UNISON members will join a mass lobby of Parliament on 13 September to speak up for the rights of EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in the European Union.
UNISON has an estimated 70,000 members who are EU nationals and is calling on the government to commit to all their rights to continue to live and work in the UK after Brexit.
This will be the second lobby of Parliament this year over the issue. The first, in February, helped to put it at the top the Brexit agenda in the minds of many MPs and peers. The new lobby comes when the negotiations are under way, with citizens’ rights seen as one of the major obstacles to an agreement.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s proposal in June, which offered “settled status” for EU nationals who have been in the UK for five years, was criticised by many, including the prime minister’s EU counterparts and citizens’ rights groups.
One important sticking point was Ms May’s refusal to accept the European Court of Justice as the arbiter of any future disputes over citizens’ rights.
Katia Widlak of UNISON’s strategic organising unit called the offer “pathetic”, adding that it fell short of the EU’s own, earlier position paper, which guaranteed EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU the continuity of their existing rights.
“The UK government proposal is already watering down some of those existing rights by restricting freedom of movement and the right to family reunion,” she said.
The lobby, organised alongside the 3 million, British in Europe and other citizens’ rights groups, will put the following demands to MPs:
◾keep the rights already held as EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU;
◾guarantee these 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.
UNISON has reserved rooms in Parliament from 2–6pm, where members can meet their MPs.
There will also be a gathering at the nearby Emmanuel Centre, where speakers will include Labour’s shadow secretary of state for exiting the EU, Keir Starmer.
Ms Widlak is expecting an even greater turn-out than February’s successful lobby, including some British citizens currently living in the EU, who will be returning home to take part.
And she urged all UNISON members to take part, either on the day or through an e-lobby .
“Citizens’ rights are in phase one of the Brexit negotiations, which are supposed to be concluded by October,” she said. “This could be the last opportunity we have to influence what happens. It’s crucial that we maintain the pressure.”