EU citizens will always have a home in Scotland

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Nicola Sturgeon is first minister of Scotland.

EDINBURGH — Five years ago today, the people of Scotland went to the polls as citizens of the European Union and overwhelmingly voted to remain as such. Every local authority in the country rejected Brexit.

Despite that vote, not only have we been removed from the EU against our will, we’ve been subject to a damaging hard Brexit. These five years have been especially difficult for the more than 200,000 people from EU countries who have chosen to live and work in Scotland, and who are now being forced by the government in Westminster to apply to stay in the U.K.

The Scottish Government’s view is clear: EU citizens (and EEA and Swiss citizens) have made Scotland a better place, enriching our country and contributing so much to the modern, diverse, European society we have become. Those living here should not need to apply to retain the rights that they already have as part of Scotland’s society.

Ours is a country that has benefited enormously from the freedom of movement we enjoyed as part of the EU. During our time as part of the bloc, we went from being a country of net outmigration to one where more people arrived than left. Our world-class universities, our agriculture sector, our care homes and sectors all across the economy also benefited.

And in turn, EU countries profited as Scots took advantage of their freedom within the EU to expand their horizons — not least through the Erasmus educational program on which the U.K. government has inexplicably turned its back.

But more than ever we badly want EU citizens living here to stay. So, we are doing all we can to encourage them to apply to the U.K. government’s EU Settlement Scheme. There is now just one week left to apply, and despite our efforts, I am greatly concerned that many of our friends and neighbors may not yet have done so. If they do not, they will find themselves in legal limbo, facing a very uncertain future.

The record of the U.K. government’s Home Office — which was responsible for the Windrush scandal in which lawful residents were wrongly detained and even deported — inspires little confidence that everything will run smoothly. Nor do disgraceful reports of EU citizens being detained at the U.K. border, even with proof of settled status.

That’s why, in these extraordinary circumstances, we have called on the U.K. Government to extend the June 30 deadline for applications. We have also said that EU citizens should not be required to be residents for five years in the U.K. to receive settled status. And we also want successful applicants to have the option of being given physical, not just digital, proof of their status.

Sadly, as with so much of the Brexit process, and indeed other matters, the voice of Scotland, in what was conceived as a voluntary union of nations, has been ignored by the government in Westminster.

Relations between the EU and the U.K. are clearly difficult at present. I urge Prime Minister Boris Johnson to look not for conflict but cooperation, which is essential as we tackle global goals such as the climate emergency. I believe that guided by our values, Scotland can act as a bridge to help bring about a closer relationship that will be in everyone’s interests.

At present, the focus of the Scottish Government remains on tackling the pandemic. But thanks to the incredible efforts of the people of Scotland and the success of the vaccination program, I am optimistic that better times lie ahead.

Like all countries, we are thinking deeply about how to build a better society and a better world after the crisis is over. And for Scotland, I firmly believe our best future lies in once again joining the EU, which we were a part of for 47 years — this time as an independent country fully committed to the shared endeavor of EU membership and to our common European values.

The people of Scotland may have lost — for now — the rights and responsibilities that come with EU citizenship, but we have not lost our commitment to European values. In the meantime, my heartfelt plea to all EU citizens in Scotland is this: You are part of us; please stay.

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