Ahead of a crucial vote in the House of Lords today on the right to remain, Nick Clegg has seized on figures showing the dependence of the UK economy on EU nationals.
The move comes as Liberal Democrats say they are increasingly confident they can muster enough cross-party support in the House of Lords to inflict the government’s first Brexit defeat by passing an amendment that would give all EU nationals already living in the UK the permanent right to remain.
Official figures show that over 215,000 EU nationals work in health and social care, prompting the Liberal Democrats to say they will push to guarantee an immediate “NHS passport” for the 59,000 EU nationals who work directly for the NHS.
Among the sectors that would be particularly hit by a hard Brexit would be construction, which employs 210,000 Continental Europeans, 9% of the sector’s workforce.
Nick Clegg, former deputy Prime Minister and now Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson, said:
“The NHS would collapse if we told all the doctors, nurses and other valued staff from other EU countries that they were no longer welcome here.
“Not only would that be a slap in the face to those who have cared for and helped so many British people back to health, it would also seriously damage health care in this country and put the nation’s very health at risk.
“But health is far from the only sector that would be damaged. The government has just indicated it wants to build a vast number of extra homes – how will it possibly deliver those targets if it turns its back on almost 10% of the country’s builders? The government is also relying on big infrastructure projects to support a fragile economy – all of which will require more builders, not less.”
Other sectors that would be hit include manufacturing, which employs 311,000 foreign EU nationals (10% of the workforce) as well as accommodation and food services (243,000 EU workers, 14% of the workforce).
Around 10% of doctors and 4% of nurses are understood to come from other EU countries. Overall, around 5% of NHS staff – almost 59,000 people – are from elsewhere in the EU.
Nick Clegg said: “You can’t have a hard Brexit and a strong NHS, or a hard Brexit and an economy that delivers the homes Britain needs.
“Now that even David Davis has acknowledged we will need workers from the EU for the foreseeable future, why won’t Theresa May do the decent think and guarantee the right to remain for all EU citizens?”
The move comes as research by the Liberal Democrats shows that EU workers are leaving already because they no longer feel welcome. There has been a sharp spike in hate crimes since the referendum.
Meanwhile in the House of Lords, Lib Dem leader Dick Newby is increasingly confident of inflicting the government’s first Brexit defeat with an amendment guaranteeing the right of EU citizens to remain.
Newby’s team have undertaken a full projection of likely voting intentions on a forthcoming amendment which would guarantee the right of any EU national currently living in the UK to remain. The Lib Dems have sounded out a large number of peers and have also logged that in debates over 80 peers across the parties have spoken up for the rights of EU nationals.
Dick Newby said: “Theresa May is trying to use families living in Britain as bargaining chips in some escalating hostage negotiation. Not only is this mean-spirited approach an appalling way to treat people who contribute so much to the British economy and society, it is harming Britain’s negotiating position. When even David Davis says that the UK economy will depend on EU immigration for years to come, it also begs the question why he wants to leave the Single Market.
“In the House of Lords there is clearly an overwhelming desire to do the right thing and ensure that all EU nationals have the right to remain.”
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The figures can be found on page 25: