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Boris backs call for 3m European expats in UK to be given right to stay

By Shaun Connolly

Published 07/07/2016

Boris Johnson rides his bicycle through the Westminster area yesterday
Boris Johnson rides his bicycle through the Westminster area yesterday

A Tory Commons rebellion against the Government's failure to guarantee post-Brexit rights of UK-based EU nationals has been led by Boris Johnson.

The prominent Leave campaigner was among five Conservatives who supported a Labour motion for ministers to "commit with urgency" to giving the estimated three million EU nationals in the UK the right to remain.

Home Secretary Theresa May has faced fierce criticism over her refusal to give firm assurances that EU citizens living in the UK will be allowed to stay.

Mr Johnson teamed up with shadow home secretary Andy Burnham to criticise the Government's position, insisting it was "very disappointing" that the status of EU nationals has been called into question.

Mr Burnham suggested Mrs May was trying to "woo" the Conservative Party grassroots as she fights to become the next Prime Minister and of using EU citizens as "bargaining chips".

He attacked Mrs May for failing to attend the debate and accused her of an "abdication of leadership".

"One could only speculate that she made these comments in a bid to woo the grassroots of the Tory Party in her current situation," he said.

Mr Johnson said: "I'd like to set on record what I think has been said already, that countless times the Vote Leave campaign gave exactly this reassurance to everybody from other EU countries living and working here and it is very disappointing that this should be called into question.

"I think it is absolutely right to issue the strongest possible reassurance to EU nationals in this country."

Ministers have suggested it would be unwise to guarantee the status of EU nationals in the UK until a similar guarantee is in place for British people living abroad in EU countries. There have also been suggestions that a guarantee would act as a draw for people to move to the UK before its divorce with Brussels is complete.

Mr Burnham said a solution would be to backdate the status guarantee to the date of the referendum - June 23 - as he also called for British citizenship to be offered to EU nationals working in the NHS or public services.

Immigration Minister James Brokenshire rejected the accusation that the Government was treating EU citizens as "bargaining chips" as he faced strong criticism from MPs on both sides of the chamber.

He said the Government was "unable to support" Labour's motion.

Mr Brokenshire told MPs: "In the approach the Government takes and the agreements we make, we will never treat EU citizens as pawns in some kind of cynical game of negotiation chess."

SNP immigration spokesman Stuart McDonald slammed the Government for its "absurd" and "unethical" position.

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