Britain’s opposition Labour Party will immediately guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the country if it wins a June election, it said today (25 April), setting out a Brexit strategy aimed at dismantling Prime Minister Theresa May’s runaway lead.
With May’s surprise decision to hold an early election on 8 June sending opposition parties scrambling to prepare in just six weeks, the Labour Party, which is around 20 points behind the Conservatives in the polls, will criticise what it calls May’s “reckless” approach to the divorce negotiations.
“EU nationals do not just contribute to our society: they are our society. And they should not be used as bargaining chips,” Labour Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said in a speech in London on Tuesday.
“We will on day one unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens in this country,” he added, to applause.
May has refused to calm concerns among EU citizens living in Britain over their future rights after Britain leaves the bloc, saying she would only give a commitment when she had won the same guarantees for British people living in the European Union.
That has caused many to suggest she is using millions of EU citizens in Britain – some who have lived in the country for years – as bargaining chips in talks set to test even the most experienced negotiators with their complexity.
Starmer told BBC radio May’s stance was part of her “rigid” and “reckless ” strategy that was alienating EU negotiators before the talks have started in earnest and that Labour would set a more conciliatory tone to win a good deal which would include preferential access to the bloc’s single market.
“This is all about the tone and the approach, and the tone and the approach the prime minister has taken is to say ‘out out out’,” Starmer said.
“I am absolutely clear from my discussions in Brussels and elsewhere that (granting EU citizens’ rights) would be received as a very welcome message of the sort of approach the UK wants to take.”
Ending freedom of movement
However, the shadow Brexit secretary was clear that under a labour government, free movement would become a thing of the past.
“It is an EU law and it ends as we leave,” he said. “The rules on immigration will have to change.”
Starmer said that options should not be taken off the table before the negotiations had even begun but added that unreformed membership of the single market and the free movement it entails would not be an option.
“We need to leave options on the table, we need to get the right deal with the EU and we have to recognise that with 44% of our trade with the EU that is the number one consideration,” he said.