Which Brexiters are hypocrites on EU citizens’ rights?

by Luke Lythgoe | 10.03.2017

During the referendum, Leavers loudly defended the rights of EU citizens legally resident in the UK. Now many pro-Brexit MPs are not practising what they preach. They have so far refused to back legislation requiring the government to guarantee these citizens’ rights.

We’ve gathered below some of the statements made before and after June 23 by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and eight other prominent Brexiters.


When a Number 10 spokesperson suggested in May 2016 that it was “possible” a vote to leave would endanger EU citizens’ rights in the UK, Peter Bone called it “absurd”. The Tory MP insisted that “any EU citizen that is legally here if we come out of the EU would absolutely have the right to remain here.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was “really grubby politics” to worry people who had established “a legitimate right to be here”. He told PoliticsHome: “It would be straightforwardly immortal [sic] to deport people who have come here legally and who have established their lives here.” Rees-Mogg also called on the government to give EU citizens an “unequivocal guarantee” they would be allowed to remain in the case of Brexit.

On June 1, Vote Leave itself issued the following statement signed by Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Gisela Stuart and Priti Patel: “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”


The reassurances continued immediately after the referendum.

On July 3 Conservative MP Peter Lilley and UKIP’s only MP Douglas Carswell signed a letter in the Telegraph urging “the government, opposition parties and every candidate standing to be the next Conservative Party leader – and hence prime minister – to make an unequivocal statement that EU migrants currently living in the UK are welcome here, and that changes would apply only to new migrants.”

The next day Tory leadership challenger Andrea Leadsom, now a cabinet minister, declared: “I commit today to guaranteeing the rights of our EU friends who have already come here to live and work. We must give them certainty, there is no way they will be bargaining chips in our negotiations.”

Then, on 6 July, the Commons passed a motion which asked the government to “commit today that EU nationals currently living in the UK shall have the right to remain”. Only two MPs voted against.

Among those to speak during the debate was Johnson, then a backbench MP. He said: “I would like to put on record what I think has been said already – that countless times the Vote Leave campaign gave exactly this reassurance to everybody from EU countries living and working here, and it is very, very disappointing that that should be called into question. I think it is absolutely right to issue the strongest possible reassurance to EU nationals in this country, not just for moral or humanitarian reasons, but for very, very sound economic reasons as well. They are welcome, they are necessary, they are a vital part of our society, and I will passionately support this motion tonight.”

Outspoken Tory Brexiter John Redwood also agreed that “we need to offer reassurance”. Alongside Johnson, Redwood and 251 other MPs who voted in favour of the motion (although in the knowledge that it would be non-binding and have no effect on government policy) was Carswell.

The Brexit bill

Since Theresa May became prime minister and set herself against guaranteeing EU citizens’ rights unilaterally, all these Brexiters have changed their tune – even UKIP’s Carswell and Labour’s Stuart.

Bone, Carswell, Gove, Johnson, Leadsom, Lilley, Patel, Redwood, Rees-Mogg and Stuart all voted against new clause 57 when it was debated by the House of Commons, which said: “Nothing in this Act shall affect the continuation of those residence rights enjoyed by EU citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016.”

InFacts approached each MP mentioned in this article for comment. At time of publication only Jacob Rees-Mogg had replied, saying: “The amendment was irrelevant to the Bill. It may be appropriate in the Great Repeal Bill.”

The House of Lords has, however, passed an amendment saying, within three months of the act passing, the government must bring forward proposals to ensure that EU citizens legally resident here lose none of their rights.

Those Brexiters who once spoke so passionately about EU citizens’ rights have one final chance to practise what they preach when the Brexit bill comes back to the Commons next week.

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    Edited by Hugo Dixon

    9 Responses to “Which Brexiters are hypocrites on EU citizens’ rights?”

    • The Brexit crowd really are the most ludicrous bunch of liars. How can anyone trust them on anything, let alone a matter of this moment?

    • Heart breaking that those who have established thier lives for decades in the U.K. are currently & continually in limbo. These people are terribly worried & concerned through no fault or cause of their own.

      Having paid into the system to support the economy via tax & social security contributions all those years, many in important & vital jobs & with mortgages & viable businesses. Many with children & grandchildren who have invested everything into their adopted country that they call home.

      This is outrageously inhumane. As a British citizen, I’m so ashamed at this treatment of people.

    • Why would anyone be surprised by the hypocrisy of Angela Leadsome, Boris Johnson, Douglas Farewell, Peter Bone, Gisela Stuart, Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood, Michael Give, Peter Lilley and Priti Patel. Their whole Brexit Campaign is based on lies and the fact that they are not now guaranteeing the right of EU Citizens residing in this country on the 23rd.June 2016 the right to remain here should not surprise anyone.

    • It’s almost nine months since the referendum and still no one in government has a clear-cut plan in place for what’s supposed to happen once Article 50 is invoked. To be honest I don’t think anyone, with the exception of Mr Farage, actually believed that the Leave campaign would sway the voters. I’m not even surprised that Mr Farage failed to insist on a clear two-thirds majority for Brexit, just as he insisted ought to be required for the Remain campaign to win. In fact I was concerned about the right to remain for all EU citizens here in the UK that I advised a good friend of mine to ensure their right to remain to obtain UK citizenship long before the vote was held.

    • In your excellent ‘Hall of Hypocrisy’ above, you left out Greg Hands. I made the same point in a letter published by the New European in February.
      Greg Hands is MP for Chelsea & Fulham and Minister for Trade & Industry. On 19 Oct 2016, Greg Hands voted against EU nationals living in the UK to retaining rights, including the right to live and work, should the UK leave the EU. On 1 Feb 2017, Greg Hands voted for Article 50, effectively confirming that EU citizens living in the UK have nil, zero, rights. Yet, in a speech in Dusseldorf on 2nd February 2017 Greg stated: “There is almost no UK politician with closer natural bonds to Germany than me. My wife is from Berlin, and I am the proud father of 2 children who […] have all the advantages of bilingualism and occasionally take advantage of having 2 nationalities.” He further stated “We must now deliver […] on leaving the EU.”
      So, there you have it: Greg Hands massive beneficiary of Freedom of Movement is denying it to others. He says no moral problem with using people as ‘bargaining chips.’
      Greg’s response rate on recent letters to him is 24%, ranking him 587 out of 641 MP’s or bottom 8%.
      Clearly Greg Hands does not see the irony and contradictions nor does he bother to communicate.
      It is amazing what a Ministerial salary will accomplish….
      Arend Dikkers

    • These characters seem to dislike each other as much as they dislike those who voted remain or EU nationals living here. How can anyone trust them?

    • In my view, no politician can be trusted on any promise or stated policy .
      The very business of politics is saying the right thing at the right time and then quietly (or loudly) doing whatever they wanted to do in the first place.
      Or if unavoidable, doing a u turn whenever necessary.