One of the Brexiters' favourite memes at the moment (oft repeated in the press) is the one that lays blame for the fear and uncertainly being suffered by EU citizens living in the UK at Angela Merkel's door. Take this recent tweet I received - after complaining that the UK Government were threatening to deport my wife (which, at the moment, they still are):
First of all, it should be pointed out, the EU has very little control over how individual EU countries deal with their non-EU residents. For example, the UK's arrangements for Australians or Pakistanis who wish to come here and reside here are very much our affair not the EU's. So a "reciprocal" deal between the UK and the EU, in the way May talks about this, simply is not possible.
It is the UK who has decided to strip its own citizens of their EU citizenship and EU citizens of their rights in the UK; so the current predicament is entirely of our making. We cannot somehow shift the responsibility to the EU.
It is true that May offered to discuss this, not to "settle" it, before submitting Article 50. Who knows whether there will be an agreement on this with all 27 countries or how long such agreements might take? But the suggestion that there might be "pre-discussions" (about anything) before submitting Article 50 was rejected not by Germany but by all 27 countries unanimously - and they don't agree on very much unanimously these days. For obvious reasons, the rest of the EU want to stick to a firm timetable.
Moreover, there are other problems with the notion of negotiating "reciprocal arrangements" with the EU. There is no symmetry between the distribution of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in Europe. Quite how the Home Office, or the UK’s EU negotiating team, imagine that their threat to deport Germans (like my wife) will dissuade (say) the Spanish from deporting their large collection of UK pensioners (perhaps in a fit of pique over Gibraltar) is never made clear.Sadly, the UK is not the only country in the EU which now has a right-wing nationalist and isolationist government in power. Hungary and Poland have taken similar directions and an even more lunatic and xenophobic party is on the ascendancy in France. It is by no means entirely beyond the cards that some other EU countries might, one day, start expelling British Citizens. We do not have to invoke Godwin's law and go back before 1945 to find examples of war, dictatorship, and ethnic cleansing in Europe.
Think about the position of our own Government! It is saying that if other countries refuse to allow UK citizens to remain once we are no longer in the EU (which would also, of course, be abhorrent) we shall retaliate by expelling law-abiding EU families - who came here legally and in good faith - from the UK. Such retaliation would be morally reprehensible - whether the citizens in question were originally from a country expelling our citizens or originally from a third country.
And even to threaten such a thing is morally reprehensible.
While many EU leaders are doing their best to try and make it possible for UK citizens to acquire some kind of "associate" EU citizenship post-Brexit (though this very well might not happen - it's complicated) the UK is going out of its way to make life for its EU citizens as difficult as possible.
The UK, for practical and political reasons, and for reasons af basic human decency needs to unilaterally guarantee the rights of its EU citizens living here; and it needs to do it now.