Businesses losing EU workers as May refuses to guarantee residency status

Jake Cordell
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Some businesses told the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) EU staff had already resigned following the UK's vote to leave the EU
Some businesses told the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) EU staff had already resigned following the UK's vote to leave the EU (Source: Getty)

Prime minister Theresa May has again refused to guarantee the long-term status of EU citizens living in the UK, provoking ire from MPs, as a new poll shows that a sizeable proportion of EU staff have already quit their jobs, or intend to, because of Brexit uncertainty.

A survey of 800 firms that employ EU workers, published today, found ​​one in 10 businesses​ said ​staff ​ha​d​ told them they intend to​ leave the UK, with five per cent reporting that EU staff have already quit following the referendum.

More than two-fifths of businesses said workers had expressed concerns about their long-term status in the UK, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, which conduced the survey.

The findings are published as May, speaking in China at her first G20 summit, reiterated that she would not guarantee the rights of EU citizens until the other 27 EU countries did the same for Britons living abroad.

“I expect to be able to guarantee their status,” she said. “The only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if other EU countries don’t guarantee the status of British citizens who are living in other EU countries. I hope this is an issue we can resolve at an early stage.”

Around 1.2m Britons are estimated to live across the EU, while more than three million EU citizens live in the UK, with the biggest representation coming from Poland.

Read more: Theresa May under pressure to ditch net migration target

Frustration at the prime minister’s intransigence has grown over the summer, with MPs from all parties urging her to act unilaterally to guarantee EU citizens in the UK the right to stay. The issue is shaping up to be highly divisive in the Conservative party.

"I think the government should give a guarantee to all EU citizens who were already working and living in the UK an assurance that their status here will not be affected by Brexit. It is inhumane to leave peoples' jobs, homes and families hostage to some negotiation which may go on for years," said Conservative MP and former deputy chairman Bernard Jenkin.

“This uncertainty is highly undesirable. I want this to come to an end as soon as possible … so that EU citizens know they have the right to remain,” added Conservative backbencher Steve Baker.

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative MEP who campaigned to leave the EU, said: “All leave campaigners were clear throughout the campaign that EU nationals legally resident in the UK should not see their status affected.”

Labour MPs have also upped the pressure on the prime minister to act. “Granting EU citizens the right to remain in Britain is not just the right thing to do: it is also good business sense,” said Remain campaigner and Labour’s former shadow business secretary Chuka Umunna.

Last month, Gisela Stuart, a leading Labour Brexit campaigner, launched a cross-party investigation to discuss ways to ensure the rights rights of EU citizens in the UK were protected after the UK formally leaves the EU.