On 23 June the British electorate (which, incidentally, includes Commonwealth nationals) will be able to vote on whether the UK should stay in the European Union. The question on the voting paper will be put with admirable clarity and simplicity: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” So it’s a Yes or No, no opportunity for “well, I’m not sure really, I’ll have to think about it” etc.
The UK has been in the EU (and its various predecessors) since 1973 and has become, as it were, deeply embedded. The British people have acquired a lot of experience of many aspects of their lives being affected and controlled by the EU, and many of us might find it difficult to envisage leaving. But it seems that a lot of people don’t like being in the EU. Opinion polls that have emerged over the last few weeks indicate similar levels of support on the two sides of the argument. So it seems – at the moment at any rate – that it really could happen that the UK could leave.
One of the ways in which membership of the EU has profoundly affected the UK is of course in immigration. EU, EEA and Swiss nationals are able, under European laws, to come to the UK to live and work without hindrance and so are their family members, whether they are European or not, if they obtain the right papers.
If the UK did leave the EU then presumably those European legal rights, or at least some of them, would be abolished. It might become difficult for Europeans to come to live and work in the UK and it would most certainly become more difficult for their non-European family members.
But what about those Europeans and their family members who are already living and working in the UK? Would they be required to leave the UK? Or would there be some sort of transitional arrangements for them?
Of course “Brexit” (British exit) may never happen, and we may never have to engage with these issues. But if it does, and if the Government does try to introduce controversial legislation, one thing is certain: there is going to be plenty of litigation (ie a big legal fight) about the rights of families and children.