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LONDON — Theresa May must now guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit, a cross-party committee of MPs say today.
The Exiting the EU committee have unanimously agreed that it would be "unconscionable" for May to leave EU citizens in limbo while the two-year Brexit negotiation process continues.
"EU citizens who have come to live and work here have contributed enormously to the economic and cultural life of the UK," Hilary Benn MP, Exiting the EU Committee Chair, said on Sunday.
"They have worked hard, paid their taxes, integrated, raised families and put down roots. They did not have a vote in the referendum, but the result has left them living under a cloud of uncertainty. They are understandably concerned about their right to remain, and their future rights to access education and healthcare."
Benn attacked the government for leaving open the prospect that EU citizens will be used as "bargaining chips" in Brexit negotiations.
"EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU are aware of the forthcoming negotiations, but they do not want to be used as bargaining chips," he said.
"Although the government has said it wants EU citizens to be able to remain, this has not offered sufficient reassurance that the rights and status that they have enjoyed will be guaranteed. It should now do so."
The report also calls on EU nationals to be guaranteed continued access to the NHS "on the same terms as they can now".
The report was welcomed today by campaigners for EU citizens living in the UK.
"The 3 million EU citizens who have come to the UK in good faith will welcome the unanimous decision by the cross-party Select Committee on Exiting the EU to ask the Government to unilaterally guarantee their rights and stop using them as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations," Nicolas Hatton, Co-Chair of the3million campaign group, said:
"The Committee has agreed with the Lords, with British people living in the EU, with EU citizens themselves and with MPs from all parties in making this plea. We hope the Government will take the opportunity to look again and guaranteee in legislation that all 3 million EU citizens, their families and their dependants can stay here after Brexit with no fewer rights of residence than they currently hold."
The report also urges the government to simplify the process by which EU nationals currently living in the UK can become permanent residents.
EU nationals currently have to fill in an 85 page form that is "too complex and onerous to be used to clarify the status of up to three million people," the report finds.
"The permanent residence application process is disproportionately burdensome and involves collection of information which goes far beyond what is required to prove residence over a 5-year period," Benn commented.
"While there will always be complex cases that require detailed consideration, it should be possible to clarify the status of the vast majority of individuals already here by simply using a streamlined system."
The report urges the government to consider offering preferential access for EU citizens in its new immigration policy.
It argues that an "abrupt" reduction in the number of EU workers in the UK would damage certain sectors of the economy. It also urges the government to consider a regional immigration system to allow higher levels of migration in areas where it is most needed.
The report follows a heavy government defeat on the issue of EU citizens' rights in the Lords on Wednesday. The Lords amendment to the Brexit bill will now pass back to the Commons where MPs will have to decide whether to accept it.
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