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The status of EU citizens in the UK requires immediate attention


As members of the Britain in Europe think-tank we call upon the government and all other political parties to offer the strongest possible reassurance to all EU citizens living in the UK that they will in no way be adversely affected by exit negotiations with the EU once article 50 has been triggered, and that they can continue to plan their future in this country exactly as before.

The government has a moral duty to alleviate as rapidly as possible the feelings of uncertainty, fear and alienation that the referendum vote has inevitably brought about in EU citizens living in the UK, and to take positive action to demonstrate that they are an integral part of British society and their contributions are highly valued.

With equal urgency, the government must condemn the instances of extremist, racist and other criminal behaviour that we have witnessed since the referendum, and fully commit to a strategy that will prevent discrimination against non UK-nationals both now and in the future. In the specific case of EU citizens living in the UK, the government must seek to safeguard all rights currently enjoyed by those citizens, rights that offer them exactly the same protections as British citizens.

Statements by the home secretary, Theresa May and the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, to the effect that it would be “unwise” or “absurd” to unilaterally promise EU nationals that they can stay in the UK without first negotiating with the other 27 EU countries, will only exacerbate the anxieties of these EU citizens, and cause yet more anger, division and distrust.

The argument put forward by May and Hammond is that Britain’s negotiating position will be weakened if assurances are now offered to EU citizens. Quite apart from the fact that it is unacceptable to use EU citizens living in the UK as bargaining chips, this argument runs the serious risk of making it more likely that other EU countries may be prompted to adopt a similar approach to UK citizens residing there.

What May and Hammond are saying is tantamount to subjecting the three million EU citizens in the UK – nearly 5% of its population – to the threat of deportation, a situation unheard of in a western democratic regime for as long as we can remember.

There is a spat between politicians over the government’s refusal to say that foreign nationals can stay; but I doubt that any lawyer would see this as a problem. This is because at present UK law protects the rights of EU citizens who are resident here; and this protection could only be removed by parliament. Further there is a very strong presumption in law that parliament does not legislate retrospectively; and it is inconceivable that the present parliament, which was overwhelmingly in favour of remain, would deliberately legislate retrospectively, so as to remove the rights of EU citizens who already have the right to reside in the UK.
Stephen Cooper
(Member of the government legal service, 1989-2009) Rotherham, South Yorkshire

In families like mine, where there are more nationalities than members, the implications of Brexit are much more profound than the political and economic chaos into which the UK has voluntarily descended. But while we may have lost control of our immediate future, we should not emulate the politicians and flee like rats from a sinking ship.

The three million EU citizens who chose to make a life in the UK and the 1.2 million Brits who settled in the continent have had no say in this debate – at least, not through formal civic participation. We cannot sit tight and hope for the best. We must become British!

With the vast majority of Europeans in the UK being eligible for indefinite leave to remain, and subsequently citizenship, we could become a swing electorate in our own right.

Unless we take up citizenship, we will continue paying the taxes that keep the cogs of this country’s political machinery turning but will be unable to influence how it works.

So gather all your documents and file that application. The next British generation will thank you for it.
Jimena Blanco Chavez

It is now possible that Scotland will secede from the United Kingdom in order to remain a member of the EU. Nicola Sturgeon has expressed concern about the status of EU citizens resident in Scotland, but what of the rest of us? A useful model is that used when Czechoslovakia split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993, when citizens automatically became citizens either of Czechia or Slovakia, depending on birthplace, residency and other criteria. Additionally, they had one year to apply for the other citizenship under certain conditions. Can we be assured that British citizens in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will have the right to choose to become Scottish and gain that coveted EU passport?
Nick Markovits

Here in Denmark the effect of Brexit has been to stimulate a sharp increase in the number of Danes wanting to remain in the EU. It is now 69%, compared with 59.8% just before the British referendum. Analysts say that the Brexit vote has brought home to the often-Eurosceptic Danes the reality of what leaving the EU means for a country. It has brought home to my wife and me the need to apply for Danish citizenship, after 20 years here. I suppose the decision has not been too difficult, what with a functioning welfare state, student grants, laws to discourage speculation on housing, and cycle tracks everywhere.
Professor John Wrench
Esbjer, Denmark

Having been appointed as a consultant gastroenterologist in the UK in 2013 and having treated several thousand patients since then, I am disappointed to find that the question of whether or not there ought to be a mass deportation of people like me is a real live political issue in Britain today, and a question being asked of serious politicians by serious journalists.

Perhaps the question should be reframed from “should EU migrants be allowed to stay?” to “why on earth would they bother?”.

This one will not.
Anthony O’Connor

  • Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon


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About the author

Sydney Chesterfield

Poet, Playwright, Philosopher, Humanitarian, mad lover of children and unflinching fighter for equality on all grounds viz. Women's rights, child rights, sine die.

Twitter: @syd_field