Appallingly, Philip Hammond has just echoed Theresa May’s threat to use the two Britain’s million European Union immigrant workers as bargaining chips in negotiation with Brussels. He said it would be "absurd" to say - as Michael Gove, Boris Johnson, Dan Hannan and Vote Leave members have said - that no EU national will be deported no matter what. Here's the exchange on the Today programme.
Philip Hammond: “Neither EU nationals in Britain nor British nationals in EU countries will find any change to their circumstances over the next few years.”
Nick Robinson: “Crucial words, though, isn’t it: “over the next few years. You could simply say, couldn’t you: they’ll all here, they’re here to stay”
Hammond: “Well look, I think we need to have a comprehensive negotiation with our EU partners, including around freedom to move, freedom to work, freedom to study and freedom to settle. And I hope we will be able to get to a position where are able to say to those EU nationals who live in the UK, and to those Brits who live in EU countries: everything’s fine, you can stay as you were. But we cant assume that. We’ve got to negotiate that with our former EU partners.... It would be absured to make a unilateral commitment about EU nationals living in the UK without at the very least getting a similar commitment from the EU about British nationals living in the EU.”
Absurd? As I wrote yesterday, the two million Europeans are here making our country stronger, working in the NHS and other public services. They're not here as a favour to Poland, but as cherished part of the modern United Kingdom.
Hammond and May both campaigned against Brexit, and neither seem to understand it. They seem to believe the vile slurs that this was all about disliking immigrants, or wanting to boot people out. Why, do they think, Michael Gove and all other Vote Leave figures said that EU nationals could stay no matter what? It was for the good of Britain and to underline that this was about stemming immigration, not deportation.
Technocrats, like May and Hammond, may think it wise to negotiate a reciprocal arrangement. But think about the human effect: this would leave the threat of deportation hovering around two million EU nationals living in Britain. As Gove will (hopefully) say, this gambit is just immoral: the lives and security or the two million EU nationals are too important to Britain to be deployed in this kind of brinkmanship.