Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, has demanded that the two million EU nationals residing in the UK are given guarantees that they will have the right to stay indefinitely.
Doubts over their future have been sparked by the limited assurances so far provided by the prime minister, David Cameron, and the frontrunner in the race to replace him, the home secretary, Theresa May.
On his resignation, Cameron said only that the status of EU nationals in the UK would not change while negotiations over Britain’s future relationship with the EU were live, a pledge that was repeated by May in her leadership launch.
The Lib Dem leader, whose party has committed to standing in the next election on the platform of securing Britain’s place in the EU, said the government needed to offer complete guarantees to those living in the UK.
“There is real and legitimate upset and worry from European citizens across our country about their long-term status in the UK,” said Farron. “The Liberal Democrats will not stand by while our communities are divided by uncertainty. Regardless of the outcome of any negotiations with Europe around Brexit, EU citizens who have made Britain their home must be allowed to stay.
“To Europeans whose lives are now rooted in the UK, my message is simple: the Liberal Democrats stand with you, and will speak for you. To the French family raising their children in Manchester, to the Polish mother working to pay her mortgage in Portsmouth, to the German graduate starting his business venture in Birmingham – the Liberal Democrats value you, we will stand by you, and we will champion your future here in Britain.”
Farron, who joined tens of thousands on a pro-EU march in London on Saturday, said that the government’s current position was both inhumane and would damage the British economy.
“There are plenty of decent people who voted for Leave who do not want to see Europeans who live in the UK in our communities forced to uproot their lives,” he said. “There must be a cast-iron guarantee that their futures can be in the UK, the country they now call home.
“We are the party who recognises that British people are compassionate and open-hearted.”
Speaking at a “March for Europe” rally in central London on Saturday, Farron said that his party accepted the result of the referendum but that he would continue to argue in favour of membership of the EU.
He said: “We accept the result, I personally know people who voted leave and it broke my heart but now is a time for healing.
“They have their view and I have mine, and friends, I have not changed my view - I am a proud internationalist, a proud pro European.”
The march organiser Keiran MacDermott said he hoped to stop the triggering of Article 50, which begins the process of withdrawal from the EU.
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