In the immediate aftermath of the referendum result on June 23rd, one issue stood out as something that could and should be resolved as quickly as possible: the rights of EU nationals already living in the UK.
During the Brexit debate, there was a broad consensus that EU nationals living in Britain should not be affected by the referendum outcome.
Polling from July shows that 84% of people in the UK believe EU migrants already living in Britain should be welcome to stay after Brexit, including 77% of Leave voters. It is also clear that UK nationals currently living abroad in other EU countries should also be given a reciprocal right to stay in the place where they have made their new home.
Research from the Social Market Foundation has found that 590,000 EU nationals currently living in the UK would not meet the residency requirements to be automatically guaranteed the right to stay when Article 50 is triggered next year and Britain leaves the EU by 2019.
This means over half a million people continue to face uncertainty over their ability to stay in a country that many now call home.
The government must work with the EU to put this issue to bed.
Change Britain, the campaign to make a success of Brexit, launched in September and made this campaign our first priority. We urged the government to make clear that EU citizens currently living and working in the UK should be welcome to stay, and vice versa for UK citizens living in the EU.
To support the campaign we held events in more than fifty towns and cities, from Aberdeen and Aberystwyth, to Bridlington and Plymouth. Hundreds of volunteers – made up of leave and remain supporters – asked people to sign a ‘welcome to stay’ pledge.
There is overwhelming public support and a moral imperative for the UK and the EU to work up an agreement on this issue before the real negotiations get under way. Doing so would also set an open and friendly tone.
Since our ‘welcome to stay’ campaign, Change Britain has begun a series of listening exercises and focus groups across the country. Although we are only at the beginning of this process, a few things are clear: people want the UK to control its borders in order to manage the demand on public services and ensure the impact on communities is reasonable; they also want an immigration system that is fair and for the same process to apply to everyone regardless of whether they come from inside or outside the EU.
Measurement and evaluation