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Johnson leads Tory rebellion against failure to guarantee rights of EU nationals

Published 06/07/2016

Boris Johnson said it is 'very disappointing' that the status of EU nationals has been called into question
Boris Johnson said it is 'very disappointing' that the status of EU nationals has been called into question

Boris Johnson has le d a Tory rebellion against the Government's failure to guarantee the post-Brexit rights of UK-based EU nationals, as MPs backed a motion demanding a rethink.

The prominent Leave supporter was among five Conservatives who supported Labour's call 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, having suggested the issue will play a part in negotiations with Brussels.

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.

His Tory colleagues who backed the non-binding motion included former London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, Richard Fuller (Bedford), Tania Mathias (Twickenham) and Philip Hollobone (Kettering).

Labour forced the motion to a vote and it was backed by 245 votes to two, which included support from the SNP, Plaid Cymru plus Green Party MP Caroline Lucas and Ukip's Douglas Carswell.

An analysis of the division list showed Uls ter Unionist Party MPs Tom Elliott (Fermanagh & South Tyrone) and Danny Kinahan (Antrim South) voted both aye and no, which is regarded as an abstention.

During the debate, Mr Burnham suggested Home Secretary Mrs May was trying to "woo" the Tory 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.

Meanwhile, leading Brexit campaigner 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, 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."

The Tory frontbencher said a "fair deal" for EU nationals in the UK and Britons living in member states was the aim of the Government.

He said: "We want to be able to guarantee the legal status of EU nationals who are living in the UK and I am confident that we will be able to do just that.

"We must also win the same rights for British nationals living in European countries, and it will be an early objective for the Government to achieve those things together."

Tory former minister Crispin Blunt said EU citizens in the UK would need to be reassured "long before" Brexit.

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

Tory Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) said: "If you come to the UK under a set of laws and immigration rules, you should be free to remain here for the duration of your stay."

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