As May rushes to meet her self-imposed March deadline for triggering Article 50, some fear that more U.K. residents may find themselves stranded at airports, their right to reside in the country hanging the balance. In January, the British Supreme Court ruled that both houses of parliament must vote to initiate Article 50 before May can begin the process of leaving the EU. The House of Commons voted in favor of doing so earlier this month, rejecting an amendment that would have protected the rights of the approximately 3.3 million EU citizens living in Britain. This week, the House of Lords is debating a similar amendment, and is also expected to vote to proceed with Article 50. In the meantime, the rights of EU citizens to live, work, and travel in and out of a post-Brexit U.K. remain in limbo.
Roger Casale, a former member of parliament who now leads the New Europeans, an advocacy group for EU citizens living in Britain, pointed out that in light of the government’s reneged commitment to resettle as many as 3,000 unaccompanied child refugees in January 2016, its assurances to European U.K. residents are hardly comforting. “A promise is not a guarantee at all, particularly when it’s made by the government,” he said. “Trump shows how important it is to have your rights enshrined in law, because otherwise a government can come to power and say, ‘I don’t like you, you're a Muslim,’ or whatever it is, and take your rights away. ... No one wants to be in the situation of people in airports in the U.S.”
The parallels between Britain and America appear to have prompted some introspection among British politicians seeking to articulate the country’s role in the Trump age, particularly as May looks to cement a bilateral trade deal with the United States. “What exactly are the shared values that this house, this country would hope to have?” asked Alex Salmond, former Scottish first minister, during the House of Commons debate Monday night.
Trump, seasoned salesman that he is, may have unwittingly provided the British left with the vocabulary to reject May’s more isolationist policies. “Donald Trump wants to put America first, Theresa May wants to put Britain first,” Caroline Lucas, an MP from Brighton, told protesters on Monday night.
“We want to use this opportunity to push back against the Trump-like policies of our own government,” Zoe Gardner, a leading organizer of the Stop Trump Coalition, told me. “We've built a wall in Calais, we've stopped our program to resettle lone child refugees in the U.K. ... Just because Theresa May is more of a statesperson, because she knows how to play the game—she thinks it’s going to slide by.”
But the shift in messaging risks stoking virulent political rhetoric without ensuring any policy change. Trump may be a convenient proxy through which to discuss the ugly repercussions of Brexit, but proxies tend to distract from the real problems at hand.
“There are many reasons why Trump has elicited this kind of response in a way that Brexit hasn’t … but his degree of rhetoric has brought a lot home for people,” said Marienna Pope-Wiedeman, a social justice advocate involved in the Right to Remain NGO and the Stop Trump Coalition. “They realize how close we are to the precipice.”