Brexit: Heads of 35 Oxford colleges tell Theresa May to guarantee rights of EU workers

Top academics warn of 'enormous damage' if EU staff forced to leave

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EU citizens must be allowed to stay in the UK after Brexit, the heads of 35 Oxford University colleges have said in a plea to the Government to prevent an exodus of valuable academic staff.

World-leading institutions like Oxford will suffer “enormous damage” if European lecturers, researchers and support staff lose the right to work in Britain, they warned.

Some academics already planning to leave due to uncertainty over their employment status after Britain leaves the European Union, said vice-chancellor Professor Louise Richardson and the leaders of all but three Oxford colleges in a letter to The Times.

The top scholars urged MPs to back a House of Lords amendment to the Brexit bill which guarantees the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.

“Oxford University relies on EU citizens as lecturers, researchers and support staff. If they lost their right to work here, our university would suffer enormous damage which, given our role in research, would have reverberations across the UK,” they wrote.

“Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law; some are worried, some are already making plans to leave.

“Many of our staff do not know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK.”

David Davis: Government has Brexit contingency plan

MPs are expected to reject the changes made to the Brexit bill by peers to guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK and ensure Parliament has a vote on any deal when it returns to the House of Commons on Monday.

The bill will then go back to the Lords and, providing peers allow it to pass, the Prime Minister could trigger Article 50 and Britain's divorce from the EU as early as Tuesday.

Around a fifth of UK academics are from the EU, with more than 22,800 EU citizens working in Russell Group institutions alone.

According to a recent survey by the University and College Union, three quarters of EU academics working in Britain said they were “more likely to consider leaving” the country after the Brexit vote.

The Oxford college leaders said they were raising “real and immediate concerns”.

“There is no public or parliamentary intent to harm our EU colleagues: that can be translated into reassurance by accepting the Lords amendment. We ask MPs to vote accordingly and join us in pressing for reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals in the EU,” they wrote.

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