On 6 July, Labour held a debate in Parliament to demand support for EU nationals currently in the UK. Following home secretary Theresa May’s refusal to guarantee the right to remain after Brexit, the motion requests that ministers “commit with urgency” to confirming the legal status of European migrants. It passed with 245 votes to 2. Crucially, though, something was missing – the actual government.
— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) July 6, 2016
With the exception of Tory rebels led by Boris Johnson, Conservative MPs abstained from the vote. Immigration minister James Brokenshire described the government as “unable to support” the motion, harking back to May’s refusal to commit to assurances for migrants. Instead, she had said, such matters would be “part of the negotiation” between the UK and the EU.
May was notably absent from the debate, a fact shadow home secretary Andy Burnham described as an “abdication of leadership”. He accused her of trying to “woo” Conservative Party members as part of her leadership bid.
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Johnson said the fact that the status of EU nationals had been called into question was “very disappointing”, in direct opposition to the line of his party. He insisted that the Vote Leave campaign had always sought to reassure those people from the EU living and working in the UK that they could remain, arguing:
Not just for moral or humanitarian reasons but for very, very sound economic reasons as well. They are welcome. They are necessary. They are a vital part of our society.
Other Conservative MPs who have criticised the government’s failure to act include Anne Main, who has called it a “catastrophic error of judgement” that the conversation even needs to be had.
Burnham further argued that the government’s refusal to offer guarantees for EU nationals is causing “uncertainty” for many families and creating a “hostile climate” of “xenophobic and racist abuse” on the streets.
Whether it be for humanitarian reasons or the very utilitarian economical reasoning that Johnson mentioned, it should be clear that the status of EU migrants in the UK has significant ramifications on the lives of many. By refusing to take a stance, the Tories have made their priorities abundantly clear.
Write to your MP and ask them to commit to guaranteeing the right of remain for EU migrants.
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