Call for ‘Common sense consensus’ on status of EU migrants after referendum

Posted on 10 April 2016

Organisations across the spectrum of views on immigration and the EU referendum debate joined forces today in a call for a ‘common sense consensus’ on the status of EU migrants already living in the UK after the referendum, writes Steve Ballinger.

There is significant uncertainty among businesses, referendum voters and EU migrants themselves about what would happen in the event of Brexit to EU citizens already living in the UK. That uncertainty also applies to the 1.2 million British citizens living in other EU countries like Spain, France, Italy and Cyprus.

New research published today finds that 83% of the public think the Government should clarify, before the referendum is held, what would happen to current EU migrants in Britain – and Britons living in the EU – if Britain votes to Leave. The online poll of over 1,000 people, by Voxter, also asked whether existing EU migrants should be able to stay in the UK if we leave the EU. Around a quarter of people said they didn’t know and of those who answered, two-thirds (67%) think they should be allowed to stay, with around a quarter (26%) feeling they would have to leave.

In an open letter, bringing together leading business group the Institute of Directors with thinktanks and advocacy groups from a range of perspectives on immigration and Europe, from Migration Watch to New Europeans, Migrant Voice and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Open Europe, Policy Exchange and British Future, they argue that the Government and the Leave and Remain campaigns should clarify whether current EU migrants in Britain, and British migrants living in other EU countries, would be able to continue to live and work there if the UK votes to leave the EU.

Making this consensus clear would provide important information to referendum voters, leading to a better-informed public debate – as well as reassuring EU migrants and the businesses who employ them.

The text of the joint letter is as follows:

 Immigration is one of the key issues being debated during the referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

Many people are not sure about what the referendum result would mean for the 3 million EU migrants currently in Britain, or for the 1.2 million British citizens living elsewhere in the EU. A significant number of British businesses would be disadvantaged by retrospective changes to their existing workforce.

In our view, the public debate about immigration and free movement should be about future immigration policy – so that future changes should not apply retrospectively to those currently exercising their free movement rights. Both current EU migrants in Britain and British migrants living in other EU member states should be able to continue to live and work in those countries. We believe there are principled, practical and legal reasons why this would be the most sensible approach in the event of a Leave vote – and one that would be agreed upon by advocates of a broad range of positions on both immigration and the EU. Indeed, our understanding is that the Vienna Convention on Treaties protects the acquired rights of individuals in situations of treaty change.

It would be good for the public debate about immigration if that consensus on this point was made clear before the referendum campaign.  We are therefore calling on the official campaigns and leading voices for both the Remain and the Leave side, and the major political parties, to clarify their position on this matter. The Government should make clear that its policy would be to protect the rights of EU citizens living and working in the UK and to seek reciprocal arrangements for UK citizens in other EU countries. 

Establishing that broad consensus ahead of the campaign would give us a better informed public debate about immigration in this referendum. It would not just reassure those who are directly affected but would also give the voters who will decide the outcome a clearer understanding about what is and what is not at stake on the referendum ballot paper.

Sunder Katwala, Director, British Future 

Simon Walker, Director General, Institute of Directors

Saira Grant, Chief Executive, JCWI

Nazek Ramadan, Director, Migrant Voice

Alp Mehmet, Vice-Chair, Migration Watch

Roger Casale, Founder and CEO, New Europeans

Stephen Booth, Co-Director, Open Europe

David Goodhart, Head of Demography Unit, Policy Exchange

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