Yesterday, Parliament discussed guaranteeing after Brexit the same right of EU citizens living in the UK to remain here that they enjoy now. I am quite clear that we must safeguard this right. Most people who come to the UK from the EU are only here for a limited time, and will return to their homeland. But many have made lives and families here and must be protected. I also took the opportunity to condemn again the racist outrage of graffiti by the war memorial in Guildhall Square. This extremism and racism is not just something that appeared as a result of the referendum campaign and we all have a role to play in fighting it.
Lastly, I expressed my support for the University, which has developed and grown so much that it is now recognised as one of the best in Europe. We must make sure that we do not choke off further development, or undermine academic progress, as a result of leaving the EU.
This is the full text of my speech:
Like other Members of the House, I very much regret the increased reports of abuse and racism over the last two weeks. I represent a diverse and vibrant community in Portsmouth, which, as a port city, has always looked out to the wider world and welcomed people from everywhere.
As well as the traditional arrival of people as a result of trade and the Navy, we have a university with one of the fastest growing reputations in Europe. It takes in students from Europe and elsewhere, and I know how important universities’ global reach is for their academic and financial wellbeing. We already hear concerns from the higher education sector that the immigration restrictions on students and academics are onerous, and that has been debated before — often in this House. Whatever happens as we negotiate our way out of the EU, we must make sure that the world-leading position of our universities is not threatened in any way.
Everyone in Portsmouth was horrified at the racist abuse against the Polish community that was daubed on a wall next to our civic war memorial last week. I hardly need to point out the contribution the Poles have made as our allies in the most tragic circumstances for their country. Anyone who listened to the Polish Member of the European Parliament who was speaking following the result of the referendum will have seen his anguish and anger at how we have been treating Poles.
Whether someone comes to the UK from Poland or any other part of the EU to learn or work, they have the right to fair treatment and to be secure against racism and hatred. Immigration came up frequently during the referendum, including in that most disgraceful poster, and that is what is causing the racism at the moment—it is not people’s status over the long term.
Those who come to the UK under a set of laws and immigration rules should be free to remain here under them for the duration of their stay. What happens in the future to people who want to come here after we have left the EU is a matter for the Government to look at, and that will be a discussion we have with the other 27 members in the coming years. However, basic notions of British fairness compel us to give the people who are already here a guarantee.
Most people in the UK who are from elsewhere in the EU are here for a limited time. One of the benefits of EU membership for people from recent joiners has been that it has helped their home countries to develop, and those people want to return to them. They are not coming here to escape permanent poverty, but to earn money to take home with them.
As we move on from the referendum decision, I hope we will be able to debate and decide these issues calmly and through consensus, rather than conflict. We have to set an example to the rest of the country, and if we fail we will just encourage the preachers of hatred and racism.
I am aware that this is complex and that it should be the first area of negotiation. In the meantime, however, we need to reassure our valuable EU citizens - and taxpayers! - that we welcome them here.