Labour MEPs: Today’s vote defending citizens’ rights is a warning shot the UK government must heed

Today’s European Parliament vote defending the rights of the 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK sends a warning shot across the bows of Boris Johnson’s government and must be heeded.

The resolution calls on the UK to opt for an administrative procedure which is declaratory in nature allowing for automatic recognition of the right to remain; physical documents as proof of a citizen’s right to reside in the UK; and a truly independent UK authority monitoring this process.

It comes ahead of the European Parliament’s final ratification vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement two weeks today.

Claude Moraes MEP, Labour’s spokesperson on citizens’ rights and member of the European Parliament civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, said:

“We are having this debate today because there is a well-founded concern that citizens’ rights might be endangered in the context of Brexit, in particular those of vulnerable people.

“One example of this is the recent decision by the prime minister to allow the independent UK monitoring authority to delegate powers to other authorities. This authority is the one responsible for overseeing the UK policy towards EU citizens and we are deeply concerned about this decision given the legal responsibilities for this, the uncertainties and the injustices. We must be aware this is the direction we are moving in. If we don’t get this right this will be a deep scar that undermines the future agreement.

“When we are talking about a physical document as proof of EU citizens’ right to reside in the UK, or need of a declaratory system, this is not about mere administrative details but about a system that would be part of the jurisprudence and moral narrative that is being built. That is why this resolution fires the warning shot that must be heard.”

Richard Corbett MEP, Labour’s Leader in the European Parliament, said:

“The parliament is right to debate this, ahead of its vote in two weeks’ time on the Brexit withdrawal agreement. It is right to do so because from the very start of this process, the Conservative government has made things difficult for citizens of other EU countries in Britain.

“First, it used them as bargaining chips in the negotiations, and now it is unwilling to provide a system that gives them full guarantees.

“Let me give just one example: the refusal to give a physical document. That seems designed to make it difficult for citizens to prove their status to prospective employers or to landlords. It seems designed to make life difficult for them.

“And now, Boris Johnson has an increased majority won, let us recall, on only 43 per cent of the vote, won despite 53 per cent voting for parties offering a new referendum on Brexit – but he will use this majority to harden his Brexit.

“We already have seen him put into British law a refusal to extend the negotiating period beyond a year. The UK government wants the shortest possible transition period making it impossible, frankly, to solve the plethora of problems Brexit will throw up, this included.

“Instead, the UK government must listen to this parliament and remember the European Parliament also needs to approve the withdrawal agreement, and above all, it should use the transition period to reflect again on the question of freedom of movement and let another generation enjoy the rights that our generation had the privilege to have.”

Jude Kirton-Darling MEP, Socialists and Democrats Group spokesperson on petitions, added:

“In the petitions committee we’ve heard the voices of citizens from across Europe desperate about what will happen to their rights, their lives, their jobs, their families.

“Most of these citizens, whether EU27 nationals in the UK or UK nationals in the rest of the EU for longer than 15 years, had no voice or vote in the decision that most acutely affects their lives.

“They are the children of this great continental peace project – taking up the dreams of the original founders of these institutions and building lives based on the common rights we share. We have above all a moral duty towards those who had no vote and are being further disenfranchised.

“We’ve consistently stated that guaranteeing citizens’ rights is a red-line for any Brexit deal. We know the outstanding problems – we must be brave and demand action before we vote on the deal.”