Government should listen to the messages shared on this day of action
It was a great disappointment that Labour’s amendment to the Brexit Bill guaranteeing the residency rights of EU nationals in the UK was defeated in the House of Commons earlier this month.
During the debate Ed Vaizey drew attention to a letter he had received from the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, offering assurances about the status of EU nationals in the UK over the course of Brexit negotiations.
The Home Secretary wrote, ‘The Great Repeal Bill will not change our immigration system. This will be done through a separate Immigration Bill…so nothing will change for any EU citizen, whether already resident in the UK or moving from the EU, without Parliament’s approval’.
From a legal standpoint, then, the rights of all EU nationals living in the UK are – in the short term, at least – protected. Nothing will change until a new Immigration Bill is passed. It is the EU nationals’ long term situation, however, that is a cause for concern.
What the government has repeatedly failed to do, despite numerous calls for action, is issue a cast-iron guarantee that all EU nationals legally living in the UK before the referendum vote will be allowed to stay. The result, for nearly three million people currently living in the UK, is the feeling that various safety nets securing their future right to live in this country are gradually being removed.
They have no guarantee as to what the future Immigration Bill might contain, only that their protections under EU law are now on a two-year time limit. Once that limit is reached, they only have Parliament to rely on. The result is that many people are being made to feel unwelcome in a country that they have contributed to immeasurably, both culturally and economically.
The Home Secretary has offered no guarantees as to what the content of the new Immigration Bill might be. Instead she’s said ‘there is no question of treating EU Citizens with ‘anything other than the utmost respect’.
In fact, ‘respect’ is something that’s already guaranteed to EU nationals under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which states that: ‘Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.’
The problem is, that right can be limited under certain circumstances, and this government has done all it can do stretch those limitations in an effort to show off their anti-immigration credentials.
Indeed, initial signs of how the government will interpret the rules are alarming.
Some EU nationals have decided to be proactive and apply for permanent residency before Brexit happens, but not all are having their applications accepted. One Dutch woman who has lived in the UK for 30 years with her British husband made headlines in January because the Immigration Minister told her she may have to return home after Brexit on account of her not having private medical insurance.
Rudd and others have consistently praised the ‘vital contribution’ that immigrants have made to this country. Yet, as International Trade Secretary Liam Fox revealed when he referred to EU nationals as one of the government’s ‘main cards’ in Brexit negotiations, they have been used as bargaining chips while the government plays fast and loose with basic human rights.
While some but not all EU nationals will be able to claim protections under Article 8 of the ECHR, such protections are not as strong as those offered by EU law. Labour’s amendment sought to universally guarantee EU nationals the right to remain in the UK. It proposed that if you were a lawful resident here before the referendum decision on June 23rd, then your rights of residence should remain unchanged.
The amendment may have been defeated but we’re not going to give up. Today the Labour Campaign for Human Rights, together with leading Labour figures including Keir Starmer and Sadiq Khan, is sharing messages of solidarity and support to EU nationals to mark the #1daywithoutus national day of action celebrating migrants’ contribution to the UK.
These are our friends, neighbours, and colleagues. Many of them have raised families, bought homes, and run businesses here. We cannot simply turn them away.
The government should listen. It should lead the way in offering a guarantee of EU nationals right to remain, regardless of the outcome of future negotiations, and without the need to wait for other EU countries to come to the table.
Only then will they be giving EU nationals the dignity, and the respect, that both the ECHR and Amber Rudd herself claims they should have.
Rachel Finnegan is Campaigns Assistant at the Labour Campaign for Human Rights