiteers and the UK government. We can travel to the rest of Europe freely at the moment, no paper work required, no costly bureaucracy if we want to get a job. EU citizens can do the same here. After the Brexiteers get their way that will no longer be the case, we’ll have to go through costly and time consuming bureaucracy just to work abroad and in some cases people will lose their residence status or be denied the right to take up jobs they’d be able to do today. What exactly is it about that that you think is going to make people’s lives better off?
Which Brits abroad ?
“….feel that the EU is standing up for their rights more than their own country”.
The EU, by failing to agree to simple reciprocity is failing to “stand up for (Brits abroad) rights”.
They should be lobbying the EU – as should hand-wringing worriers here.
The EU is not a country, these people are nationals of various Countries who are members of the EU.
The fact that we chose to leave the EU is utterly irrelevant to this issue, it is our right to decide (post Brexit) who can enter and remain in this country, being subject to UK laws whilst they are here.
These are children who are already here and many were born here, nothing to do with who may enter the country post Brexit. The children are not immigrants, they didn’t even choose to come and live here. Choosing to leave the EU is at the heart of this issue, without that decision it wouldn’t even be an issue. Also many other countries still offer automatic citizenship to babies born in the country. Thatcher removed that when she passed the BNA 1981 in January ’83. That’s hardly the EU’s fault!
Adda – What has the fact that these children are here and some may have been born here got to do with it?
Choosing to leave the EU is our prerogative and if any national from an EU member country wishes to remain here when we leave, then they can apply for British citizenship, and this should only be available to those people who are working or/and self sufficient.
Yes Thatcher passed that law and it was one of the more productive things she did. You know why she passed it but unfortunately it hasn’t been as rigidly applied as it should have been.
“Choosing to leave the EU is our prerogative and if any national from an EU member country wishes to remain here when we leave, then they can apply for British citizenship, and this should only be available to those people who are working or/and self sufficient.”
You’re entitled to your opinion and people are entitled to ignore it. Most people with any decency (and this goes for people like David Davis who are ardent leavers as well) don’t want to see people who live here and contribute to society being forced out the country because of Brexit. Most people with any decency would view that as being absolutely disgraceful. They particularly don’t want to see children’s lives being disrupted for no good reason.
If you couldn’t care less about any of this then that’s great. Well done on not having a care about anyone but yourself. But nobody is under any obligation to listen to a word you have to say on the subject so please stop acting like your random personal opinions are moral principles we all have to follow.
Sadly, the Childrens’ Commissioner’s attitude is par for the course: “slag off the EU, rather than work constructively with it and its other members to make things better” has been the guiding principle of far too many in the UK for the past 30 years. As others have said, the present situation is entirely of the UK’s making, by going ahead with an advisory referendum and then stupidly treating it as mandatory without having the foggiest notion of the practical consequences of a decision to leave the EU, and whether we could even manage, let alone afford, them.
The position of the children of EU citizens in the UK is of course mirrored exactly by the position of the young children of my wife’s (British) nephew, who lives with his family in Portugal teaching English. Self-evidently both sides have identical interests and concerns, and this is perhaps the one issue in the Brexit negotiations that is capable of being readily resolved by friendly, constructive discussion. Instead of which we get vituperation from our UK representatives. What did we do to deserve such idiocy?
Not ONE word/theme about children born in the EU to British parents !
Why put foreigners before British people?
Why do Remainers seem to treat our citizens as 2nd class ?
” the Commissioner has obscured the role of the UK government in creating uncertainty for EU nationals and their children”
The Author should re-direct any “blame” to the EU which signally fails to reciprocate the UK’s offer.
Instead the EU makes ridiculous demands that the ECJ should have jurisdiction in a foreign territory.
What other sovereign nation would allow that ?
The stubbornness and bad faith of some Leavers is flabbergasting.
Reading the comments from those bitter brexiters, you worry about their apparent inability for empathy, lack of commitment and ignorant assessment of the subject. All replaced by a delusional feeling of self sufficiency.
What is truly flabbergasting is the sense of entitlement by people who are basically guests in this country and those British citizens who never miss an opportunity to run this country and its people down.
I am truly disgusted at being ‘British’ and Brexit UK.
The EU are the only ones who seem to be putting forward sensible, HUMAIN and logical proposals,.
Brexit supporters as is usual, put all the blame on the EU.
I have been a EU ‘Citizen’ most of my life and I am staying a EU Citizen, T refuse to let anyone take that away from me and most certainly if I had a young Family, my thoughts would be even stronger in that direction.
I am dismayed and disgusted to see what a tiny, xenophobic island the UK has become which seems bent on destroying the lives of circa 5 MILLION people effected by Brexit in the UK and in the EU,.
If violence was being used that would be classified as War Crimes! certainly now many of these people could easily classify as Political Refugee’s on the basis of their treatment by the UK.!
a Shamefuly situation brought about by a backward thinking and isolation directed Political Brexit UK Government and the Supporters who are stupid enough believe the Lies that the Brexit Politcs have been churning out in the UK media.
I am and will remain, a ‘, a ‘Saboteur’ (as in “Crush the Saboteurs”, a pure encitement to Hate! and worthy of any Dictator) and whatever T.May and her Ilk, wish to throw at me.
MB EU Citizen
Unfortunately it’s people driven by national-populist hatred who have given the upper hand to the Brexit folly. How some people can be so thick goes beyond understanding. As some of the above comments demonstrate, these people do not remotely care about European neighbours contributing to this country’s prosperity and paying their taxes, let alone basic democratic principles which, up to the Brexit vote, were the pride of the UK. They either do not grasp the mere fact that Brexit is a coup, or worse, are fully prepared to endorse it. Their aim is to provoke, even though they do not have any rational argument to provide. Claiming that EU citizens in the UK would be ‘guests’ shows a clear intention to offend. In fact, it only reflects a limited IQ. I doubt that my work colleagues, friends, British wife, binational children, or indeed anyone with common sense would regard me as a ‘guest’. And even if it was the case, guests should be treated with consideration!
Brexiters have to be challenged relentlessly about the ‘wisdom’ of brexiting out of our great European project, on the proviso of course that they put forward properly argued, rational arguments. I do not see anything of this kind here. When the aim is merely to be offensive, they only deserve to be ignored.
I would encourage all those disheartened by the xenophobic, nationalist hostility unleashed by the Brexit vote not to pay any attention to any attempts made to create bad feelings among EU citizens risking being deprived of their rights. Such people’s views are just an insult, not just to the 3 million and their British families, but also to the great democratic traditions of this beautiful country. Driven by their obsessional phobia they are only, understandably, getting increasingly nervous of losing the momentum at a time when the public mood about Brexit is changing fast. Every impartial observer realizes that Brexit is a disaster and that worse is to come economically (which has shifted from 5th to 7th economic power after France and India since the referendum). Consequences on jobs, the environment, taxation, the NHS, educational and scientific cooperation, air travel access, financial services, maritime relations, tariffs, standards, international security arrangements, military cooperation, treaties, visas, relations with the EU itself and with other countries, the international standing of the UK as an isolated middle-sized country, there is just so much at stake in this utter madness. There is no doubt that Brexit needs to and will be stopped. The question is when, and how much damage will this complete absurdity cause to this country until it comes back to its senses.
JMT’s post has to be a troll …..
“nationlist-populist hatred”, “(Leavers) …. thick”, “European neighbours contributing to prosperity”, “democratic principles … pride … (until) Brexit vote”,
“Brexit is a coup”, “(no) rational argument (for Brexit)”, “limited IQ”
Objecting to EU citizens being described as “guests”.
“Brexit is a disaster” “utter madness” “complete absurdity”
Is “great European project “ the give-away that this post is one gigantic wind-up ??
Just in case it isn’t …….
i) “populist” seems to be an establishment pejorative against democracy
ii) Perhaps the “thickos” are those who are completely unaware of the consequences of uncontrolled migration. When are too many people too many ?
If they ARE aware, the what the hell to they think they’re doing – impairing the Quality of Life for so mamy people ?
iii) The only people benefitting are those sitting on unmortaged property.
Honorably, many of those older people recognise that their “fortune” is at the expense of their grand-children’s inability to buy/rent a home.
How about “European neighbours contributing to a massive mis-allocation of resources”?
iv) The EU is sooo democratic … that if it were an accession country it wouldn’t qualify !
v) The “coup” was Ted Heath’s succesful lie when he said:
“fear(s) …. we shall sacrifice independence and sovereignty .. are unjustified” ….
…. all while holding Lord Chancellor’s legal advice that:
“in my view the surrenders of sovereignty are serious … (and) ought be be brought into the open”.
vi) If I settled in Germany (or wherever) I would consider myself a “guest” for a very, very long time (and wouldn’t be a “snowflake” about being described as such).
vii) “Rational” arguments involve sovereignty and democracy – underpinning the freedom to co-operate with neighbours when mutually beneficial.
The argument for being ruled by foreigner bureuacrats supported by foreign politicians and subject to a foreign court is only “rational” from a partiular and not very democratic, world view.
viii) We still haven’t left ! – and predicted armageddon hasn’t occured – nor seems likely…
(…… unless the EU achieves a “punishment” exit … destroying German auto-jobs etc!)
The British Establishment does what it always does, relies on political tactics and deflection, not substance. The Children’s Commissioner is part of the Brit Establishment.
Can anyone point me to the bit of the repeal bill that says that if no deal is agreed the rights of EU citizens could be removed? I’ve looked but it’s making my ears bleed.
Stef Walker – Yes, my opinions are mine and, yes, of course, people are entitled to ignore them. You are entitled to your opinions too, however, do not presume to know what I do and do not believe to validate your desire to indulge in virtue signalling.