EU citizens respond to Theresa May's letter asking them to stay: 'It's too late, we're still leaving'

Letters from Prime Minister and Home Secretary come 'too little too late' and serve only as 'insulting' last-ditch attempt to prevent mass exodus, EU nationals tell The Independent

May Bulman
Social Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 20 December 2017 13:48 GMT
A "Remain" supporter, her face painted to resemble the EU flag, protests in London on July 2
A "Remain" supporter, her face painted to resemble the EU flag, protests in London on July 2 (AP)

EU nationals have said letters from the Prime Minister and Home Secretary urging them to stay in the UK come “too little too late” and serve only as an "insulting" last-ditch attempt to prevent gaps in the workforce.

Theresa May published a letter for EU citizens last week saying she "greatly values" their contribution to the country, urging: “I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay.”

Amber Rudd echoed this in a letter on Tuesday claiming that the Government is “proud” that they have built their lives in Britain and pledging that the country will remain an “open and diverse” place for them to live.

But EU nationals have told The Independent the letters make “no difference whatsoever” and appear to be merely “ticking the boxes” in trying to prevent an exodus of European workers, without offering anything in terms of their rights.

The letter from the Home Secretary, sent to more than 120,000 recipients on the Home Office's mailing list, reads: “I’m proud that so many EU citizens like yourself have built your lives in the UK and made it your home.

“We value your contribution which is why the Government put safeguarding your rights as the first priority in the Brexit negotiations. I am absolutely delighted that we have now reached an agreement with the EU that does this.

"I know that at times you’ve had an anxious wait while the fine details were ironed out, but we wanted to get it right and we have always had you at the forefront of our thoughts.”

The open letter from Theresa May meanwhile read: "I am proud that more than three million EU citizens have chosen to make your homes and livelihoods here in our country.

"I greatly value the depth of the contributions you make – enriching every part of our economy, our society, our culture and our national life. I know our country would be poorer if you left and I want you to stay."

Myriam Kniveton, 62, who lives in Bristol after coming to the UK from Paris 38 years ago, and is moving back to France next month as a result of the Brexit vote, said the letters felt like an attempt by the Home Office to "appease" Europeans before it is ready to "kick them out".

“The letters have made no difference whatsoever. I'm still leaving,” she told The Independent.

(Myriam Kniveton (Myriam Kniveton)

“Nothing has changed in terms of what the offer is. We’ve still got to go out of our way and apply for something we never needed before. We will have to reapply every so many years. The reliance on the European Court of Justice is time-limited.

“It’s too little too late. It’s just ticking the boxes. It felt to me that it was a reaction to the Government’s fear that everyone will go and they will be left with big problems in the workforce.

“It didn’t feel like a genuine interest in how we felt, or a genuine care for our situation. It felt like ‘we’d better do something because we don’t want them all to go’. It’s just an attempt to appease us to keep us there until they’re ready to kick us out.”

Ms Kniveton said the EU referendum changed England “overnight”, creating a hostile environment for EU citizens. "After the Brexit vote, it felt like England was a different country. It wasn’t the country I came to 38 years ago. We’re now the scapegoats,” she said.

“We’ve seen what’s been happening in America, the rise in populism and everything. I can see that happening in the UK, and I don’t want to be in a place where I’m looking over my back all the time.”

Other EU citizens in Britain expressed their disapproval of the letter on a Facebook forum run by campaign group the3million, with one describing it as “Insulting, patronising and hypocritical, adding: “This Government cannot be trusted”.

Another wrote: “I was furious this morning when I read it - the disparity between her words and the current actions of the home office practice is frightening.”

Responding to the letter from Amber Rudd on Tuesday night, the3million released a statement stating that it is unlikely to reassure EU nationals before Christmas.

“We say the optimistic narrative developed by the Government is well-meaning, but the actions of the Home Office tell a different story,” the statement read.

“Only last week, the High Court found the policy of deporting homeless EU citizens was unlawful and discriminatory. So how can we trust the Home Secretary with our lives after Brexit if this continues while we are still in the EU?”

An agreement reached between the UK and the EU last week means that EU citizens who arrive by 29 March 2019 and have been continuously and lawfully living in the UK for five years will be able to apply to stay indefinitely by getting settled status.

Those who have been in the country for less than five years before the exit date will be able to apply to remain until they have reached the five-year threshold.

But the agreement has not reassured many EU citizens living in the UK, who raised concern that the concessions come with a "time limit" and that uncertainty remains over who will qualify for the lesser rights post-Brexit.

Nicolas Hatton, chair of the3million, said after the agreement was made: “Our rights should not have an expiry date. More worryingly, there is still no clarity around the registration criteria for these rights.

"There are a huge number of people still in the dark about whether they will qualify or not. Hundreds and thousands of them might get a letter that they have to go.”

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