York is home to a lot of people from countries in the European Union – and many are feeling quite worried right now.
That was evident from a Q&A session between EU nationals living, working and learning in York, and Rachael Maskell.
They told the Labour MP for York Central of their fears they might have to uproot their families as a result of Brexit.
At the meeting with York College students on Friday (March 31), Ms Maskell admitted she couldn’t answer some of their questions – about job security, citizenship and access to public services, for example.
“There have been no commitments made to your future,” she said, criticising the government’s treatment of EU citizens since the vote.
The lack of clarity from Westminster meant that future access to public services like the NHS hangs in the balance for EU citizens, she said, adding: “Theresa May is using you as a bargaining chip.”.
One student was unsure whether Brexit’s impact would be immediate or delayed until 2019. She said many of her peers from abroad have been panicking and thinking about moving back home.
The MP suggested that concrete changes would probably not come into effect until 2019 or later.
But there had already certainly been a “cultural change” which has divided Britain.
A rise in discrimination
Another student voiced her concerns about discrimination against migrants in the UK.
Ms Maskell said that since the vote “labels have come to the fore”, legitimising a feeling amongst some that they have more of a right to life in Britain than others.
“Everybody has a right to a future,” she said. “Our economy would implode without labour from Europe and the rest of the world.”
There was anxiety among the EU nationals that the lives they have built in York – including their jobs, homes and schools for their children – could soon be uprooted.
One woman explained that she and her sons had great aspirations when they came to York. But since the Brexit vote, those hopes had been replaced by fear that they will be forced to move on.
Another student from Poland explained how working in Britain had completely changed his life. Here he enjoyed “rest, friends, work, and family”, whereas in Poland he had worked long unforgiving hours for very little pay.
He worried that this might change because of Brexit.
Rachael Maskell suggested that “we may lose protections” like worker’s rights, maternity leave and holiday breaks as we translate EU laws into British laws.
Brexit has brought uncertainty
The MP is pressing the government to prioritise the rights of EU citizens.
She said: “I will do all I can to support EU citizens in York and across the EU, and if people, living in my constituency, have concerns I would ask them to contact me.”
York College principal Dr Alison Birkinshaw said students coming here from Europe and further afield “is really positive and it helps our home students broaden their outlook and in some cases improve their own language skills.
“Brexit has brought uncertainty and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to help all our students understand the implications of Brexit and what might mean for them, now and in the future.
“So we are grateful to Rachael for taking the time to talk with our students so that she can understand their concerns and represent these in parliamentary debates.”