It is now almost three days since David Cameron announced his resignation. The Chancellor of the Exchequer has been in hiding ever since. And the Parliamentary Labour party is revolting against its own leader and members.
It is one thing for the whole political class to be in disarray. It is quite another for the government to be missing in action. Obviously we are waiting for the Conservative party leadership contest to get going and swiftly resolve itself. But that will take months. In the meantime the country is still here. And a number of things need to happen fast.
Since Mark Carney’s intervention early on Friday there has been no appearance by any public figure to assure the country on what happens next. I trust that this will start to happen tomorrow. But everyone involved in the running of this country – whatever side they took during the recent referendum – needs to know that there is significant unease in the country over the lack of leadership at a time when many questions need very swift attention. One suggestion in particular needs to be announced as soon as possible.
There are currently around three million EU nationals living in the UK. Most are in work and contribute a huge amount to life in the UK. Many of them are currently wondering what their status is. In the absence of any announcement, extremely unhelpful scare-stories are doing the rounds, terrifying everyone from French bankers to Polish waitresses. Whoever is in charge of this country at the moment – or likely to be at some point soon – should announce first thing this week what the status of these people should be.
In my view the obvious thing to do is firstly to make it plain that EU nationals living and working in the UK remain not just wanted here but welcome here. The Prime Minister, Chancellor of the Exchequer or anyone else from the government who may plausibly be in the government-in-waiting should then announce that all EU nationals who were living and working in the UK on 23rd June will automatically receive permanent residence status. Some may think this is a small matter at a stage when there are so many questions unanswered and so much is in flux. But an announcement on this would go a long way to allaying fears and rebuilding a sense of direction and calm in a country that badly needs them.