Deportation fear if Brexit fails to protect EU citizens’ rights, Tower Hamlets mayor warns
- Credit: Mike Brooke
The fight is on to defend the rights of 41,000 non-British EU citizens’ living in the East End who could face deportation if Brexit goes ahead.
Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs has stepped into the ring demanding the prime minister takes their rights out of any negotiations if he is forced back to Brussels to renegotiate following his Commons defeat trying to push through "no deal" Brexit.
The mayor has sent a letter to Downing Street to denounce using EU nationals as bargaining chips.
"Our 41,000 EU citizens in the East End deserve certainty about their future," the mayor insists.
"It's grotesquely unfair for their rights to be used as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations.
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"We need their rights to be enshrined in law as a matter of urgency."
Boris Johnson signed a pledge during his 2016 EU referendum campaign promising "no change for those citizens already lawfully resident". They would "automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain".
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But the government's "settled status" scheme where EU nationals applying to remain after June 30, 2021, falls short of Johnson's pledge, the mayor believes. They won't get automatic right to stay, but would have to make an application, while those who don't apply would be treated less favourably, he fears.
The council's own Brexit Commission looking into the impact on east London from quitting Europe has raised concerns about their status.
Cllr Sabina Akhtar, who heads the commission, said: "Many promises were made during the referendum campaign including EU citizens allowed to remain as before.
"Sadly it has become clear since then that their rights are on the bargaining table."
The effects are already being felt by the NHS, with east London hospitals being told to start checking if patients are eligible for free care before they're treated, which has come under fire from GPs.
The checks put extra burden on over-stretched hospital staff and have a knock-on effect on emergencies, Tower Hamlets Local Medical committee's Dr Jackie Applebee pointed out.
She warned the Health Secretary that charging overseas people "brings fear of deportation" and would put them off seeking any medical help. They would end up relying on emergency treatment without eligibility checks.
Barts Health Trust which runs the Royal London and Mile End hospitals took part in a pilot trial asking new patients to prove "eligibility", which found only one in every 180 failed. This was a "negligible amount" in fees for the NHS, negated by administrative costs.