Alok Sharma is Member of Parliament for Reading West & Prime Minister’s Infrastructure Envoy to India
The issue of EU nationals who have come to live in the UK, and what Brexit will mean for them, has become a point of controversy during the Conservative Party leadership election.
My wife, who has made Britain her home, is a Swedish citizen. So my family is directly affected by this issue in a way that most of the media commentators are not.
The current position is very clear. For now, we remain a member state of the EU and there will be no immediate changes to the rights and status of EU nationals in the UK, or UK nationals living in other parts of the EU. It was right that reassurance was immediately given on that point.
What we all want – and what we all expect – is that people who have used their right to free movement to set up lives in other EU member states will have their rights protected and be able to stay where they are.
That is the pragmatic, sensible and humane approach to take and one with which no serious person disagrees. The question is, how do we deliver it?
One approach has been to call for a blanket guarantee, from the UK Government and all Conservative leadership candidates, to preserve all the current rights of all EU nationals in the UK.
This approach has the merit of being an easy soundbite. But it raises a number of difficult questions and such a statement would, arguably, lead to even more uncertainty.
Who exactly would be covered by a blanket guarantee?
As we are still members of the EU, free movement still applies. Would the guarantee apply to EU nationals who arrive up until the point that Britain leaves the EU, or triggers Article 50?
If it did, that would provide a major incentive for more EU nationals to come to the UK between the time the guarantee was given and the eventual date of Brexit.
And would the blanket guarantee include welfare entitlements? Should the right to claim child benefit be restricted, and a time limit for claiming other benefits be introduced or all existing access rights protected? Good questions to which those advocating this approach have offered no answers.
Quick and easy slogans unravel in short order when subjected to the realities of having to implement them. And in order to deliver the desired outcome we will need to conduct a proper discussion with the EU, not least to also ensure we safeguard the interests of UK nationals living in other parts of the EU.
The Conservative leadership candidate who has not been willing to chase a quick and easy headline on this issue is Theresa May, the most experienced Home Secretary in a generation.
She has made clear that her desired outcome is for the many EU nationals who have chosen to make their home in the UK to have the freedom to remain here.
But the crucial difference between May and many others who have been raising this issue is that, as Prime Minister, she would actually have to do the necessary work to deliver the outcome we all want, through negotiation with the EU.
One of the reasons May has been such a successful Home Secretary, and why she will be such a successful Prime Minister, is because of her judgement and decision-making.
She does not chase headlines or allow herself to be blown off-course by media heads-winds. If a serious decision needs to be taken, the Home Secretary applies herself to the detail and focuses on the outcome.
This issue is one of the many which will be faced by whoever leads Britain into the EU negotiation, and how the candidates have responded is illustrative of their differing approaches.
It is a clear choice between someone who says what the commentariat wants to hear to get a quick headline and a quieter life, and someone who has her sights set on landing the right outcome and works to achieve it.
That is why I am backing Theresa May to be our next Prime Minister.