By Jake Roberts
Conservative MP for Guildford Anne Milton is to be invited to publicly defend her opposition to EU citizens’ right to remain in the UK after Brexit, following a motion passed at Exec last night.
Noting the integral role EU students play in university life, the motion commits the University of Surrey Students’ Union (USSU) to writing and sending an open letter to the MP “detailing the USSU’s unconditional support for the EU national students’ right to stay and asking her to change her position at the next available opportunity”. Should her position not change, which is expected, she will be invited to publicly present and debate her opposition to EU citizens’ right to remain, in person, to Surrey students.
The motion follows a failed attempt by MPs earlier this year to protect the residence rights of EU citizens and their family members in the UK after Brexit. In February, a new clause was proposed to be added to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill seeking to ensure their rights of residency did not change following the UK’s departure from the EU in two years’ time. Owing to Conservative opposition, this amendment failed. Mrs. Milton was one of the many Conservative MPs to vote against securing such residence rights.
The motion originally argued for excluding any MP that voted against this amendment from any Union-run event, until EU citizens’ right to stay were to be guaranteed or the MP were to publicly apologise for voting against the amendment. However, following concerns about “burning bridges” with Mrs. Milton, the Exec committee voted to amend this, resulting in the final version of the motion as detailed above.
Currently, the status of EU students and citizens in the UK is in limbo. Under EU law, EU nationals and their family members have the right to move and reside freely in any EU state they wish. Some 3.2 million EU nationals take advantage of this in the UK, as do 1.2 million Britons living abroad in EU countries. However, following the UK’s withdrawal from the EU this will no longer automatically apply, and it is up to the UK government to secure these residence rights – something they have yet to do. In January, a Home Office letter stated that unilaterally agreeing to protect EU citizens’ right to stay in the UK would diminish the UK’s ‘negotiating capital’ in Brexit negotiations.
The Government’s refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ right to stay has generated significant amounts of anxiety and insecurity among the 3.2 million of them currently residing in the UK. Many, including EU students in the UK, fear potential deportation, refused re-entry or lengthy legal battles. This fear was heightened after a briefing by a lawyer specialising in immigration law claimed that the Home Office acquired controversial new enforcement powers against EU citizens from February.
The motion, therefore, aims to signal to EU students that they are welcome on Surrey’s campus, and hold Mrs. Milton accountable for her opposing position. A chance for Surrey students to scrutinise the motion and check up on the Union’s progress on the matter will arise at this year’s All Members Meeting (AMM), to occur after the Easter break.
The final version of the motion can be found here when uploaded by the Union. You need your university login to access it.