The Spectator

Theresa’s first mistake

Since when did ­Britain treat Polish nurses and German academics as hostages, to be kicked out in extreme circumstances?

This week’s lead article, as read by Lara Prendergast

Helga Hunter met her husband Michael when he was a Scots Guardsman serving in Münster in 1968. She moved back with him, and they have lived in Britain ever since. Last week, she was astonished to receive a letter from the Scottish National Party saying that she is still ‘welcome in Scotland’ and faces ‘no immediate changes’ to her status due to the Brexit vote. But as a German national, she now faces ‘great uncertainty over how events will unfold’. To the SNP’s enemies, this seemed a deplorable scare tactic intended to fuel indignation and stoke demand for a second independence referendum. It’s certainly deplorable. But in fact, the scare tactic came from Downing Street.

Since announcing her candidacy for the leadership of the Conservative party, Theresa May has adopted a fringe position on the status of immigrants from the European Union. The subject came up repeatedly during the referendum campaign: what would Brexit mean for the three million EU nationals living here? The Brexiteers were unanimous: their right to stay in Britain would be unaffected. Any question of repatriation was bizarre. Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Ukip, Labour, the SNP, Liberal Democrats, the Greens, the CBI — the consensus was as wide as the conviction was strong.

But Mrs May, who opposed Brexit, has since declared that the fate of our immigrants is now an open question. They might be given permission to remain, she says, but not until the EU offers the same assurances to Brits living on the Continent. With this, the Prime Minister has put the skids under every EU national living here. This was never supposed to be what Brexit was about. But oddly, under Theresa May, it is now.

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