A smart new amendment looking to guarantee citizens' rights even in the event of no-deal is doing the rounds in Westminster. It's picking up support from across the Tory party – from ERG types to the moderate wing, making it highly likely to pass. It's a skillful bit of legislative footwork.

The amendment will be put down by Tory MP Alberto Costa. It's designed to be attached to Theresa May's motion on her deal during the meaningful vote on February 26th. It reads like this:

"This House considers the prime minister's statement of 26th February and requires the prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the withdrawal agreement on citizens rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the withdrawal agreement."

The government has failed to really press the issue of the rights of British citizens in Europe, so this amendment forces their hand. It demands that, even if there is no deal, ministers go to the EU and demand the citizens' rights element of the deal be carved out, extracted, and turned into a separate treaty, which comes into operation no matter what happens.

In the UK, this will have a relatively minor effect, because the government has already confirmed it will be unilaterally securing EU citizens' rights in the event of no-deal. But in Europe, it can have a major effect.

The existing EU plan for citizens rights under no-deal is unsatisfactory. It relies on the argument that the rights issue falls under immigration policy, which is left at the level of the nation state. So instead of coming up with centralised plans, they'll simply instruct countries to regularise the status of Brits in their territory, with little control over how – or if – that will be pursued.

The withdrawal agreement is much stronger. It automatically secures the status of Brits in Europe. This amendment forces the government to negotiate this aspect of the deal separately from everything else and guarantee Brits on the continent that higher and more reliable legal protection.

Time is of the essence here. If we're going to crash out without a deal, officials need to be working on a citizen's rights treaty now if it has any chance of being ratified and implemented before the end of March.

So it's just as well a diverse bunch of Tories are up for it. Labour can be expected to support it too, alongside other opposition parties. Assuming the Speaker selects it, it is very likely to succeed. There are even whispers the government might get behind it, as it did behind the Brady amendment.

And why not? It gives them the chance to look like the good guys for once, proactively working to secure citizen rights. And if Brussels refuses to accept these overtures, it makes them look like the bad guys. It's a win-win, for all sides of the Brexit debate. But it also happens to be a decent and humane idea, that would help remove uncertainty and worry for hundreds of thousands of people.

Ian Dunt is editor of Politics.co.uk and the author of Brexit: What The Hell Happens Now?

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