As the Brexit Bill passes through government, it is more important than ever that we celebrate the diversity of our city and ensure that it remains open and inclusive to all.
Late last night, peers in the House of Lords voted to pass the EU withdrawal bill unamended late last night – meaning that they also agreed not to reinsert guarantees over the status of EU residents in the UK into the bill, or to challenge the Commons again over the issues of whether Parliament should be able to veto the terms of exit once they’ve been negotiated with the EU.
Labour’s spokeswoman Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town attacked the Lib Dems for not being responsible and “falsely raising” people’s hopes on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK.
Liberal Democrat Lord Oates said the government had failed to make concessions over the position of EU nationals living in the UK and called on peers to insist on changes.
Whilst it is now important to accept the democratic will of the people and to move on with the negotiations of Brexit, this rejection of the amendments are deeply disappointing. Across London, 600,000 of the five million jobs in London are held by workers born in EU countries, and EU workers make up a third of the employees in the hospitality and tech sectors. Overall EU citizens make up 12% of London’s population.
The 82,000 EU nationals living in my boroughs of Hackney, Islington and Waltham Forest make a valuable contribution to our community and are vital to our economy. A ‘hard Brexit’ would do untold damage to the prosperity of our city. I must agree with the Mayor Sadiq Khan that the British people did not vote for a weaker economy, worsening living standards of a less competitive environment for trade, investment and industry. All of these things are improved by the presence of hard-working EU citizens, many of whom have lived in London for a long time. We agree that London and Britain’s global competitiveness and influence in the world have been built on our nation’s historic openness, rich culture and progressive values.
That is why I am disheartened to hear that the original amendment to the Brexit bill, which would guarantee that the rights of EU citizens who contribute to the fabric of London life, was defeated. I am also concerned about the fact that an amendment which would enforce a parliamentary vote on the terms of our withdrawal from the EU was also crushed. It appears that the current government is trying to quash further debate about Brexit and to push through a Brexit that doesn’t work for all Londoners.
The Government must consider London’s needs when it decides on new immigration rules after the UK leaves the EU, so London’s economy does not suffer. A fast-track visa system for highly-skilled EU workers is critical and any new system should recognise the need for a transitional period as it is not possible simply to fill the jobs with UK workers in the short term. It is important that the opposition continues to press for the rights of EU nationals to be prioritised and for the maximum parliamentary oversight of the process. Most of all, it is important that we make it clear to EU citizens contributing to our vibrant and diverse city that they are welcome and #LondonIsOpen.
You can watch Sadiq Khan’s official #EuropeanLondoners video here.