Parliament's Comittee for Exiting the European Union has joined the Lords and ten groups representing UK-born migrants overseas in calling for resident EU citizens' right to stay to be granted immediately. This is welcome, and it has been deeply disappointing to see Parliament miss the opportunity to safeguard rights for EU citizens. The pressure is now on the Government to change course urgently.
332 MPs recently voted against an amendment to protect residence rights for EU nationals in Britain. The amendment would have ended the confusion that millions who live and work in Britain have undergone since the EU referendum last year.
Yet here is a clear public majority, spanning both sides of the EU referendum, for retaining the rights held by existing EU nationals, who brought £20bn into the British economy over a 10 year period.
And politicians across parties have repeatedly stated their support for the rights of Europeans in Britain – but just three Government MPs voted with the opposition amendment during the debate on triggering Article 50.
It comes just weeks after a Home Office letter referred to EU citizens as ‘negotiating capital’.
Using people as bargaining chips, and keeping them unsure about their futures, seems against any sense of decency and fair play. And no-one voted for it in the referendum.
The Polish Social and Cultural Association has warned that EU nationals are too scared to report hate crimes because of confusion about whether they will be able to remain.
A French campaigner told us that, “The mood is sombre among EU citizens today following another vote in Parliament rejecting our basic ask to be treated like human beings, not bargaining chips. We must keep fighting and get our voice heard. Our future depends on it.”
One German citizen, who moved to the UK three years ago, told us that, “Each time the government fails to guarantee our rights, I doubt my future in this country. I worry every day what impact the Brexit vote will have on my career and relationship. A guarantee would take these worries off my mind and I could just get on with my life here."
Her words will ring true for millions of others who have contributed to the fabric of life in Britain, in some cases for decades.
The Government have indicated that rights may be enshrined in a bill in the future – but it’s not enough of a guarantee. Unions, campaign groups and community organisations will now work with European migrants and advocates to demand a clear guarantee in the immediate future.
The EU referendum was a democratic process. Deciding the future after it must be a democratic, participatory process as well – in which the voices of European citizens, and all migrants, are supported, heard and taken into account in politics and public life.