Politicians yesterday reported evidence of employers explicitly discriminating against EU nationals ahead of Brexit, raising concerns that continued uncertainty over rights was creating a hostile jobs market.
“Anecdotally, I have been told of job adverts that contain the words ‘Europeans need not apply’,” said Deidre Brock, Scottish National Party MP for Edinburgh North and Leith, during a Westminster Hall debate. “There seems to be increasing evidence of discrimination and hostile working environments for EU citizens living in the UK.”
The debate followed news published by the Guardian on Monday that Labour and the3million – a campaign group that promotes the rights of EU citizens living in the UK – had produced a dossier of more than two dozen examples of job, housing and other adverts asking for applicants of UK or Irish citizenship only. Examples cited include an advert for a graduate sales assistant with German language skills and a full UK passport, and a research job with a management consultancy that stated candidates must have “the right to stay and work permanently in the UK, and a valid UK passport”.
Answering a parliamentary question on Saturday, equalities minister Nick Gibb said the government equalities office “is aware of, and is looking into, the reports of discrimination against non-UK EU nationals seeking employment”.
Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, revealed during the Westminster Hall debate that he had approached the Department for Exiting the European Union about the dossier, but had been disappointed with the response. “I received a sympathetic letter saying that such discrimination was illegal, but I am yet to receive even a response to my letter asking ‘what are you going to do about it?’” he said.
“Clearly such discrimination is totally unacceptable and we need an investigation, but we also need action and more than action on those cases,” Blomfield added. “We need to do more than send a signal to employers and landlords. It is precisely the lack of clarity created by the government and, frankly, the uncertainty created by their willingness to use citizens’ rights as a bargaining chip that are creating the hostile environment in which this sort of discrimination takes place.”
The rights of EU citizens who have made their home in the UK has been a fraught issue ever since last year’s referendum. In June, prime minister Theresa May announced that the UK would be introducing a settled status following Brexit, which would essentially maintain the rights of EU citizens who had been living in the country for at least five years.
However, Daniel Zeichner, Labour MP for Cambridge, yesterday slammed the proposed status as “saddled with a range of problems”.
In particular, Zeichner pointed out that the status could be rescinded if a person left the UK for two years. “Think of it in reverse: imagine a UK academic from my constituency, Cambridge, who has been living and working in Rome and who is offered the opportunity to do a different job at a UK university, on a temporary basis, for a couple of years,” he said. “Would they take it, knowing that they might not be able to return to their home in Rome? That is not a hypothetical example but an everyday occurrence.”
Responding to the MPs’ comments, Robin Walker, a minister for the Department for Exiting the European Union, said: “We are all agreed that it is of great importance that we reach a swift resolution through negotiations with the European Union on citizens’ rights. We have been engaging on those matters at pace, and I hope I can show honourable members that we are making progress.”