In the chaos after the Brexit vote, no one really noticed when Theresa May adopted an odd position on EU nationals*. Throughout the campaign, everyone – from Ukip to the Lib Dems, Boris Johnson to Andy Burnham – had been clear that the Brexit debate was not about deporting anyone. Those EU nationals who were in Britain should stay here. In a fractious debate, it was a note of rare consensus: no one’s status was in question. But days after the referendum, the then Home Secretary sat down on Robert Peston’s sofa and suggested that EU nationals might not be safe after all, and that she might use them as bargaining chips in her negotiation. (A plan which would later backfire badly.)
It was baffling, bizarre and – to many – appalling. Religious and business leaders certainly were disgusted (and said so), but not many others took up the cause. The EU nationals seemed to be a victim of the Brexit civil war. The two sides were still fighting, unable to unite in defence of our EU countrymen. It was even said, at the time, that it would be too complicated to grant them reassurance.
Later today, an Inquiry into this topic will publish its results into how granting assurance to EU nationals is very feasible indeed. I had the honour of sitting on the panel, a mixture of Remainers and Brexiteers, Tories and trade unionists, academics and businessmen. Our two guiding principles were: no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK, and their status would be no less favourable than at present. Evidence was taken from all manner of groups and individuals, with lawyers consulted all the way through. Gisela Stuart, the Labour MP who chaired Vote Leave, chaired this inquiry, and it was the brainchild of a think tank, British Future.