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It is an honour to speak today to represent directly the views, wishes and concerns of EU citizens in my constituency. Since the Brexit vote in June 2016, the SNP Government has been unwavering in its commitment to EU citizens, who have honoured this country by choosing to live, work and raise families here. The message to them is clear and simple: you are welcome and we want you to stay.
As others have said, a few weeks ago, on the day on which we were supposed to leave the EU, the First Minister wrote her third open letter to all EU citizens in Scotland. It acknowledged the benefits and contributions of EU citizens to Scotland and finished with this assertion:
“You will always be welcome here.”
Although Brexit has caused anxiety among EU citizens living in the UK, studies have shown that EU citizens in Scotland feel more welcome than EU citizens in England feel. That is a sad indictment of the UK Government, and it is symptomatic of how it has handled the whole Brexit shambles.
We know that EU citizens contribute socially, culturally and economically to Scotland’s rich diversity—on that point, I agree with Jamie Greene. However, the uncertainty of the past two and half years has put that diversity at risk.
The UK Government has given EU citizens until mid-2021 to apply for the EU settlement scheme, but in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the application must be completed before the end of next year. The joint briefing that we received from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Human Rights Consortium Scotland pointed to the huge number of flaws in the current scheme’s application system, about which other members have spoken. Like, I am sure, every other constituency office, mine has heard of several instances in which a simple mistake or a wrongly ticked box has created immense delays and stress in dealing with the Home Office.
We are dealing with a very time-sensitive issue. I agree with the Government’s motion, which says that we should adopt a declarative system instead of the current application system. Such a system would be quicker, fairer and less likely to cause stress to EU citizens in all our constituencies.
I will talk about the Tory contributions to the debate. Donald Cameron and his colleagues have made their arguments, and almost sound as though they believe them, although I do not know who they can possibly be talking to. They are certainly not talking to the EU citizens who come to see me and are worried about their future, and who are being made to jump through hoops.
The Conservatives talk about the number of applications and say that we should all encourage our constituents to go through the application process, but not one of them mentioned that the application process often involves finding original flight details and providing job details and information on bank accounts and GP appointments. One constituent told me that they needed to provide every single prescription they had had. Sometimes I wonder how the Conservatives can possibly believe what they say. They need to ask themselves why they find sticking up for the Prime Minister and his policies more important than sticking up for their constituents.
I assure members that a lot of stress is being caused. Last December, I held a packed surgery for EU citizens in my constituency. I am sure that many other members have done the same. Many EU citizens were concerned about the homes that they had bought, the rights of their children who were born here, where they stood in respect of permanent jobs and pensions, access to healthcare and many other things. Those citizens are new Scots, and they are our families, friends and neighbours. The current system and process are making them feel like second-class citizens. It is absolutely shameful and horrendous, and the shame will likely be recorded in UK and British history as an epic national scandal.
Other members have talked about the benefits that EU citizens bring to Scotland, so I will not go over all those points again. I agree with Jamie Greene that EU citizens bring so many benefits: they bring diversity, they are our friends and families and, of course, they bring economic benefits. One in 20 workers in Scotland is an EU citizen. If those citizens were to leave, the food and drink, tourism, manufacturing and fishing industries would be disproportionately affected. We need EU citizens in this country.
At its heart, the issue is quite simple. It is not really about policies, frameworks, quotas and statistics, helpful though they all are. It is about basic humanity, love, friendship and essential human rights. We either stand for those things or we do not. Politicians in Parliament are elected by the people of Scotland, so shame on any of us who are not willing to stand up for our friends and neighbours—our constituents.
The UK Government clearly does not care about EU citizens. That is just one more reason why many more people are coming to the realisation that, for our future, it is right for us to be part of the European Union as a normal nation, and that that is the most sensible path for us to take.