As Parliament rose for recess this summer, many people were rightly asking if now was an appropriate time for the Government to take a six week-long break. With less than a year to go before the UK is due to leave the European Union, this is one of the most significant periods of our generation. Now is not the time for a very long holiday.
I am especially concerned about the cost of the Tory Government’s Brexit negotiations. People originally from other countries in the European Union remain uncertain about their future in the UK. Despite warm words from the Government, their basic right to live, remain and work in the UK after March 2019 has not been guaranteed.
I am proud that Islington is home to people from across the world, including 30,000 people originally from other countries in the European Union and their dependents. They are our friends, family, neighbours and colleagues who make enormous contributions to our community, local economy and public services. However, as local councillors, we now often hear from residents who feel they are no longer welcome. They are no longer sure if their future is here.
Ever since the UK voted to leave the European Union, Islington Labour has repeatedly called on the Tory Government to immediately guarantee the full rights of local people from other countries in the European Union. This has included delivering a 1,000-strong petition to 10 Downing Street and coordinating a letter to the Prime Minister that was signed by all 21 Labour Leaders of London Boroughs.
Working with Islington IN Europe and local solicitors, Islington Council has organised three joint advice sessions for residents about their residency options after Brexit. As councillors, our primary concern will always be standing up for our residents.
The Government claims that EU Citizens will easily be able to apply for “settled status” but, given the Home Office’s track record on immigration, we cannot take this for granted. People will need to “prove” their right to remain by jumping through bureaucratic hoops, all for a not-insignificant cost.
Elsewhere, the European Commission is exploring plans for a ‘Permanent European Union Citizenship’ initiative, to ensure that all EU Citizens retain their EU citizenship and rights once they are granted. With millions to be stripped of their EU citizenship after Brexit, this is a far more sensible and humane approach.
The Prime Minister is using EU Citizens as bargaining chips in her Brexit negotiations. She has had multiple opportunities to fully guarantee their rights but has ducked every opportunity. After the past few weeks, with high-profile resignations and the Chequers agreement in tatters, it is becoming painfully obvious that this whole exercise is about the interests of the Tory Party, not the country.
In the words of arch-Brexiteer Michael Gove, “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. The UK Government and EU Commission published a draft Withdrawal Agreement on the Brexit transition period earlier this year, and have until October to finalise it. If they fail to do so, the UK will leave the European Union with no arrangements in place. That will mean there is no guarantee that any of the agreements so far, including on EU Citizens’ rights, will be upheld. There are also growing concerns that many EU Citizens will lose their right to vote in local elections after Brexit.
This summer is one of the last opportunities for the Prime Minister to fully guarantee the rights of EU Citizens post-Brexit. There is no reason why this cannot be done immediately and give security to millions of people across the UK. Local authorities, like Islington, are doing everything they can to support local people from other countries in the European Union. However, it is up to the Government to fix this ridiculous situation and guarantee the full rights of EU nationals now.