Brexit: acquired rights Contents

Chapter 4: The concerns of EU nationals in the UK

The Polish community


34.His Excellency Mr Arkady Rzegocki, the Ambassador of Poland to the UK, told us that the recorded number of Polish nationals living in the United Kingdom had increased from 70,000 in 2004 to around 984,000 in 2016.39 The true number was difficult to calculate because the UK census did not include Polish migrants who had acquired UK citizenship, or children of Polish migrants born in the United Kingdom.40 Nor did it include seasonal workers. He thought there were about a million Polish nationals in the UK overall. They formed the largest ethnic minority in the UK, representing about 1.4% of the population. Polish was the second most spoken language in the United Kingdom.41


35.Mr Rzegocki said there was a huge diversity among Poles living in the UK. There were “thousands of Polish scientists, scholars, entrepreneurs, students and artists active on British soil;”42 but Poles also worked in cheap labour markets.43 Polish workers demonstrated a “strong work ethic. They fill the labour market gaps by taking jobs in regions struggling with shortages. They add to job markets, too. There are over 22,000 Polish entrepreneurs currently running businesses in the UK.”44 Some 92 per cent of Poles were in employment or studying in the UK,45 and 5,245 Polish students had been registered at UK universities in the academic year 2014–2015. He thought that Poles “enrich both social-economic and cultural life of the UK, bringing closer Central-Eastern European perspective to the British society. It is a very important factor as far as unity of the European continent is concerned.”46

The effect of the referendum

36.Mr Rzegocki said there were two important effects of the June referendum on the Polish community in the UK.47 The first was a rise in xenophobic behaviour, including hate crime, against Poles:

“Since the referendum, the Polish consular services in London, Manchester, and Edinburgh have offered assistance with 35 individual incidents and instances of ongoing harassment reported by the Polish nationals as hate crime. The most serious incidents included the killing of Arkadiusz Józwik in Harlow (Essex), 10 assaults, and 8 violent vandal attacks on houses and businesses belonging to the Polish people.”48

37.The second effect was “uncertainty, which is the biggest problem.”49 The majority of Poles did not have UK passports. They were concerned about their status after the UK left the EU; about travel document requirements; about NHS access for their families (for example grandparents who help bring up children); about how the transfer of social security entitlements would work after Brexit; and about the cut-off date for any changes.50 Mr Rzegocki concluded: “The United Kingdom Government should ensure legal clarity and certainty for the European Union nationals since, for years, they have been working with the United Kingdom and paying taxes here.”

The Romanian community


38.His Excellency Mr Dan Mihalache, the Ambassador of Romania to the UK, said that the recorded data showed there were 272,000 Romanians in the UK. Children under the age of 16 and seasonal workers51 were not recorded. 200,012 Romanians were recorded as being employed in the UK—the rate of employment within the Romanian community was 77%—and 185,000 Romanians had a national insurance number. Mr Mihalache estimated that, because these figures covered only those who had registered, there were actually around 400,000 Romanians in the UK. That number included a lot of students.


39.The Romanian community was as diverse as the Polish community. There was a great number of highly skilled Romanians. About 10,000 or more people worked for the NHS as doctors, nurses and dentists, for example. There were Romanians “who work in sectors that have limited interest for your labour workforce … in agriculture, construction and caring for old people.” There were also many Romanians working in the tourism and restaurant industries.52

The effect of the referendum

40.Mr Mihalache said that two words were “key” in addressing the concerns of Romanians in the UK: “clarity” and “predictability”.53 They wanted to know whether they would be given permanent residence or be asked to leave; whether they would need passports; whether the social contributions they have paid in the UK would be paid back as pensions in Romania when they returned home;54 and what the cut-off point would be for maintaining the rights they already had as EU citizens.55 Romanian students wanted to know if their studies would continue, if EU financing would continue, and if UK university degrees would be recognised in EU Member States.56

41.Mr Mihalache made a broader point about the effects of uncertainty:

“Uncertainty also influences the general climate in society: what some call hate crimes or xenophobic reactions. From my point of view, this is one issue that you, together with the Government, should address. As my colleague from Poland said, our citizens need to know what the process and their rights will be … There is a lot of rumour. We are not only friends, we are together, and then somebody spreads a rumour and says, ‘Okay, from 1 September, you will need passports to travel in the United Kingdom’, and then we, as an embassy, have pressure to issue passports—even though, as European citizens, they can travel with their ID cards … So clarity and predictability are necessary.”57

The French community


42.Her Excellency Mme Sylvie Bermann, Ambassador of France to the UK, estimated that 300,000 French people lived in the UK, although the figure could be higher. There was no requirement to register with the French consulate in the UK; only 120,000 had done so.58


43.Approximately half the French people working in the UK are highly qualified. About 8,000–10,000 worked in the City in investment banking, insurance and financial services. All the big French companies were also represented in the UK—for example EDF Energy, because of Hinkley Point, and RATP Dev London, which operated red buses in the UK. Many French people also studied or worked in UK universities, or had temporary jobs, such as working in restaurants: “It is a very rich and diversified community.”59

The effect of the referendum

44.Mme Bermann said that the French community in the UK was “worried” and had “a lot of questions” about the consequences of Brexit. There was “great uncertainty” about the French community’s future in the UK. This was unfortunate, because “its members have invested a lot in this country, both personally and professionally”.60

45.She, too, reported a rise in xenophobic behaviour:

“In the aftermath of the referendum some French nationals were subjected to negative or aggressive language. I have received testimonies in this regard, as have my colleagues. They were not used to this sort of abuse in a country where many of them have lived for decades and which they regarded as a success story in terms of dynamism and respect for others.

“Some of them now view Britain in a different way and are ready to change their plans in the short term. Some of them told me that before 23 June they felt like Londoners and now they feel like foreigners, which is different. Many express a sense of sadness and are waiting for answers.”61

46.Mme Bermann said that, while reassurances could be given, there could not be “absolute certainty” about which rights would be safeguarded for EU nationals in the UK until the end of the negotiations: “It is very difficult, because we all know that will be part of the negotiations.”62

47.It is clear, and unsurprising, that the uncertainty caused by the referendum has given rise to deep anxiety among EU nationals, including Polish, Romanian and French nationals, in the UK. The Government is under a moral obligation to provide certainty and legal clarity to all EU nationals working, living and studying in the UK, who contribute so significantly to the economic and cultural life of the UK. It should do so urgently.

48.There is also a forceful economic case for the Government to act quickly. EU workers play an important role in filling gaps in the labour market that cannot otherwise be filled by UK workers. This is as true for highly skilled job markets, such as medical or financial services, as it is for lower skilled or seasonal job markets. The longer their future is uncertain, the less attractive a place to live and work the UK will be, and the greater labour market gaps will be.

49.The referendum result has contributed to a rise in xenophobia towards EU nationals. We deplore this. Question marks about the rights of EU nationals to live in the UK may be fuelling xenophobic sentiment, as the Bulgarian Ambassador suggested. We call on the Government to explain what action it is taking to counter xenophobia towards EU nationals.

40 EU citizens do not have to register with their embassies when they move to a new Member State.

42 Written evidence from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London (AQR0013)

44 Written evidence from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London (AQR0013)

46 Written evidence from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London (AQR0013)

48 Written evidence from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London (AQR0013)

49 Q 14 (Mr Rzegocki)

50 Written evidence from the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in London (AQR0013)

57 Q 9

60 Oral evidence taken on 25 October 2016, introductory remarks

61 Oral evidence taken on 25 October 2016, introductory remarks

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