The citizens of other European countries are human beings like the rest of us. It is a disturbing sign of the times that that needs to be stated. But with the Tory government refusing to rule out changes in status for EU citizens who currently live here in Britain, it’s more important to emphasise than ever. That’s why Labour must fight to ensure the government guarantees the right to remain, and the right to equal treatment, for EU nationals living in the UK. That’s why Vote Leave Watch, the campaign I chair, has started a petition on this vital issue.
During the EU referendum campaign, Tory Vote Leavers repeatedly stated that EU citizens living in Britain had nothing to fear from Brexit. As Boris Johnson and Priti Patel, said on June 1: “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.” Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that the government would assuage peoples’ fears by quickly guaranteeing that the citizens of European Union countries who currently live in Britain will have the right to remain, under the same conditions they enjoy now.
But shamefully, since the referendum result the government has refused to do so. David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, is talking of a “cut-off” date, after which EU citizens living here could be summarily sent home. Needless to say, he did not say anything about this during the EU referendum campaign.
The government’s apparent position is that they need European citizens in Britain as a bargaining chip to ensure protection for Britons living in Europe. But the government should not be using people as bargaining chips in this way.
People are not pawns. The more than two million European citizens who live in Britain are our friends, neighbours and work colleagues. In many cases they are our relatives, partners, wives, husbands. They all have a right to work, a right to live, and a right to a family life. No civilised government should even contemplate meddling with that in these circumstances. It is entirely typical of the Conservatives that they are.
On a practical level, EU migrants make a vital contribution to our country. 1.5 million Britons are employed by businesses founded by migrants. Tens of thousands of EU citizens put their hearts and souls into working for our NHS. And jobs for which there is a shortage of British labour, like working on farms, are filled by EU citizens. Carrying out the implicit threat of throwing some of them out would seriously compromise our public services and our economy.
If the government will not do what is right themselves, they must be pressured into it. That’s why we’re asking you to sign our petition to force the government to commit to defend the rights of EU citizens in Britain. With your help, we can force the new Conservative government to do the decent thing. So sign our petition today to make them hold their promise to EU citizens living in Britain.
Chuka Umunna is MP for Streatham and Chair of Vote Leave Watch