Andy Burnham attacks Theresa May over uncertainty for EU nationals in Britain

Posted On: 
4th July 2016

The Government is exacerbating a culture of “xenophobic and racist abuse” by refusing to confirm the status of EU nationals living in Britain, Labour’s Andy Burnham has declared.

Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham in the Commons
Credit: 
Parliament TV

Theresa May has followed David Cameron in refusing to confirm EU nationals living in Britain will be able to remain after the UK quits the European Union.

Both have insisted there would be no “immediate change” to people’s status but have left the door open to the situation changing following talks with Brussels.

Andrea Leadsom launches leadership bid and pledges to protect rights of EU nationals

Nicola Sturgeon calls for ‘immediate guarantees’ for EU nationals living in the UK

Iain Duncan Smith sounds the alarm about risk of EU nationals voting in referendum

Mr Burnham, whose wife Marie-France is Dutch, said his three children would “quite like their mum to stay here forever”, as he attacked the Home Secretary for her "ill-judged comments".

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire told MPs today it would be “unwise” to give full assurances for EU nationals without “parallel agreement” from member states for Brits living abroad.

Mr Brokenshire also said argued providing guarantees prior to the negotiations could lead to the “unintended consequence of prompting EU immigration to the UK”.

Labour MP Gisela Stuart, who tabled the Urgent Question in the Commons, said the Government was treating people like “bargaining chips” heading into crunch talks with the European Union.

Mr Burnham agreed, arguing the uncertainty created by Ms May could worsen the rise in racist attacks seen since June’s referendum.

"The three million or so EU nationals living here are the fathers and mothers, aunties and uncles, grandmas and granddads of millions of British children," he said.

"To leave any uncertainty hanging over their right to be here is tantamount to undermining family life in our country."

He added: “This is entirely a matter for the UK government to decide, and it is this government’s own decision to make it an issue in the negotiations.

“By doing so, aren’t they creating the conditions for the unwelcoming climate to continue and the rises in xenophobic and racist abuse that we have seen?”

“Doesn’t the very fact that we are having to hold this debate today illustrate how flawed the referendum campaign was...

“The Conservative party has reduced our country to chaos and created uncertainty being felt in every family.

"If the Home Secretary wants us to be the person to lead us out of it, she needs to have the courage to come to this House and clear up her own mess.”

Responding to the Urgent Question, Mr Brokenshire said: “It has been suggested that the Government could now fully guarantee EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay.

"This would be unwise without a parallel assurance from European governments regarding British nationals living in their countries.

“Such a step might also have the unintended consequence of prompting EU immigration to the UK.

"It is in the best interests of all that the Government conducts detailed work on this issue and that the new prime minister decides the best way forward as quickly as possible.

“In the meantime, I would like to stress that EU nationals continue to be welcome here.”

‘WHOLLY INAPPROPRIATE’

Brexit-backing Tory MP Sir Bill Cash said Ms May’s comments were “wholly inappropriate”.

Fellow Conservative Andrew Tyrie, who backed Remain at the referendum, said the uncertainty surrounding EU nationals’ status heightened the risk of an "economic downturn".

He added that leaving the issue to the next prime minister was "simply not a realistic option and the best thing to do now is to get on with granting these rights".

Speaking this morning, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said it would be “absurd” to provide assurances for EU nationals without a similar commitment for British nationals living in the EU.