Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon seeks guarantees on rights of EU nationals

Nicola Sturgeon in Brussels Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The first minister was in Brussels earlier in the week for a series of meetings with EU officials

Nicola Sturgeon has called for "immediate guarantees" on the residency status and rights of European Union nationals living in Scotland.

The first minister has written to Prime Minister David Cameron and the five candidates bidding to replace him following last week's vote for Brexit.

Ms Sturgeon said it was "imperative" the UK government respected the rights of Scotland's 173,000 EU citizens.

The UK backed leaving the EU, but in Scotland 62% voted to remain.

The frontrunner to become Conservative leader, Home Secretary Theresa May, said the status of EU nationals living in the UK would form part of the Brexit negotiations.

Ms Sturgeon has held a series of meetings with senior EU officials after pledging to do all she can to protect Scotland's position in Europe.

Her demands for guarantees on EU nationals comes ahead of a meeting with consuls-general of EU member states and diplomats at her official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh, on Tuesday.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in Europe, yet citizens of EU countries who live, work and contribute to our country are understandably anxious and uncertain about what the UK referendum result means for them and their families.

"People from EU countries are an important part of Scotland's future. I am therefore seeking immediate guarantees from the prime minister, and all Conservative leadership candidates, that the residency status and the other existing rights of the 173,000 EU nationals living in Scotland will remain unchanged, now or in the future.

"This is a commitment that can and should be made and enforced now.

"It is imperative that the UK government respects those who have exercised their treaty rights and chosen to make a life in Scotland.

"Scotland is still firmly in the EU and we are pursuing all options to maintain our EU status - something that I underlined in my meetings in Brussels in the last few days."

'Valuable reassurance'

She added: "Through the consular network I want to get the message out as far and as wide that we are an inclusive and outward-looking society that recognises the immense contribution EU citizens make to Scotland's economy, society and culture."

Ms Sturgeon said she would listen to suggestions on how the Scottish government could provide further reassurance to EU citizens in Scotland.

Those studying or starting a course this year have already been told they will receive free tuition in Scotland for the duration of their studies despite the Brexit vote.

David Cameron already moved to reassure European citizens living in the UK that there will be no immediate changes in their circumstances.

But he said final clarification would be a matter for the complex Brexit negotiations which lie ahead.

Speaking on the Peston on Sunday show, Mrs May said she wanted to "guarantee the position" for EU citizens living in the UK - and of Britons living elsewhere in Europe, adding that this would be factored into negotiations over the UK's exit package.

Rival candidate Michael Gove has said EU nationals should have the right to remain in the UK.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has called for existing EU nationals to be allowed to remain in the UK "indefinitely", and Labour MP Yvette Cooper called for Parliament to agree such a commitment.

Meanwhile, Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie has called for a joint EU, UK and Scottish government statement to reassure universities and research institutions about the future of EU funding.

He said: "Research can be years in the planning. Already there has been speculation that researchers from the UK will be sidelined or excluded from taking part in new projects.

"To maintain confidence and avoid any confusion we need a joint statement from the EU, UK and Scottish governments to be issued immediately to all funding bodies, research institutions and universities.

"This would provide immediate and valuable reassurance."

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