The large number of Goans with Portuguese passports and other EU nationals in Britain should not be used by the Theresa May government as ‘a bargaining chip’ in Brexit negotiations, an influential parliamentary committee on human rights warned on Monday.
Tens of thousands of Goans have moved to Britain in recent years after acquiring Portuguese passports they are entitled to as citizens and descendants of the former Portuguese colony that was liberated in 1961. As Portuguese citizens, they are part of the 2.9 million EU citizens resident in Britain.
Their future in a post-Brexit Britain is tied to that of the large number of British citizens residing in EU countries. So far, the May government has not given any guarantees on their continued stay in Britain after Brexit.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights said deporting the EU citizens after Brexit was impractical, and warned the May government not to use them as “a bargaining chip” with Brussels due to begin after Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to exit the EU is invoked in March.
Calling on the government to give an undertaking to protect the residency rights of EU citizens already in Britain, the committee said the actual position of the individuals was underpinned by the Human Rights Act.
Committee chair Harriet Harman said: "The government must not use human rights as a bargaining chip. Moreover, the government will continue to have obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as we set out in our Report.”
“The UK government could not deport the large numbers of EU nationals currently in the UK. In the unlikely and unwelcome event that the government sought to deport EU nationals, there could be the potential for significant, expensive and lengthy litigation leading to considerable legal uncertainty for a prolonged period of time. These cases would have the potential to clog up and overwhelm the court system,” she added.
The committee recommended that the government addresses the issue of residence rights urgently, by providing an undertaking to the effect that all of those legally resident at a reasonable cut-off date would be guaranteed permanent residence rights.
The government should also seek to safeguard the residence rights of UK nationals residing in other EU member states at the outset of its Article 50 negotiations by way of a separate preliminary agreement, its report added.
“This ought to be done as soon as possible: if such action is not taken, individuals will be subject to continuing and distressing insecurity during two years of potentially protracted negotiations”.