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The legal status of 3 million EU citizens currently living the UK have been put in major doubt after Theresa May’s recent confirmation that she regards their future as part of the Brexit negotiations.
This comment has caused a degree of controversy as the Tory leadership rival, Andrea Leadsom as well as several Labour MP’s, have jumped to highlight that people’s futures should not in any way be ‘used as a bargaining chip’ in the Brexit decisions. Former Ukip leader, Lord Pearson, also raised the question of whether the 3 million EU nationals would be used as almost ‘hostages’ to safeguard the positions of the 1.2 million Britons living in Europe… a view that did not go down well with any sides of the Lords.
In the lead-up to the referendum, the leave campaign attempt to dismiss these concerns by promising to guarantee EU citizens position in Britain by stating that the people who were lawfully residents would be offered indefinite leave to remain. However, now Theresa May has withdrawn this guarantee by saying, ‘we are still a member of the EU – there is no change in their position currently. But of course as part of the negotiation we will need to look at this question of people who are here in the UK from the EU…I want to ensure that we are able to not just guarantee the positions of those people but guarantee the positions of British citizens in other member states.’ She went on to claim that this was a necessary measure as otherwise is would cause a mass surge in EU migration before the door was closed to the UK.
A strange result of these comments is the unusual cross-party agreeance that has occurred. Supporters from both the leading leave campaigners as well as supporters from Vote Remain campaign and the TUC general secretary, have all urged politicians to give a solid commitment to protect the EU nationals. The consensus is that it will put Britain in a strong position when seeking protection for Britain’s in other EU states and furthermore it will ‘send a clear statement to the extreme minority – who appear to believe they have license to attack and harass migrants – that the British public finds their views repugnant and unwelcome in our society.’
The exact legal status of the EU citizens at the moment is uncertain. Rumours are circulating that they will have individual ‘acquired rights’ under the 1969 Vienna convention, including the right to work, live and retire in a country. However, Sionaidh Douglas-Scott, professor of law at Queen Mary University of London, and an expert in European law, stated ‘there is no cast-iron guarantee on acquired rights in the event Britain leaves the EU. If you leave the EU, you are no longer a member of the club that gives you those rights.’ Furthermore, other experts have claimed that when the times comes, it won’t be enough anymore for EU nationals to show their passport as proof of rights to remain and work in the country.
Concerns have also been raised for the future fate of those who are not lawfully in the country. Saira Grant, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said ‘those who are without status in our country who live in fear must now be given rights’. Boris Johnson held out the possibility of an amnesty for those who had lived here without lawful status for 12 years or more, however it is believed these hopes have been shattered with the demise of his Tory leadership bid.