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Health and Brexit

From SARS to Avian Flu to Bioterrorism, infectious diseases do not recognise national borders. EU membership has enabled us to pool information, preventative measures and resources, to tackle such threats in collaboration with our closest neighbours. We have set up a European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control in Stockholm, to work together on early warnings and shared monitoring of health threats. We have taken action together to enhance public health through collaborative action to tackle air pollution, to improve port and airport health measures, to raise standards on clean water, beaches and soil quality, to reduce the harm that comes from tobacco and to tighten the control of hazardous chemicals. We have established a European Medicines Agency in London that ensures safe medicines and I continue to chair a series of round tables on health innovation, from personalised healthcare to biosimilars and rare diseases.

Freedom of movement and collaboration on research within the EU have brought together the best mix of highly specialised skills and experience, have boosted our capacity and have helped make our health service one of the most efficient in the world. They have also brought new rights to our citizens to travel, work or study in other EU countries, safe in the knowledge that our E-Health Card gives us immediate access to local health care, should we need it. Now the Cross Border Healthcare initiative, has given us the right to go abroad specifically to receive treatment and to have the bill covered by our own health service, thus avoiding unacceptable delays at home. It also provides centres of excellence for rare diseases and enhanced collaboration on e-health and health technology assessment.

Brexit campaigners consistently asserted during the Referendum that the NHS is crumbling because of EU nationals living and working in Britain. This is mischievous and damaging nonsense. The main causes for hospital and GP surgery attendance increases are not EU migration. Increased numbers largely consist of British-born people and, if migrants, they are mostly from countries other than the EU. EU migrants tend to be young and healthy, they contribute more in taxes than they claim in public services such as healthcare, and 130,000 of them improve NHS capacity by working in the health sector as doctors, nurses and care workers. A real NHS and Social Care crisis will come if those 130,000 are expelled from our country. Brexit campaigners talked much about the ‘£350million’ a week cost of our EU membership, which they promised they would spend instead on the NHS – a bogus figure and a bogus promise they now say should never have been taken seriously.

Our scientists, our academics, our doctors, our nurses, our patient groups have all spent years building up links throughout Europe. They share knowledge, experience, expertise and good practice with each other and with policymakers. The value of this is incalculable.  None of them understand why or how you can be healthier by severing the links to the creative lifeblood of our European family.

Advocating the unilateral guarantee of EU citizens’ rights in the name of fairness

The rights of EU citizens after Brexit have wrongly become the hot subject of the moment. Wrongly because it doesn’t belong to the Brexit debate and should have been settled on June 24th. But the absence of commitment at the top has left three million EU citizens in limbo with one last chance before article 50 is triggered.

On June 24th, the referendum results were sending shockwaves through the political establishment. l, like many EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe, felt sick at the feeling that my world had been turned upside down after 21 years of living in Britain.

But fairness and responsibility evaded our political elite and simple reassurances in the form of a unilateral guarantee that EU citizens could stay after Brexit never materialised. Instead, the ambiguity of the language used has helped to fuel an unprecedented rise in hate crimes towards continental Europeans and created a mass anxiety due to the uncertainty over our future in the country to which we came, in good faith, many years ago.

It’s worth remembering that the United Kingdom was previously praised across Europe as an example of tolerance and integration and its reputation has suffered greatly as a result of the recent verbal and physical violence towards EU citizens (and other minorities). My friend Sénateur Olivier Cadic told me that he asked a French audience at a public meeting in London to raise their hand if they had suffered or knew someone who had been the victim of a hate crime incident. Everyone raised their hand. I would have as well.

The story unfolding during the following months has not made for better reading. As I became more involved with the3million to defend EU citizens’ rights, I also became better informed and immigration law practitioners were all telling us the same story of hostility from the Home Office, making our future status post-Brexit even more precarious without the protection of EU Treaty rights.

While the application form became increasingly bureaucratic, going from 5 to 12 to 85 pages while Theresa May was in charge of the Home Office, the sheer inadequacy of the process means that it could take around 49 years to register all EU citizens. And unfair rules are lacing the legislation, creating needless uncertainty. For example, being married to a British citizen or having British children does not provide protection in terms of asserting one’s right for permanent residence. Similarly, ‘economically inactive’ EU citizens such as students or mothers at home who did not have the little known Comprehensive Sickness Insurance (CSI) are also refused. A Kafka-esque tale for 3 million EU citizens in the UK which could have serious human rights consequences after Brexit.

We are now probably just days away from the triggering of Article 50 and nothing has changed in terms of guarantees and assurances but EU citizens have now found a political voice through organisations such as the3million. We recently organised a mass lobby in Parliament which over 1,000 EU citizens attended with their British spouses, children, neighbours and colleagues. Many met their MPs to tell them about their personal stories and appealed to them to do the right thing when the bill returns from the Lords, hopefully with an amendment to protect the rights of all EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK.

This is important because fairness must be restored and the 3 million EU citizens who came in good faith the UK (and the 1,2 million UK citizens in the EU) deserve to be given guarantees so they can continue with their lives.

There is a strong argument that the Government will have a stonger hand in the forthcoming negotiations if the Prime Minister were to offer a unilateral guarantee to EU citizens. Not only is the current hardline damaging Britain’s reputation on the international stage but the argument of reciprocity used to justify their position doesn’t stand the scrutiny of facts.

Firstly, all major organisations of UK citizens resident in Europe are supporting the3million in asking for unilateral guarantees, as they are 100% certain that it will leave the EU no other option but to replicate the offer as soon as article 50 is triggered (see their letter here).

Secondly, the referendum was about the UK leaving the EU but both camps agreed that EU citizens would remain in the UK after Brexit so our rights were not on the political agenda and there is absolutely no justification they can be negotiated as part of the Brexit negotiation.

Finally, there is a strong moral argument that treating people as bargaining chips is wrong and undermines the perceived legitimacy of the negotiating process.

The Brexit journey for EU citizens has been one of betrayal by their host nation so far and we can only hope that the Parliament will restore the guarantees we deserve.

Nicolas Hatton, co-chair of the3million

The European Union

In the immediate future, Parliament will be debating and dividing on the implementation of Article 50 and, consequently, triggering the formal negotiations for United Kingdom to leave the European Union. This is not something I campaigned for; indeed, my whole political life – starting as it did in my teenage years – has been founded on internationalism, free trade, liberal democracy, pluralism and Keynesian/mixed economy economics as core beliefs, all, of my mind, protected and enhanced through EU membership.

I welcome the Supreme Court’s decision earlier this week that Parliament must have a vote on triggering Article 50 – an important decision confirming that Parliament, not any particular government of the day, is ultimately sovereign.

While I am obviously proud of the 55% Stroud Constituency vote to remain in the EU, the overall national referendum result cannot be ignored. Certainly, it would be highly risky to overrule the majority vote in support of leaving the European Union (just as the 1975 vote was widely acknowledged for forty years) so soon after it has taken place and without any significant movement in public opinion. This is why I and the vast majority of the House of Commons – including most Labour MPs – will be voting to implement Article 50.

This particular vote is not the end of the matter; rather is a staging post in the long and complicated process. The real debates are for later as the continually moving tectonic plates – in political and economic terms – need to be navigated and the UK confronts issues associated with having to deal with unbridled national self interests across the globe. Leaving the EU is not just a domestic function but the beginning of a redefinition of the UK’s place in the international sphere.

In order to help influence these debates, I have established an independent think tank – Modern Europe – to examine the fundamentals behind the negotiations, and to signal steps to ensure the UK remains connected to Europe, has the capacity to trade effectively wherever possible and can continue a constructive part in world affairs. Ultimately, I imagine a situation where the EU is reformed and our relationship with it is based on mutual respect and exceedingly close ties.

My values will continue to inform my approach to Europe and I am certainly ready to engage with ideas about how we can prepare the UK for the challenges ahead and the opportunities arising from the changes in the balances of economic power now underway.

I welcome the commitment to a concluding parliamentary vote in 2019 and I reserve judgement until the shape of the final deal becomes clear.