Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat MP for North Norfolk has challenged the Government to guarantee the right of the 110,000 EU nationals working in the NHS and social care system to remain in the UK.
The Government has so far refused to guarantee the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK following the decision to leave the European Union, with the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond stating that any guarantee would have to be negotiated in Brexit talks as part of a deal for Britons living abroad.
Speaking at Health Questions in the House of Commons (5th July), Norman Lamb spoke out in support of EU migrants working in the health and care system, and attacked “the despicable suggestion that they should be used as a bargaining pawn in negotiations with the EU”.
The Lib Dem Health Spokesperson challenged the Health Secretary to work with the Government urgently to secure the right of EU citizens to remain in the UK. However, Jeremy Hunt fell short of any such commitment, and could only offer vague assurances that the Government “wants to find a way” of allowing them to stay in the UK for as long as they wish.
Speaking afterwards, Norman Lamb said: “It’s important that we recognise and pay tribute to the dedicated staff from across the EU, and indeed the rest of the world, who play an essential role in our NHS and social care services.
“Our entire health and care system would be brought to the point of collapse if hardworking EU citizens were forced to return to their native countries – and it would be a travesty if they were made to feel so unwelcome in the UK that they decided to leave of their own accord.
“Britain is the home of everybody who was living and working here on June 23rd. It should be their fundamental right to stay in this country, and I’m horrified that the Conservative Government doesn’t seem to share this view. The Liberal Democrats will continue to speak out to defend the rights of EU migrants living in the UK, so that they can continue to enrich our society and carry on making an invaluable contribution to our public services.”
The full exchange in the House of Commons is below:
Norman Lamb MP: Very many of those 110,000 people are now acutely anxious about their future in this country, because of the despicable suggestion that they should be used as a bargaining pawn in negotiations with the EU. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the Government, as a matter of urgency, guarantee their future in this country doing their dedicated work in our NHS and care system?
Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt MP: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that we are incredibly aware of the brilliant work that EU nationals do, not just in the NHS but in the social care system, which he was responsible for, in care homes up and down the country. We recognise that, and I hope that he will be reassured by statements made by the Foreign Secretary and the Home Secretary yesterday that we want to find a way of allowing those people to stay in the UK for as long as they wish to. We recognise the incredibly valuable contribution that they make, and we are confident in the negotiations ahead that we will be able to secure the outcome that they and we all want.