Scotland politics

Scotland's FM Nicola Sturgeon calls for EU citizens guarantee

Q+A session Image copyright PA
Image caption Ms Sturgeon hosted the question and answer session with EU nationals after a Scottish cabinet meeting in Edinburgh

Nicola Sturgeon has called on the UK government to guarantee EU nationals living in the UK can remain after Brexit.

Scotland's first minister made her plea as she hosted a question and answer session with hundreds of EU nationals.

Many were concerned about whether they would have the right to live and work in Scotland when the UK leaves the EU.

Ms Sturgeon said it was "disgraceful" that the UK had not guaranteed the right of EU nationals to remain.

And while she believed it was "unthinkable" people from EU countries would be asked to leave, she called on Prime Minister Theresa May to "do the humane thing" by ending the uncertainty facing three million people, including about 173,000 in Scotland.

But Secretary of State for Scotland David Mundell said the prime minister has made it clear that she wants EU nationals who are in the UK to stay and she will do everything she can to make that happen.

Mr Mundell said "it is also important that we secure the position of UK nationals who are in other parts of the EU. I recognise the concerns around this issue and we do want to bring it to an early conclusion to be able to give people certainty."

'Important contribution'

The UK government said it "fully expects" that the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK, and of UK nationals in EU member states, will be "properly protected" after Brexit.

And it has said it "recognises and values the important contribution made by EU and other non-UK citizens who work, study and live in the UK".

But ministers have also said it would be "unwise" to fully "guarantee" EU citizens' rights without a deal for Britons abroad being in place.

Among the people from 24 different EU countries who attended the first minister's event was Italian woman Caroline Magoha, who said her 13-year-old son had been bullied ahead of the EU referendum, and that her family feared being forced to leave the country.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Caroline Agoha said her son had been bullied ahead of the EU referendum

She added: "We have to live with our bags half-packed, our feet halfway out of the door.

"I don't have any trust whatsoever in the Westminster government. They will wake up one day and say Article 50, EU members, you have to be out within six months. They are capable of that.

"It is inhumane. It is against the basic human rights of children. Brexit is ruining the future of Scottish children."

'Going to worry'

Ms Sturgeon was applauded as she said it "breaks my heart" at not being able to guarantee the futures of EU nationals in Scotland because immigration was reserved to Westminster.

She added: "I think it is unthinkable that people living here would be asked to leave. I think the uproar that that would cause, rightly, would be immense.

"But the fact remains that until that commitment is given, people are going to worry and have that uncertainty."

But a man from Northern Ireland claimed Ms Sturgeon was sowing the seeds of division within the UK by raising the prospect of another independence referendum.

Ms Sturgeon responded by saying she could have called a vote on independence straight away, but did not in order to give the UK the chance to find a way forward.

Image caption Thomas and Elke Westen say they no longer feel welcome in the UK

German couple Thomas and Elke Westen, who live in Kirkcaldy, had earlier told BBC Scotland that they had decided to leave the UK as they no longer felt welcome following the Brexit vote.

Mrs Westen said she could not see herself living in a country where she potentially had to apply for a work permit and visa every time she wanted to work and live in her own home.

But she said she would miss her friends who had asked her to stay.

The couple, who are SNP members, were subsequently invited to Ms Sturgeon's question and answer session after being contacted by her office.

Following the meeting, the Westen's said they would give their decision to leave Scotland further thought.

The UK as a whole voted to leave the European Union in June's referendum, but voters in Scotland backed staying in by 62% to 38%.

Ms Sturgeon has pledged to explore all of the options for securing Scotland's status in Europe, and has travelled to Brussels and Berlin for talks with senior EU officials.

But she has also said that a second independence referendum is "highly likely".