As hundreds of EU migrants, including UNISON members, rallied in Trafalgar Square last night in defence of their rights, London Mayor Sadiq Khan told them: “This is a fight that’s too important to lose.”
The rally followed a Westminster lobby, during which dozens of MPs and peers signed a pledge to guarantee the rights of both EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU.
It was the second lobby of Parliament this year, with UNISON members from all over the country and from all walks of the public sector again urging their MPs to end the uncertainty of EU citizens over whether they will be able to continue their lives in the UK.
In his video message in Trafalgar Square, Mr Khan praised the nearly one million EU citizens in the capital alone.
“They are all Londoners, and they make a massive contribution to our city – not only to our economy but to our culture and our society too,” he said. “Rather than being used as bargaining chips, they deserve to be treated fairly, with a cast-iron guarantee about their future in the UK.
“I’ve been clear that all EU citizens should be guaranteed that they can stay with exactly the same rights as they currently enjoy. The government’s proposals simply don’t go far enough.”
UNISON assistant general secretary Christina McAnea told the crowd that 150,000 workers from the EU provided essential services across the NHS and the care sector, for the most vulnerable in society.
“And if they weren’t here, the NHS and the care system would collapse.”
She was greeted by cheers when she spoke of UNISON’s motion at the recent TUC Congress, calling on the “absolute commitment” of all unions to protect the rights of European workers.
“I know from talking to our members up and down the country that this is causing great uncertainty and insecurity,” she said. “But it’s not just affecting the morale of people who come from the European Union. It’s also affecting people from outside the EU, who are now beginning to think, ‘Is this really a country where we want to go and work?’
“They are beginning to look at other European countries that might provide more certainty. All of this is bad news for our country and bad news for our essential services.”
UNISON has an estimated 70,000 members who are EU nationals. And Ms McAnea added: “This is a critical issue for our country and a critical issue for the trade union movement – to make sure that we’re at the forefront of protecting workers’ rights, no matter where they come from.”
UNISON members attending the lobby and rally, from countries including Greece, Germany, France and Spain, spoke to the international media throughout the day.
Joan Pons Laplana, a nurse in Norwich and a member of the East Coast Health branch, told the rally that after suffering from the effects of the seven-year pay cap, “I’m further insulted by being told that I am no longer good enough to be a British nurse, that I’m not of value.
“The NHS has survived because of people like me. Europeans are the pillar of the NHS.”
Mr Laplana, a Spaniard who has worked in the UK for 17 years, added: “I have three children who are British. I’m not only fighting for my future, I’m fighting for the future of my children.”
The day of action was organised by UNISON alongside citizens’ rights groups including the3million, British in Europe and the Migrants’ Rights Network.
The demands laid out by the lobby included:
- keep the rights already held by EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU;
- guarantee those rights for life under the European Court of Justice;
- support ring-fencing an agreement on citizens’ rights from the rest of the UK/EU negotiations;
- introduce a free, easy-to-use registration process for EU citizens in the UK.
But the lobby took place as negotiations between the UK government and EU negotiators continue to falter, with no firm guarantees for citizens’ rights.
On Monday this week the EU Withdrawal Bill, which will end the supremacy of EU law in the UK, passed its first stage in the Commons by 326 votes to 290
But Labour, most of whose MPs voted against the bill, described it as an “affront to parliamentary democracy”.
A number of MPs, including senior Conservative backbenchers, have tabled amendments, which include giving Parliament the “final say” on the EU withdrawal agreement and restoring the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Pictures: Ralph Hodgson