Liam Fox sparks furious backlash after describing EU citizens in UK as negotiating 'cards'
Liam Fox has been denounced as “xenophobic” and compared with Nigel Farage after he confirmed EU citizens living in the UK will be used as a bargaining chip in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
PoliticsHome revealed yesterday that the International Trade Secretary told a fringe meeting at the Conservative conference the Government has not reassured EU migrants they can to stay in the UK after Brexit because it does not want to give up “one of our main cards” in the talks.
The Government has repeatedly rejected calls to guarantee foreign citizens’ rights post-Brexit, arguing it would be wrong to do so before securing the same arrangements for British nationals living in other member states.
Dr Fox's comments sparked an immediate backlash, with Labour arguing the Government was shaowing “little regard” for people's lives.
"As the week in Birmingham wears on, the tone of the Conservative Party conference is becoming increasingly xenophobic,” Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham said.
"These comments from Liam Fox reveal just what little regard the Government has for people who have made their lives here and are contributing to public services and our economy.”
Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who chairs campaign group Vote Leave Watch, said: “These crass remarks would leave even Nigel Farage shamefaced.”
“Liam Fox needs to understand that he is talking about people not poker chips...
“Instead of gambling with their future, Liam Fox and his Government colleagues should do the decent thing and give assurances to all EU nationals living here that they will have the right to stay.”
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: "This Tory Brexit government is in complete disarray over the basic issues.
"People who have made their home here, paid taxes and contributed to our society must be able to stay, no ifs and no buts.
"These are people's neighbours, colleagues and spouses, they must not be treated as political bargaining chips."
'ONE OF OUR MAIN CARDS'
Dr Fox, who was a leading advocate of leaving the EU, told a fringe event at the Conservative conference he wanted a deal that would give EU citizens the right to remain – but that it did not “make sense” to commit to it.
“On the question of European citizens, again, the Prime Minister has made it very clear: we would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the United Kingdom but that depends on reciprocation by other countries," he said.
“I think we would all hope that what we get is a totally open reciprocal agreement where UK citizens in other European countries are free and welcome to stay there, as will those who have already settled in the United Kingdom.
“But again as the Prime Minister has said, to give that away before we get into a negotiation is to hand over one of our main cards in that negotiation and doesn’t necessarily make sense at this point.”
His language has angered pro-EU campaigners, who have accused ministers of using foreign citizens as a ‘bargaining chips’,
Elsewhere at the event, Dr Fox said the British people wanted to stop those who “consume the wealth” of the UK coming to Britain.
“What we’ve said is we want control of our own immigration,” he said.
“And if you ask the British people what they think in general about immigration, they will say ‘people who come to our country and contribute wealth to the country are welcome; people who come to the country and consume the wealth of the country without ever having created anything are a different kettle of fish’. It’s about getting control.”