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EU nationals in the UK need clarity and certainty – only Labour can offer it

4 min read

Labour's Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan writes: "Labour would seek a reciprocal arrangement for UK nationals in the EU, and rule out the possibility of ‘no deal’".

EU nationals are our neighbours, our public sector workers, and our friends. UK citizens have established their lives across Europe. Despite warm words, Theresa May’s speech on Friday failed to provide any real assurances on their rights after Brexit. This uncertainty is putting our public services and economy at risk.

In her speech to conference, Diane Abbott reasserted Labour’s commitment to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and seek reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals in the rest of Europe.

EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens in the EU, have faced unfair and unending uncertainty since the Brexit referendum. At a time when chronic underfunding in the NHS has caused a crisis in recruitment, we cannot afford to lose the EU doctors, nurses and other staff already working here. Yet that is exactly what is happening.

10 000 EU nationals working for the NHS have quit since the referendum. The number of EU nationals registering as nurses in England has dropped by 92% in that time. The Royal College of Nursing has placed the blame squarely on the government’s failure to provide them with security about their future. This should be a clear and urgent warning to government.

The UK economy depends on the EU nationals living and working here. From agriculture to the upper echelons of business, there are currently 2.4 million EU nationals employed in the UK labour market. It’s in our interest for those already contributing to our economy to be secure in their future. Labour is not ashamed to put the economy and jobs above immigration targets in our approach to Brexit.

Uncertainty over their future in the UK is fuelling discrimination against EU nationals. Last week, Labour uncovered job notices asking only for applicants with British passports, and landlords advertising properties for British tenants only. Even when trying to book a holiday, EU nationals have encountered travel agencies refusing to take their bookings, or cancelling bookings already made.

It’s not just EU citizens who are struggling to cope. The Home Office’s incompetence borders on the absurd. In August they sent out 100 deportation letters to EU nationals ‘in error’. When a constituent of mine applied for a visa for her mum, she was asked to provide their marriage certificate – she was asked to prove her mother is her wife. The Home Office is totally ill-equipped to deal with the demands being placed on it. At their current rate, it would take them 140 years to process the residency applications of all 3 million EU citizens already in UK. This does not inspire confidence in EU citizens’ position in the UK, nor is it a recipe for good relations during Brexit negotiations.

This argument is not just about the rights of EU citizens in the UK, but also UK citizens elsewhere in the EU. Across Europe, the lives of 4 million people hang in the balance. UK pensioners in Spain, students in France and families in Greece need clarity over what will happen to them after the UK leaves the EU.

The threat of ‘no deal’ looms particularly large over UK citizens in the rest of the EU. Their status would become immediately uncertain, as it is down to each individual state to decide how to treat non-EU nationals. Yet on Friday Theresa May again refused to rule out crashing out of the EU without a deal. Labour would seek a reciprocal arrangement for UK nationals in the EU, and rule out the possibility of ‘no deal’.

We need a clear and immediate commitment to the rights of EU nationals in the UK. A Labour government would provide this. 

Afzal Khan is Labour's Shadow Immigration Minister and the MP for Manchester Gorton

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