Tommy Sheppard: Put minds of European friends in Capital at rest

The Brexit vote raises many issues, but one in particular concerns Tommy Sheppard '“ and that's the status of EU nationals

Thursday, 21st July 2016, 3:24 pm
Updated Thursday, 21st July 2016, 4:27 pm
Tommy Sheppard MP. Picture; Philip Stanley Dickson

It’s just four weeks since people voted to leave the European Union in a UK-wide referendum and chaos reigns. It’s clear no-one, least of all the British government, had the first clue about what should happen if the vote went the way it did. The Scottish Government is fighting to protect Scotland’s position in Europe following a huge vote in favour here. The best brains in the country have been commissioned to see how we can keep our Scottish passports whilst being part of the UK. The new Prime Minister has said that any ideas they come up with can feed into the UK Brexit planning.

But whatever solution is proposed it will require changing the relationship between Scotland and the UK and that will require political will at Westminster. If that’s not forthcoming, then we may still face being dragged out of Europe against our will. In those circumstances the only way to maintain our relationship with the rest of Europe may be to revisit 2014’s decision and consider whether we should become an independent country.

To be clear, the people with most influence on whether that happens are those in the UK government. Theresa May and her ministers will have to decide whether they would prefer a new relationship within the UK to allow Scotland to remain European – or force people to choose between the EU and the UK. But that’s for the future. Meanwhile, uncertainty rules and it is worst of all for our neighbours from other EU countries who have made their homes here.

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The Leave campaign promised that EU nationals would be allowed to stay in the UK in the event of Brexit. Yet Theresa May has refused to give a guarantee that this will happen – suggesting that the rights of EU nationals here will be part of a deal to be struck about UK nationals abroad.

Using our European friends and neighbours as a bargaining chip in this way is disgraceful. They are not holidaymakers: they have made their lives here – they are a vital component of our thriving capital city. And surely the best way to protect Brits abroad is to demonstrate that our European neighbours are welcome here. Following the EU referendum result I have been contacted by many constituents who were born in other EU countries voicing their alarm. They just don’t know what their status will be in the future. Is it worth seeking a new job? Taking out a mortgage? Moving the kids to a different school?

All Scottish MPs bar one (guess which?) are demanding EU nationals in the UK before June 23 be given leave to remain now.

I have a particular concern about our European neighbours who have been here for more than five years. At the moment, people in this position can get permanent residency but if we leave the EU that will not give them the same rights as their European passport did – as a result, many may wish to seek dual citizenship.

I have written to Robert Goodwill, the new Immigration Minister, asking him to cut through this confusion and bring in a new fast-tracked process where EU nationals who have been here for more than five years can apply for British citizenship. The procedure should be streamlined, waiving some of the burden of documentary evidence if it’s clear people have been paying tax here for five years or more. It should also cost the same as applying for permanent residence rather than £1000+ it costs at the moment.

This might go some way towards alleviating the fears of deportation many of our friends now have and be a gesture of goodwill and generosity from a country many fear has taken a turn towards narrow-minded isolation.

Tommy Sheppard is SNP MP for Edinburgh East