Hundreds of thousands of people living in the capital could face the possibility of being forced apart from their partners if Britain votes to leave the European Union, Sian Berry, the Green Party’s candidate for Mayor of London has said.
An analysis by the Office for National Statistics shows there are more than 100,000 officially recorded couples in London where one British national is in a relationship with someone of another EU nationality. With polls showing a close race in the 23 June EU referendum and the Leave campaign backing an end to free movement, many British people could find their partners losing their right to live in the UK with them.
This week Michael Gove, a leading figure in the Leave campaign, laid out his vision for a post-Brexit EU. The Justice Secretary said he would like Britain to have free trade with the EU – but not freedom of movement, meaning many people currently here could lose their leave to remain.
Non-EU nationals who want a visa to remain in the UK must earn at least £35,000 or be refused the right to settle, according to a new threshold being rolled out by the Home Office. It is likely that this rule would apply to EU nationals after Brexit.
If Britain left the EU, their British partners might also lose the right to immigrate with them to their home country – forcing a long-distance relationship or a break-up.
The barriers would hit lovers in the capital, with its cosmopolitan and mixed-nationality population, the hardest. In total the ONS says there are 102,400 couples living in London with one EU and one UK national, out of a total of 1,771,200 couples recorded in the city in total. Even more people could be affected, however, as many young people in relationships have no need to officially register as couples.
The Independent has previously asked Downing Street whether the Government would push for freedom of movement in Brexit negotiations, but was referred to the Leave campaign.
Ms Berry warned that leaving the EU could have “emotional” consequences for Londoners. “For most Londoners, European citizens are intricately involved in our daily lives – as friends, colleagues and very often as life partners,” she said. “We’ve heard a lot about the economic and political arguments for the EU, but there has been far less focus in the media debate on the individual emotional consequences of withdrawal for a very large number of our citizens.
“These figures quantify for the first time just how many people would be thrown into uncertainty if we voted to withdraw and they suddenly had to worry about their partner’s leave to remain. We now know it’s a very significant proportion of London couples.”
A spokesperson for Leave.EU rubbished the claims that couples were at risk, citing a convention on international relations. “Absolutely nothing will happen to couples after Brexit. Their rights are guaranteed by the Vienna Convention, just as they were when the Czech Republic separated from Slovakia. It is grossly irresponsible of the press to peddle that there is ‘clearly some uncertainty’,” he said.
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