Anxiety is rising among Portuguese citizens of Goan-origin and other EU citizens over their future after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, with a leading Brexit MP leading a project on protecting their rights after the exit process is completed.
Prime Minister Theresa May has refused to guarantee indefinite stay for 3 million EU citizens currently in Britain, linking their fate to that of 1.2 million British citizens living in European countries. Critics allege May is using people as “bargaining chips” in Brexit negotiations.
Leading Brexit campaigner and Labour MP Gisela Stuart believes EU citizens have been “left in a limbo”, not knowing what the future holds for them. As head of a research project for the think-tank British Future, she will examine what legal status could be granted to EU citizens.
Senior Labour MP Keith Vaz has expressed concern over the fate of more than 20,000 Goans with Portuguese passports in Britain, most of them settled in recent years in Swindon, Leicester and London. The date of first entry into Britain is likely to be crucial in future arrangements.
The government has clarified that “EU nationals who have lived continuously and lawfully in the UK for at least 5 years automatically have a permanent right to reside”, and those completing six years can apply for a British passport.
But uncertainty has gripped the Goans and others who have been in Britain for less than five years. A cut-off date is expected to be announced to decide the future of EU citizens, and those entering before that date can stay permanently.
Stuart, who was co-chair of the Vote Leave campaign, said the government should make its position clear soon, and told the BBC she did not want to pre-empt her inquiry by specifying a cut-off date.
But she added June 23 - the day of the referendum - was a "very significant date", after which "people knew what was coming".
Stuart said: "There is wide agreement, among the public, politicians and business, that EU citizens are welcome here and that the government should make clear they can stay. This is the right thing to do and what the Leave campaign promised all along."
The inquiry committee, which includes British Future’s Sunder Katwala, will publish its report in the autumn.