Thursday

18th Apr 2019

Calls multiply to protect rights of EU citizens in UK

The British government and Conservative leadership candidates are facing calls to reassure 3 million EU citizens living in the UK that they will not be kicked out after Brexit.

Home secretary Theresa May, who is a favourite to become the next Tory leader and prime minister, sparked off the debate when she suggested in her candidature speech that she would use the rights of EU migrants and workers to remain in the UK as a bargaining card in discussions with Brussels on the rights of UK migrants in the EU.

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  • A waitress in a London cafe: Polish workers in UK have suffered from hate speech after Brexit vote (Photo: Mike Atherton)

She repeated the idea in an interview with the ITV broadcaster on Sunday (3 July).

"As part of the negotiation, we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU, and I want to be able to ensure that we’re able to not just guarantee a position for those people, but guarantee the position for British citizens who are over in other member states, in other countries in Europe and living there", she said.

"Their position at the moment is as it has been. There’s no change at the moment, but of course we have to factor that into the negotiations."

Her comments have drawn criticism from more than 30 influential figures, who signed off a letter calling upon Downing Street, opposition parties and the five Tory leader-wishful “to make a clear and unequivocal statement that EU migrants currently living in the UK are welcome here and that post-referendum changes would apply only to new migrants.”

The letter, co-signed by Leave advocates Daniel Hannan MEP, UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell and Vote Leave chief executive Matthew Elliott, as well as by Labour and Remain representatives and business representatives, NGO leaders and scholars, recalled that Vote Leave had promised to protect the status of EU citizens.

Steve Peers, a professor of EU law at the University of Essex, another signatory, said May’s statement was ”a repellent idea”, violating international law and the European convention on human rights. He said UK immigration law could immediately be amended to guarantee the position of EU citizens - which would also ”send a message to racists” following the outburst of xenophobic attacks in the wake of Britain’s vote to sever ties with the EU.

British Future, a think tank, published a poll that showed that 84% of Britons, including three quarters (77%) of Leave voters, supported protecting the status of EU citizens in the UK.

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon also dismissed the idea, saying that ”the fear and uncertainty this causes people who have built their lives here is cruel”.

The Scottish leader said she sought guarantees for Scotland’s 173,000 EU citizens with David Cameron and the five Conservative leadership candidates and said she would reaffirm her commitment at a meeting with European diplomats on Tuesday.

Tory contenders Stephen Crabb, Michael Gove and Andrea Leadsom, as well as Leave leader Boris Johnson, said over the weekend that EU citizens who live lawfully in the United Kingdom should be able to stay.

"There is no risk whatever to the status of the EU nationals now resident and welcome in the UK, and indeed immigration will continue – but in a way that is controlled, thereby neutralising the extremists", Johnson said in his column in The Telegraph, a British daily, on Sunday.

The remaining candidate is Liam Fox.

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