In an unprecedented open letter, business and union leaders urge United Kingdom prime minister Theresa May to confirm current EU migrants’ rights to remain in the UK after Brexit.
The TUC and the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) say securing European Union citizens’ right to remain after the UK leaves the EU “would provide much needed certainty to businesses, working people, their families and local communities.”
There are currently about 2.8 million EU citizens living and working in the UK.
The strongly-worded letter urges the prime minister to “demonstrate leadership” and unilaterally commit to giving EU migrants the right to remain, before the start of Brexit negotiations. It says:
“We have watched the government’s continuing refusal to guarantee their right to remain here after Brexit with significant and deepening concern.”
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady says it is the “right thing to do,” not only because it removes the hugely worrying uncertainty for working people and their families who now regard Britain as their home, but because it is also right for Britain.
“Continued doubt about the status of workers from the rest of the EU is bad for business, and it puts services like the NHS at risk,” she notes.
Adam Marshall, Director General of the BCC, which represents thousands of businesses of all sizes and sectors employing over 5 million workers, says:
“Business communities across the UK are deeply frustrated that ministers have declined to guarantee the residence rights of their EU employees and colleagues. Some firms are already losing key members of staff due to this avoidable uncertainty.”
EU migrants ‘not bargaining chips’
Echoing demands from the Three Million group, the letter calls on the prime minister not to use EU migrants as bargaining chips in a ploy to seek the same reassurances for UK citizens in Europe.
Instead, it urges May to make the commitment on EU migrants’ right to remain now and send a clear signal of goodwill to the EU that will benefit the UK’s negotiating position.
“Such a move before the start of a complex Brexit negotiation would be bold,” says Marshall, “but it is the right thing to do for the individuals affected, for the businesses that employ them, and for the economy as a whole.”
O’Grady says the government must also “crack down on the minority of employers who exploit migrants and undercut wages in the local community.”
There are currently about 2.8 million EU citizens living and working in the UK, and some 1.2 million UK citizens have chosen to live in another EU country.
The letter comes in the wake of a report from the think tank British Future on the future status of EU citizens in the UK post-Brexit. The report is the result of a 3-month inquiry by a panel of cross-party politicians, trade unionists, academics, and business leaders.
The British Future report also urges the government to make a “clear public commitment” that the 2.8 million Europeans in the UK can stay and should be offered permanent residence with the same health, social, and educational rights as British citizens.
The TUC and BCC open letter was published on 18 December, International Migrants Day.