Theresa May came under more pressure in the European Parliament last week to guarantee the right of EU citizens to stay in the UK after Brexit, when MEPs raised questions about breaches of existing rights to free movement.
According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 3.1 million EU citizens living in the UK at the end of 2015. MEPs highlighted the growing number of complaints from EU nationals about harassment and delay on the part of British authorities, in contravention of EU law.
Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, who represents the south east of England, referred to “heartfelt emails” from people in her constituency. “They pay their taxes and they contribute to our society and the economy,” she protested. “They are doctors, nurses and teachers. They are not political bargaining chips. They are worried and fearful. The threats from Mrs May’s government must be stopped now.” She raised specific cases, including an Italian woman, resident for a decade and married to a British citizen, now threatened with deportation.
Dutch MEP Jeroen Lenaers said EU nationals were being sent letters telling them to prepare for departure. “It’s not global Britain, it’s certainly not noble Britain. It’s little Britain at its very smallest,” he declared.
Arguing that European citizens are being used deliberately as “pawns” in Brexit negotiations, Labour MEP Richard Corbett denounced the strategy as “a disgrace”. “We shall fight it all the way,” he added. Claude Moraes, for Labour, said 28% of EU citizens’ applications for residence since the referendum have been rejected or declared invalid, while the 85-page form candidates are expected to complete “triggers delay and panic”.
Green MEP Jean Lambert condemned rising racism and xenophobia in the UK, and insisted that the British government could resolve people’s concerns at once by confirming their right to stay. But Conservative Anthea McIntyre claimed it was other Member States at fault.
Several MEPs urged the European Commission to launch legal proceedings against the UK for infringements of EU law. “Once Article 50 is triggered, will you take action to ensure the Free Movement Directive is properly applied?” Claude Moraes asked EU Justice Commissioner Vera Jourova.
“EU law continues to apply in the UK until it is no longer a member,” stated Jourova. The Commission had no access to data on expulsions and appeals, but was assessing complaints and would take “all necessary action”, she concluded.