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Theresa May’s claim EU citizens are ‘jumping the queue’ to work in UK was ‘damaging and insensitive’

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LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the 2018 CBI Conference on November 19, 2018 in London, England. Theresa May defended her draft Brexit agreement before the audience of business leaders, asserting that the deal will restore UK control over its money, laws, and borders. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
British
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks during the 2018 CBI Conference
on November 19, 2018 in London, England.

Leon Neal / Getty

  • Theresa May’s speech criticising EU citizens who “jump
    the queue” are branded “damaging and insensitive” by Lord Peter
    Ricketts, the UK’s former national security advisor and
    ambassador to France.
  • Theresa May used a speech on Monday to say that EU
    citizens would no longer be able to “jump the queue” after
    Brexit when free movement ends.
  • Lord Ricketts told Business Insider: “I think we should
    be celebrating the contribution that EU citizens have made in
    their hundreds of thousands in this country, not denigrating
    them by suggesting they were somehow abusing the
    system.”

LONDON — Theresa May’s comments that EU workers will no longer be
able to “jump the queue” to live and work in the UK after Brexit
was “damaging and insensitive” and risks harming Britain’s
place in the world, the UK’s former national security advisor has
told Business Insider.

Lord Peter Ricketts, who was National Security Adviser under
David Cameron’s coalition government and the UK’s former
ambassador to France, told Business Insider that May’s comments
“shocked” him because they imply that EU citizens “somehow got
here by some sort of trickery or misuse of the system.”

“By misrepresenting or implying that there was a queue which they
jumped, it denigrates them and undervalues what EU citizens have
contributed to this country,” he said.

“It feels like a deliberate implication that they were somehow
cutting across or finding shortcuts in the system which is
untrue,” he added.

“It is damaging and insensitive. I think we should be celebrating
the contribution that EU citizens have made in their hundreds of
thousands in this country, not denigrating them by suggesting
they were somehow abusing the system.”

“Most of all, it betrays a failure to appreciate and welcome the
contribution that EU citizens have made and by extension the
contribution that UK citizens in other countries have made.”


Peter Ricketts
Lord
Peter Ricketts

Getty

May’s comments came in a speech to business leaders on Monday in
which she vowed to end free movement for EU citizens after
Brexit. Currently, EU citizens are able to work and live in the
UK without applying for a visa, and UK citizens enjoy the same
reciprocal arrangement in the rest of the EU.

The prime minister has been widely criticised for the speech.
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the prime
minister’s words were “offensive” and “disgraceful” while EU
citizens in the UK warned they could fuel hate crimes against
them. 

“That the case for Brexit has been reduced to such a miserable
and self-defeating bottom line is depressing in the extreme.
Let’s lift our sights higher than this,” Sturgeon said.

“Actually, the more I think about it, the more offensive ‘jump
the queue’ is as a description of a reciprocal right of free
movement. Really disgraceful.”

The European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt has
also criticised May. 

He said: “EU citizens living, working, contributing to UK
communities, didn’t ‘jump the queue’ and neither did UK nationals
in Europe.”

“They were exercising rights which provided freedom and
opportunities. We will fight to ensure these continue in the
future, especially after any transition.”

A statement from the3million, a campaign group for EU citizens
living in the UK, warned that May’s language risked a return to
the “toxic” anti-immigrant rhetoric of the 2016 Brexit
referendum.

“We EU citizens in the UK will not tolerate a repeat of the toxic
anti-immigrant language used in the 2016 referendum, with
constant tabooed headlines on immigration and a 29% rise in hate
incidents and hate crimes,” said the statement.

“In that campaign, we were vilified and British citizens living
in Europe stereotyped or ignored.”

The group called MPs “to publicly oppose the return of these
tactics and promote an honest debate at every opportunity.

A Downing Street spokesman said ahead of May’s speech on
Monday that EU citizens had made a “huge contribution” to the UK.

The spokesman said it was not “fair” to suggest that the prime
minister planned to accuse EU citizens in the UK of “jumping the
queue” when lines from her planned speech were released to
journalists.

May later told the CBI conference: “It will no longer be the case
that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they
have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney
or software developers from Delhi.”

“Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will
have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has
to offer.”

Our Brexit Insider Facebook group is the best place for up-to-date news and analysis about Britain’s departure from the EU, direct from Business Insider’s political reporters. Join here.

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