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The debate is about citizens of other European countries who have chosen to migrate to and make their homes in this country. However, as the minister said, it is also about citizens of European Economic Area member states, such as Norway, who have not crossed the North Sea permanently but who are able to use their freedom of movement within the EEA to work here and go back to their home countries between trips or between contracts.
That is worth noting, from the point of view of my region in the north-east. Offshore oil and gas workers from Aberdeen are at least as likely to work in Norwegian waters as they are in the southern North Sea, off England or Holland, and Norwegians are just as likely to work here while still living in Norway.
There are other economic sectors in which the same is true. The loss of that freedom of access will be bad news for those workers and for what is surely the highly desirable objective of economic activity in the North Sea that straddles borders.
It is important to bear those workers in mind while we focus on European citizens who have made the huge commitment to leave their own country to come to live in ours. Those citizens are already feeling the effects of the Brexit vote, and they are the focus of Labour’s amendment.
Labour’s amendment highlights the recent report entitled “How Brexit Impacts EU Citizens’ Mental Health And Wellbeing Research Findings” by researchers from Robert Gordon University with support from Feniks. The minister and I were fortunate enough to be at the launch of that report in June. Piotr Teodorowski from RGU, who presented at the launch, wrote about the report in
The Scotsman at the time.
The report matters because it goes beyond the legal issues of rights and entitlements to look at what the uncertainty of Brexit actually means for the lives of the people who are most directly affected by it. The evidence came through focus group meetings that were carried out in Edinburgh and Aberdeen and which featured citizens of 13 countries who had been in this country since before the referendum in 2016. The study confirmed just how damaging Brexit has already been for many European citizens who have chosen to make their lives here.
The research highlighted three impacts on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
First, there was the unravelling of people’s future plans. One witness talked about putting marriage plans on hold because of citizenship uncertainties. Another witness was afraid to the leave the UK in case it was not possible to get back in.
Secondly—and perhaps most important—there was the sense of rejection. People had been welcomed and made to feel welcome, but, suddenly, there was a public vote in which it was said that they were not welcome after all, and they, as active citizens and taxpayers—many were volunteers in their communities, too—were denied the right to participate in it.