A national disgrace

7 Jul

West Ham MP Lyn Brown spoke yesterday in the debate on the future of EU nationals living in the UK:

The Government’s refusal to guarantee the status of our EU residents is, quite frankly, an utter disgrace.

Last weekend, I spoke to an Italian woman who has lived and worked in Britain for 30 years. She has made Britain her home. She has raised her family here. Her children were born here and they are working here. She was in tears when she told me of her worry that she and her family were about to be deported. It absolutely broke my heart.

There are 3 million EU nationals living in the UK. Just like my constituent, they have jobs and homes, and are concerned about the future for their families. These are families who have entered the UK legally, made their homes here, paid their taxes, and have made a wonderful contribution to our country. The very least these families deserve is to have certainty about their future.

The Home Secretary has said that these people’s lives will be a “factor” in the forthcoming negotiations over our exit from the EU. She has implied that the rights of EU citizens living here cannot be guaranteed because the Government need to seek guarantees about the rights of UK citizens living on the continent. It is appalling; people’s lives should not be treated as a bargaining chip. The Government’s strategy is not only heartless—it is inept. We do not want the other 27 member states to threaten the rights of the 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent, so why are we starting negotiations by threatening the rights of EU nationals living here?

I can only presume that the Home Secretary’s focus is not really on negotiations with the EU. Her tub-thumping, I presume, is designed to court the votes of the right-wing Tory membership—an olive branch after, and I say this gently, her low-profile support for the remain campaign. Using people as bargaining chips in EU negotiations is one level of insult; using them as pawns in a Tory “Game of Thrones” is quite another. A Prime Minister with any sense of responsibility could have stopped this happening. By resigning from office before settling the most basic questions about leaving the EU, this Prime Minister has left our exit strategy to the vagaries of a Tory leadership contest. The rights of EU nationals, the speed of our exit, and our future relationship with the EU are all factors in the Tory leadership campaign. This leaves 150,000 Tory party members in a position of disproportionate influence.

The failure to make a commitment to EU nationals comes with grave consequences. Racists and xenophobes are feeling emboldened and are spreading poison within our constituencies. I am ashamed to say that, in my constituency, a residential block was sprayed with a swastika and the word “out” in large, bold letters. I know that Members across the country have had to deal with similarly vile incidents. There has been a 57% increase in hate crime since the referendum. A straightforward and clear message that EU residents are valued and welcome to stay for as long as they like would put racists back in their place. The destructive idea that there may be forced deportations would be rubbished in an instant.

If the Home Secretary is too busy to act, the Prime Minister should do so. I know he wants to run away from the responsibility for our leaving the European Union, but it was his referendum. He should have made sure that plans were in place for the immediate aftermath, no matter what the result. By abdicating his responsibility, the Prime Minister has left us all at the mercy of a Tory leadership campaign that is making us lurch to the right. It is our neighbours and friends from elsewhere in the EU who are suffering the most.

It is a national disgrace.

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