Tommy Sheppard | MP for Edinburgh East

To our EU friends in Scotland: Please stay, we need you

The sorry mess that is Brexit trundles on. The British government, having signed an agreement with the EU on Northern Ireland, now asks for it not to be implemented. Relations deteriorate.

Meanwhile, the swash-buckling Tory cabinet unveils the first of the new post-EU trade deals global Britain can look forward to. With Australia. It seems Scotch will get cheaper in Melbourne as Scottish farmers face being unable to compete with cheap imports of lamb and beef.

Amidst these sorry episodes, time is running out for people living here who were born in EU countries, the EEA and Switzerland. They need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS). Those who can show they have been here for five years or more are usually eligible for settled status, whilst people here for a lesser time usually get pre-settled status. It’s not automatic, so people must apply to protect their right to live and work in the UK.

Brexit has already had the effect of making people feel unwelcome and many have left. Others have been deterred from coming. Which is exactly what many Brexit supporters wanted. This has led to staff shortages in areas like social care and hospitality. Indeed, without Covid restrictions we’d be facing even worse problems with recruitment in some sectors.

We’re lucky to live in a city like Edinburgh – alive, vibrant, diverse. A city strengthened by people from across Europe making their home here - our workmates and neighbours. We’ve lived and laughed with them for decades.  They’ve made our city what it is, investing time, money and hard work. But now they are being put into a special category and told to apply for permission to stay.

It’s shocking that this is happening. Many will have been here so long they will think of themselves as Scottish and that they don’t need to apply. They do. Not just for themselves, but often for their children too. And they must do so by 30th June.

In parliament we fought against this scheme, arguing that EU citizens living here should have been automatically granted the right to stay. We lost. Now, we argue, the deadline must be extended.

What happens if someone misses the deadline? Or simply makes a mistake, thinking it doesn’t apply to them? I fear that the over-zealous Home Office could simply regard people as illegal immigrants and begin deportation proceedings - the next Windrush in the making.

It can’t be said often enough - Scotland did not vote for this. It’s being imposed upon us. And it’s the last thing we need.

Scotland should welcome people from across the EU and beyond. They will be a vital component in helping us build a sustainable recovery after the pandemic.

The problem is, without political independence, the Scottish government has no say on immigration. The economic imperatives of the south of England dictate what happens here.

So, my message to every EU citizen is please stay in Scotland. Apply to the EUSS by 30th June. If you need advice or support, you can call the EU Citizens Support Service on 0800 916 9847. You shouldn’t have to go through this but do it. Stay, then help us build a new, tolerant, outward looking country where schemes like this are consigned to history.

Written for Edinburgh Evening News - 18th June 2021