Ahead of ‘exit day’ on 31st January – the day when the UK leaves the European Union – the Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs has sought to reassure the 41,000 citizens from the remaining 27 EU countries who live in Tower Hamlets. During this period of great uncertainty the Mayor has reiterated his message that “this is their home too”.
Tower Hamlets Council has been offering assistance and support to residents to secure their right to continue living and working here after Brexit through the EU Settlement Scheme, and has been working alongside partners to prepare the borough for the UK’s departure from the European Union.
Last year Tower Hamlets Council’s Brexit Commission published a report into the potential impact of Brexit on Tower Hamlets, raising significant concerns around the impact on the local economy, public services and civil society, including the rights of EU citizens’. The Mayor has also highlighted concerns about the impact of Brexit on the NHS, particularly around possible staffing shortages.
Concerns have also been raised about the Conservative Government’s decision to backtrack on pre-election compromises within the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill by removing protections for workers’ rights and watering down protections for refugee children which Lord Alf Dubs and many cross-party MPs had fought for.
Mayor Biggs has criticised the Government for leaving the door open to a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, as the UK’s relationship with the EU would be on World Trade Organisation terms if no deal is reached by the end of the transition period (the end of this year).
As the EU Withdrawal Agreement was making its way through Parliament, Labour politicians tabled a number of amendments seeking to protect workers’ rights, prevent no-deal at the end of the transition period, protect EU citizens’ rights, and safeguard the rights of unaccompanied children. The Government rejected these amendments.
Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs said: “While the majority of residents in Tower Hamlets voted to remain, the East End has always been a resilient place and whatever the challenges ahead we will continue to thrive.
“We have more than 41,000 citizens from the 27 EU countries living in our borough and they make a huge contribution. As a council we have offered assistance to these residents with obtaining settled status and will continue to offer them advice and support. Our message to them is very clear: this is your home too.
“I’m extremely disappointed that the Government has seen fit to remove compromises from the EU Withdrawal Agreement including removing protections for workers’ rights and watering down protections for refugee children, as well as weakening environmental protections. Perhaps most concerning of all is the Government’s decision to leave the door open to a no-deal Brexit at the end of the year, something which would cause enormous damage to our borough and to our country.”
Cllr Sabina Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Culture, Art and Brexit, said: “Despite the Tory election slogan ‘get Brexit done’ there is still a great deal of uncertainty about what comes next. A one year transition means we still don’t know the long-term plan for the country, and EU residents in Tower Hamlets are worried about their future in the UK. We’re proud that Tower Hamlets is a friendly, welcoming borough and a place where anyone can feel at home.
“Two years ago we formed a Brexit commission in Tower Hamlets to look at the impact and prepare the council and our partners and with the Tower Hamlets Partnership we are continuing to prepare the borough for whatever the outcome.”