Leading figures from the leave and remain campaigns have called on the Tory leadership candidates to make an “unequivocal statement” that EU citizens living in the UK are welcome after a spate of hate crimes since the referendum.
There are between 2 million and 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and 1.2 million British citizens living in other EU countries. Uncertainty and anxiety among EU nationals living in Britain have spread following limited assurances so far provided by the prime minister, David Cameron, and the home secretary, Theresa May, currently the frontrunner to succeed him.
During his resignation, Cameron said 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 repeated by May in her leadership launch.
The call for assurances to EU citizens came in a letter to the Sunday Telegraph signed by leave proponents including theConservative MEP Daniel Hannan, Labour’s Gisela Stuart and Ukip’s Douglas Carswell, as well as remain supporters including Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady. Academics and industry figures also signed the letter, voicing fears over possible disruption to services and businesses.
“We would urge the government, opposition parties and every candidate standing to be the next Conservative party leader – and hence prime minister – to make an unequivocal statement that EU migrants currently living in the UK are welcome here, and that changes would apply only to new migrants,” the letter said.
By honouring a clear commitment made by the Vote Leave campaign to protect the status of EU migrants, the letter said the UK “puts itself in a strong position to seek a reciprocal commitment from other EU members that EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in other EU countries should be able to continue to live and work in those countries”.
Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, has demanded that EU nationals living in the UK be given guarantees that they will have the right to stay indefinitely. Farron, who joined tens of thousands on a pro-EU march in London on Saturday, said 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.”
Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has made similar demands, calling for immediate guarantees on the residency status and rights of EU nationals living in Scotland. She made the demand in letters to Cameron and the five Tory candidates, saying it was imperative the UK government respected the rights of Scotland’s 173,000 EU citizens.
Honouring a commitment to EU nationals would send a message, said the signatories of Sunday’s letter. They wrote: “It would also send a clear statement to the extreme minority – who appear to believe they have licence to attack and harass migrants – that the British public finds their views repugnant and unwelcome in our society.”
New research from ICM for the independent thinktank British Future finds that 84% of the British public supports letting EU migrants stay – including 77% of leave voters. Among Conservatives, support for protecting the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe is even higher, at 85%, with 78% of Ukip supporters in agreement.
Just 16% of the public think EU citizens should be required to leave the UK and that UK citizens in Europe should return home, with 23% of leave voters and 15% of Conservatives agreeing.
Figures released by the police show hate crime rose fivefold to 331 recorded incidents during the week after the referendum. A nationwide strategy to challenge the surge in racism will be launched on Monday by the anti-fascist organisation Hope Not Hate. The initiative will involve more than 100 unity meetings in identified racist “hotspot” communities.
Nick Stevens, South Yorkshire organiser of Hope Not Hate, said the strategy was particularly needed in traditionally Labour-voting areas where the anti-immigrant message promoted by the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, had resonated.
A new online tool which uses Google maps to track racist incidents has registered more than 200 incidents from Cornwall to Glasgow. Incidents reported to iStreetwatch range from Swastika graffiti in Northern Ireland to an Oxford estate agent calling a Muslim family to ask whether they planned to put their house on the market given the referendum result.
“I was horrified and scared when I learned about the growing number of racist and xenophobic incidents across the UK. Only a fraction of the incidents are being reported in the media and very few to the police. I want to raise awareness about the number of people who now feel afraid on our streets and map areas where people at risk can feel safest,” said the site’s founder, Hanna Thomas.
This article was written by Mark Tran, for theguardian.com on Sunday 3rd July 2016 12.25 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010