Lords Brexit reports: QC advises making file of documents as Lords committee she chairs calls on PM to safeguard rights of EU nationals in Britain
EU nationals living in Britain should make a file of documents that prove they have lived in the country since before the June referendum, according to the chair of a House of Lords committee.
Helena Kennedy QC suggested collecting together bills, rental or home ownership documents, employment paperwork, or evidence of appointments for those who do not have jobs.
“Make a file now with proof of your presence [and] supporting letters from people who’ve known you, you have taught you or who you have had business dealings with,” said Lady Kennedy in an interview with the Guardian.
The peer chairs a Lords EU subcommittee that has just completed an investigation into the “acquired rights” of Europeans in the UK and Britons living in continental Europe. She warned of deep anxiety among EU citizens in the UK but also British nationals living on the continent.
After hearing from a series of experts, ambassadors from across Europe and Britons living overseas, the group will on Wednesday call for a unilateral undertaking to immediately guarantee to safeguard the rights of all EU nationals in the UK.
Saying that Theresa May has a “heavy moral obligation” to make the first move, it also warns:
- Question marks over the rights of EU nationals to live in the UK “may be fuelling xenophobic sentiment”, as suggested by the Bulgarian ambassador.
- People living in the UK for more than five years may not be eligible for permanent residency because of the little-known requirement for students and non-workers to have private healthcare.
- Uncertainty is making Britain a less attractive destination, which could widen gaps in key parts of the labour market, including medical and financial services.
Its report also concludes that international law may not provide much reassurance for EU citizens. “The evidence we received makes very clear that the doctrine of acquired rights under public international law will provide little, if any, effective protection for former EU rights once the UK withdraws from the EU,” it says.
Evidence heard by the peers on the EU justice subcommittee suggested that asking those who qualified to remainin Britain to apply for permanent residence would result in a “vast” administrative burden on government.
Instead the committee urged the government to consider a simple “new status” for all Europeans in Britain before a set date.
Although its report does not suggest EU citizens collect their documents together, Kennedy told the Guardian it would be sensible to argue that people should make arrangements, especially if they did not have a paper trail through employment.
She said the rights that experts had warned the committee about included being able to travel, set up businesses, be in employment, qualify for benefits, access education and healthcare, and retain a pension.
“Pensions are one of the great sources of anxiety because will you be able to transport it? There is a lot of talk about ‘passporting’ of the financial services at a grand level, but what about the passporting of people’s ordinary rights?” she said.
The prime minister has expressed a desire to protect the rights of EU citizens living in Britain, but has said that it must be part of reciprocal deal in which Britons on the continent were offered the same protections.
Kennedy, a leading human rights lawyer, said May had a political desire to take action. The peer added that she believed the government wanted to secure a deal but that the best action would be to take the first step.
“It should be done unilaterally. They should say, ‘We will protect everyone at this moment of time,’” Kennedy said, arguing that would earn goodwill.
She said that to avoid an influx of people moving to Britain , the cut off deadline should either be the June referendum, or the moment at which May makes a declaration.
Kennedy spoke about representations to her committee: including employers in the care industry who asked whether they ought to be advising EU workers to return home; European citizens who were asking about their children entering secondary school; and others who had entered British saving schemes.
She also talked of a Briton with a Polish wife, whose widowed mother was nervous about a move to the UK because she feared losing access to healthcare.
Kennedy also pointed to fears listed in the report submitted by Britons living in continental Europe. They include the state pension concerns of a 55-year old woman with disabilities in Frankfurt, concerns about a marital break up in France and the right to continue working as a doctor, and worries about access to healthcare in Greece.
Her committee’s next job is to look at the impact of Brexit on other issues including the family courts, and how divorce proceedings and custody arrangements might be affected.
Sarah Ludford, who sits on the committee and is the Liberal Democrats’ Brexit spokeswoman in the Lords, added: “The government has a clear moral as well as economic responsibility to commit now to guaranteeing the rights of all EU nationals living in the UK.
“These people have built their lives in Britain and are our neighbours, colleagues and friends, they must not be reduced to pawns in the government’s Brexit negotiations.”
Lady Ludford said a unilateral move would foster reciprocity towards UK citizens and would lift a “cloud of uncertainty over some 5 million people”. – The Guardian