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Government score an own goal on citizens’ rights resignation

27 February 2019

8:10 PM

27 February 2019

8:10 PM

This evening the government accepted an amendment to ensure the EU citizens’ rights package in the Withdrawal Agreement still stands if the U.K. leaves without a deal. The amendment tabled by Tory MP Alberto Costa won widespread support in the Commons – an endorsement from the Home Secretary and was eventually taken on by No 10.

Despite this, Costa will head home this evening having left his role as a Parliamentary Private Secretary for the Scotland Office. Costa tended his resignation earlier today as PPSs are not supposed to put down amendments. I understand Costa was asked whether he still wanted the amendment to be in his name – he said he did and thereby resigned.

On a procedural level this is all above board. However, the incident has still managed to rile many Tory MPs. Friends of Costa say that he was effectively forced to resign over a position the bulk of the party agrees with and the government has now accepted. Part of the reason MPs believe No 10 ought to have turned a blind eye is that they appear to have done just this earlier this week with regards to more senior Cabinet ministers. After Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark issued public warnings about no deal and threatened to vote against the government, none of them were forced to resign. In fact, they came close to getting what they wanted – with May going on to offer MPs a future vote to delay Brexit. The different treatment has not gone unnoticed tonight.

Another reason this could turn out to be a misfire by Downing Street is the effect it could have in Scotland. Costa was a PPS to the Scotland Office. In Scotland, the issue of EU citizens’ rights is a politically potent matter of interest. Forcing someone out for trying to ensure those rights isn’t great optics. It follows that the government appear to have scored an own goal here. Theresa May has accepted Costa’s amendment to guarantee EU citizens’ rights but is unlikely to get any credit for it given that the person who made it happen appears to have been pushed out as a result.


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