The college heads at the University of Oxford had asked MPs from all parties to back the House of Lords amendment on Monday night and guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK before formal negotiations begin. In their open letter, the heads warned that the University and its research work would “suffer enormous damage” if its European lecturers, researchers and support staff lost their right to work in Britain. “Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law; some are worried, some are desperate, some are already making plans to leave”, they said.
Anecdotal evidence has emerged that EU employees of the university have been prompted to return to mainland Europe because of uncertainty surrounding their future immigration status. The letter continued: “Many of our staff do not know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK.” Heaping pressure on MPs to pass the Lords amendment today, they add: “These are real and immediate concerns.”
The letter aimed to persuade Conservative MPs to back the amendment supported by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party. Conservative rebels would have needed to overturn the Government’s majority of 17. This did not happen, with the government won the vote comfortably by 274 votes to 135. Fewer than ten Conservatives are thought to be considering voting against the government, with many claiming that the Government’s white paper emphasised that the rights of EU citizens were a priority for Theresa May.