The third sector must keep fighting for the rights of EU citizens

October 24, 2017 : John Downie

The third sector must keep fighting for the rights of EU citizens

When a cross-party group of MEPs warned Home Secretary Amber Rudd that the UK Government’s plans to force EU nationals to add their names to a register in the transition period immediately after Brexit would be illegal, you do continue to wonder at the UK Government’s appalling attitude and approach to our fellow citizens.

Press coverage before, during and since the EU referendum has – from some quarters – been highly critical towards the very concept of immigration and the presence of EU nationals in this country. In many cases, this coverage has been irresponsible and inflammatory and created a deeply hostile environment for EU citizens living in the UK.

The policy positioning of UK Government departments will be translated as cold, unwelcoming and deliberately confusing. That the future rights of EU have not been more clearly outlined has led many EU migrants to read between the lines and draw conclusions that they are not valued.

Alyn Smith MEP recently pointed out that ‘EU citizens are not bargaining chips,’ following Prime Minister Theresa May’s letter to EU nationals. which opens with the line: “When we started this process, some accused us of treating EU nationals as bargaining chips. Nothing could have been further from the truth.”

She’s clearly forgotten – unlike the rest of us – that last year Liam Fox stated that a key element in the UK Government’s negotiating strategy was based on the premise that the uncertain status of EU nationals living in the UK – as he said it was “one of our main cards” in the Brexit negotiations.

With that type rhetoric, it’s not a surprise that according to the Office for National Statistics, 117,000 EU nationals left the UK in 2016 – the year of the referendum – a 36% increase on 2015. Despite not legally being required to leave Scotland, many EU nationals no longer feel welcome or confident enough to stay in Scotland long term.

At SCVO our position is clear. Scotland’s economy, public services and third sector are strengthened thanks to the contribution made by our valued EU colleagues, and we believe it is crucial that they are supported to continue doing the great work they do, particularly within the third sector.

The cross-party group of MEP’s timely letter points out that Article 26 of the Freedom of Movement Directive makes it very clear that residency cards are for everyone, or no one. In effect, you register everyone or no-one. On this issue, it’s also worth remembering The European Parliament will have a veto on any withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU, including the terms of a transition period.

At SCVO we strongly support the Scottish Government for relentlessly championing the rights and status of EU citizens living in Scotland. We also know that know third sector organisations are looking to take the action required to offer at least some certainty and support to colleagues who have come from other EU nations.

It has been to the UK’s shame that no clear and definitive statement or decision has been made to offer peace of mind and certainty to EU citizens who have chosen to make Scotland their home.

It is long overdue but it’s now time for the UK Government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.

Important: Opinions expressed by bloggers are their own and don’t represent those of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations.

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