Government inaction is failing EU nationals and expats and fuelling extremism

Published at: July 04, 2016 8:55 AM

The pound has plummeted, hate crime has shot up. The future of our economy, immigration, security and the union are all up in the air. Just when we need a clear sense of direction from the Government, it is clear no one has a plan at all. 

The pound has plummeted, hate crime has shot up. The future of our economy, immigration, security and the union are all up in the air. Just when we need a clear sense of direction from the Government, it is clear no one has a plan at all. That’s not good enough. These are difficult waters ahead. We have to cope with uncertainty as the negotiations to establish a new relationship with Europe will take time. But we can’t just drift.

Ministers can’t duck all the problems or stop doing their jobs until the Tory leadership election is done. Some of the issues raised by the referendum can’t wait. And Labour has to get its act together fast, or we will let the Government off the hook and let the country down too.

For a start the Government should give some security to EU citizens already settled here and British expats currently living on the continent, whatever the new immigration rules turn out to be. Yesterday the Home Secretary wouldn't even confirm she wanted them to be able to stay. Last week, when I called on the Prime Minister to guarantee their rights, he too said they would have to wait until the negotiations.

But why? Families living and working here often for years, contributing to our communities, working hard in our public services and businesses shouldn't have their lives turned upside down by this insecurity and anxiety. I've heard stories of children with Polish or French parents being in tears at school, fearing they might have to leave.

Most troubling of all is the way this is being exploited by extremists. Polish community centres have been defaced, people shouted at in the street or abused on social media and told to “go home”, islamophobic abuse posted through letterboxes and banners calling for repatriation unfurled in town centres.

This kind of abuse and racism is vile - it isn't what the vast majority of Leave voters were voting for, and doesn't reflect British values. We shouldn't give repatriation campaigns any succour, or leave any uncertainty for them to manipulate and exploit.

From the Leave corner, Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Gisela Stuart, Boris Johnson and Douglas Carswell have all said EU citizens settled here should be able to stay. On the Remain side Nicola Sturgeon, Tim Farron, and Anna Sourbry have joined many Labour voices in calling for this to be sorted fast. The CBI, the TUC and 84% of the public all agree.

The Prime Minister should put a motion or revised immigration rules before Parliament before the summer recess so there can be no doubt, for the sake of community cohesion. And then get on with securing swift assurances from other EU countries for our expats too.

But the fact that they haven’t reflects the wider political crisis. Many more issues can’t wait until the main negotiations on trade and free movement - a plan for foreign investment, swift decisions on certain security and Europol measures, action to reunite our divided nation, investment in our towns not just our cities. And Parliament needs a stronger voice in the negotiations – including a new Joint Committee to scrutinise the plans.

It is shocking that the Leave campaigners didn’t have a plan, and deeply troubling that the Government is still so far from pulling one together. But there is a Labour leadership vacuum too. Our party needs our own plan – including holding the Government to account to get the best and fairest deal for Britain, standing up for communities that could be hardest hit, ensuring workers rights aren’t cut back, standing firm against hate crime and helping reunite the country.

But like so many others, I do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn is able to do this, or to hold together the strong Labour team that we need at such a serious time, and I hope he will stand down. Otherwise, we are leaving the future of Britain to a fight between Michael Gove and Theresa May.

All parties are letting the public down at this crucial moment. For the sake of our country and democracy, we need to step up and sort this out.


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