Liam Fox has said it would be wrong of Theresa May to guarantee the right of EU nationals to stay in United Kingdom following Brexit as it would give away one of the “main cards” she had to negotiate with.
Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham today, the International Trade secretary said the government “would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the UK” but it would depend on the UK having a similar assurance that British citizens living in Europe would be able to remain there.
Labour MP Chuku Umunna said Fox was “talking about people not poker chips”.
“These crass remarks would leave even Nigel Farage shamefaced,” Umunna said.
“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.”
At the conference event hosted by Conservative Home, Fox said: “I think we would all hope what we get is a totally open reciprocal agreement where UK citizens in other EU countries are free and welcome to stay there as would those who are settled in the UK.
“But again as the prime minister said. To give that away before we get into a negotiation would be to hand over one of our main cards in that negotiation and doesn’t necessarily make sense at this point.
“On the question of EU citizens. The prime minister made it very clear. We would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the UK, that depends on reciprocation by other countries.”
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said: “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.”
The prime minister has repeatedly refused to guarantee the residency rights of EU citizens in the UK once Britain leaves the EU.
Earlier today, Brexit campaigner and former Tory cabinet minister Owen Paterson said gate crimes against EU migrants could be stopped if the Government immediately guaranteed their residency rights.
Paterson, who served in David Cameron’s Cabinet for four years, urged the Government to carry out the move in order to calm any anti-migrant sentiment that occurred in the wake of the Brexit vote.
Figures released last month revealed hate crimes went up by 46% the week after the referendum, and a Polish man was murdered in Harlow, Essex at the end of August in what police believe was a possible “hate crime”.
Speaking at fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference this afternoon, Paterson conceded there has been some “unpleasantness” since the June 23 vote.
He said: “There were a few ugly stupid things said. There was a particularly appalling murder of a Pole, which is wholly totally shocking. I think the way to stop all this is to guarantee everybody – I think we’re up to 800,000 poles, 900,000 Poles – to say to everyone here if you’ve got a job and you’re resident here, then you are welcome to stay.”