Support for members in the wake of Brexit

Prospect has been working tirelessly to guarantee the futures of thousands of highly skilled EU nationals and protect all its members’ industries and sectors as Brexit looms. Deputy general secretary Sue Ferns and head of legal Marion Scovell outline the union’s key messages and actions

Keep up to date with all Prospect’s Brexit-related work via our website at www.prospect.org.uk/brexit – also look out for our new dedicated microsite, coming soon

“Don’t use people as bargaining chips” is the key message that Prospect has for the government, and one we keep repeating across the many strands of our work to support members who are EU nationals.

Brexit will affect us in many ways, cutting across all areas of our personal and working lives. Prospect’s teams are busy looking at these issues, including the impact on workers’ rights, pensions, STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths), aviation and the economy.

As more statements and position papers emerge from the government, we are gathering the information to help members and develop our campaigning.

For the many Prospect members who are EU nationals, the uncertainty is overwhelming. The loss of freedom of movement across the EU will affect an estimated three million EU nationals living and working here and those UK nationals in other EU countries.

All EU citizens in the UK who had the right to permanent residence before Brexit, regardless of whether they already hold documents certifying permanent residence, will need to apply for a new legal status to remain. This will be known as “settled status”.

The latest official government position appears to maintain existing rights to remain for those who have been lawfully resident in the UK for five years. But there is no clarity about the rights of family members or for those who may not have completed five years’ residence.

In STEM areas particularly, it is common for Prospect members to work overseas for periods to develop their careers. We need to ensure they do not lose their right to settled status after periods of prolonged absence abroad. 

Prospect has been offering practical legal support and advice to help affected members (see story, below).

More questions than answers

The government launched a position paper on 26 June entitled “Safeguarding the position of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU”. Sadly it raised as many questions as it provided answers. The proposals remained conditional on securing a reciprocal deal for UK nationals living in the EU.

The paper acknowledged many important issues were still to be decided, but failed to address how or when.

Prospect has consistently argued for a transparent approach, informed by evidence and expertise. The stakes for the UK economy, and individuals, are high – which is why this a union issue.

Confusion over science

A further government position paper – “Collaboration on science and innovation” – published on 6 September reinforced the need to highlight the issue of the UK’s withdrawal from Euratom, the EU’s nuclear regulator, along with Prospect’s broader concerns about future involvement in EU research and development programmes, including Horizon 2020.

The position paper’s launch was overshadowed in the media by leaked Home Office proposals for immigration arrangements, which again raised more questions than answers.

Although Prospect welcomed the government’s commitment to science in the paper, there were no answers on:

The UK needs extra investment in science, not just the reallocation of existing funding as announced by the chancellor in the spring budget. The government also needs to guarantee the rights of EU nationals already working in the sector and make clear that it will not shut the door to future scientists who want to come to the UK.

The paper fails to comprehend that scientific achievement requires a whole infrastructure of skills and contributions from thousands of unsung scientists and technical experts. Aspiration is well and good, but we need action (see http://bit.ly/SF-brexit-blog for a blog expanding on this).

“All EU citizens in the UK who had the right to permanent residence before Brexit will need to apply for a new legal status to remain ”

Pressure on Parliament

As Parliament returned on 5 September, Prospect stepped up its campaigning. As part of a Unions 21 group we met with MPs to emphasise that Britain needs to remain open to talent, even with Brexit (http://bit.ly/open2talent).

In a meeting chaired by MP Angela Eagle, Prospect member Xavier Lefebvre from Fusion Energy branch spoke about the uncertainty that he faces as a French national.

He was joined by Laurence Bovard of Equity and former Arsenal and Fulham footballer Moritz Volz. Danny Mortimer (chief executive of NHS employers) and Jon Skewes (Royal College of Midwives) explained the collaborative approach being taken to resolve Brexit skills challenges in the health sector.

Taking our message to TUC

On 10 September Prospect led a debate at the TUC conference (see TUC report). The union’s successful motion called for decisions taken during the process of negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU to:

  • be informed by evidence, expertise and experience, necessitating investment in skills and capacity of those working to deliver a successful Britain outside of the EU
  • ensure that there are no cliff edges and regulatory or policy vacuums that would negatively affect investment, productivity or employment
  • provide an early end to uncertainty and its damaging consequences for employment security and forward planning.  

These demands will be incorporated into the TUC’s work programme, but Prospect will also be keeping up the pressure in its own right.

Campaigning next steps…

Prospect is keeping up the pressure, with activity including:

  • support for the 3 Million campaign group. Prospect added its name to the campaign’s open letter to the British government and EU. Read the letter and keep up to date with the campaign on its website (www.the3million.org.uk)
  • a survey of EU nationals to determine the impact that salary threshold criteria would have on the UK’s future skills and capacity. Members are urged to share the link – http://bit.ly/Pros-EU-survey – widely with EU nationals in their organisation and encourage them to respond by the end of October 2017
  • an open event on Monday 13 November, at One Great George Street, London SW1P 3AA, from 4.30pm-7.30pm. If you are interested in attending, please register via www.prospectunion.eventbrite.co.uk
  • further advice sessions on the implications of Brexit, such as pensions and employment rights.

Xavier Lefebvre

Prospect member, STEM industries

“I have never lived in more uncertain times.

“Currently I am working as part of a team to deliver projects that will contribute to my employer, the British government, maintaining its top-class UK research reputation. But what about after we leave the EU?

“We have a lot of questions, very few answers and lots of uncertainties that need to be cleared up.”

Event for EU nationals

Prospect members from various science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) areas came together in the summer to discuss their legal rights and look at campaigning issues. The diversity of the group, including members from France, Sweden, Germany, Portugal and Ireland, reflects the range of Prospect members affected.

Specialist immigration and equality law barrister Nicola Braganza, from Garden Court Chambers, gave a presentation on the rights of EU nationals living and working in the UK. Her key advice to members was to ensure they have evidence of residence. “Ultimately, and dreadfully,” said Nicola, “we just don’t know what will happen to our Treaty rights.”

Prospect organiser Jenny Andrew said after the event: “We left the meeting with a call to action. There’s a time for a legal approach, and a time for campaigning. Prospect does both but our real strength is in the collective voice of our members. We have an opportunity to use that voice to shape the Brexit negotiations. Where nothing is sure, everything is possible.”

Prospect Legal has produced a list of frequently asked questions and answers, available (to members only) at http://bit.ly/EUnationals-faqs

Our employment law briefing on Brexit and Workers’ Rights asks “So will we see our rights maintained and enhanced or will we face a bonfire of regulations?” – members can download the briefing here

Prospect’s legal team has visited branches to discuss the possible impact of Brexit on workers’ rights and urging members to lobby their MPs.