Nearly 1 million EU citizens live and work in London, as part of exercising their EU citizenship rights they may have voted in the mayoral elections and many are implicated in the economic and other life of the capital. NE, as part of its work championing the rights of EU citizens has been engaged in a Best Brexit project looking at what people in the UK and elsewhere need from Brexit.
Part of this work led us to approach the London Assembly, with a view to finding out how they were preparing for Brexit and supporting EU Londoners following the Referendum.
The Mayor had already been outspoken with his campaigns London is open for business and EU Londoners are welcome. As someone actively involved with the Department for Exiting the EU, he needs to be well informed. A primary concern of ours was that there was no clear picture of the challenges facing EU Londoners. Whilst various London based industries have the wherewithal to make their case to the Mayor and the Assembly, we felt that was not the case for ordinary citizens so we asked the committee for Exiting the EU, who advise the Mayor, to consider the situation of EU citizens in London.
On the 19th July, the Exiting the EU committee of the London Assembly, chaired by Len Duval, was convened as a public meeting in City Hall to gather evidence from academics, community workers and EU Londoners, many of whom work in charities, the health service and local government.
The event was live streamed and attended by 70-80 people, as well as the members of the committee. The meeting offered an opportunity for a frank exchange of views and many issues faced by EU Londoners were aired.
Many expressed the view that they felt unwelcome, anxious about speaking another language in public places, the rise in hate crime in the capital, as elsewhere, was noted.
The anxiety and genuine distress caused by the uncertainty affecting the nearly 1 million EU Londoners was noted, there was a specific focus on groups not fully exercising their Treaty rights, students, family members, the self-employed or have a disability, being adversely effected.
Many concerns were raised in the two hours, people working in the fields of health and welfare. People expressed concern about their employment, housing and finance. People spoke of having difficulty in securing loans and mortgages and the impact on those seeking to change jobs or promotion where employers were cautious about employing non-UK nationals after Brexit.
People expressed deep concerns about the functioning of the immigration system even those who knew what solutions they wanted were unable to obtain it for various reasons.
There was general agreement that the immigration system, as it operates currently would have great difficulty processing a large group of individuals requiring Permanent Residence, Citizenship or some other form of residential status.
It was also remarked that there is a need for more positive images concerning EU citizens and to counteract the often-negative discourse promoted by the media in general.
There was a focus on information and support, with a representative from Brent Council describing services piloted in Brent supporting individuals applying for UK citizenship or Permanent Residence.
The impact on vulnerable groups was highlighted, where one EU citizen had been unable to access a citizenship interview as premises were not adapted for wheel chair users. The focus on economic activity alone as a determinant of ‘residence ‘was a concern when individuals exercising EU Treaty rights had been encouraged to move as families to the UK.
The meeting was both respectful and productive with those in attendance feeling that their concerns had been aired and heard, the chair gave assurance that the committee would prepare a letter/report for the mayor to apprise him of the issues raised and encourage him to act in certain areas.
The letter was duly prepared and helpfully focused on four areas;
The committee called on the mayor inter alia to
- Support streamlining Home Office systems to ensure a smooth transition to any new arrangements.
- Encourage London boroughs to undertake a mapping exercise to understand how many EU citizens are living in the borough and what advice and support would be helpful, particularly for those with disabilities or vulnerable.
- Identify resources to put in place support and information to assist EU citizens needing to understand their situation or apply for citizenship/residence.
- Improving the perception of Londoners in regard EU citizens through positive messaging and imagery.
Although New Europeans felt the report did not go far enough, in that it did not suggest a Unilateral guarantee of rights for all EU Londoners, we were encouraged by the seriousness of the committee’s approach.
We welcomed the campaign for encouraging a positive view of EU citizens and the focus on advice and support for all EU citizens particularly those with disabilities and from vulnerable groups, who might find themselves in a difficult situation because of unthinking institutional behavior.
We will continue to work with the Assembly and London boroughs in whatever way we canto mitigate difficulties and promote helpful support.