Lords defy government with post-Brexit guarantee for EU nationals

The House of Lords has defied ministers and has voted for an amendment to guarantee EU nationals the right to remain in the UK after Brexit.

UK pharma will be keeping a close eye on these developments as due to the nature of the life sciences industry, it relies on being able to access a pool of talent from the EU and across the globe.

Peers voted by 358 to 256 to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit.

MPs will have the chance to remove the Lords’ amendment when it returns to the House of Commons next week.

The Lords will also consider backing other amendments to the bill before then – although this will likely raise the government’s ire further, as it insists the legislation should only cover invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Rights of EU nationals will be dealt with in separate negotiations that will also cover UK expatriates living in Europe, the government has said.

But a guarantee over their rights would help to assuage the concerns of pharma and other industries who employ millions of EU citizens across the UK.

According to figures from PriceWaterhouseCoopers there are 73,000 people working in the life sciences sector, with 7.4% of these from other EU nations.

It is unthinkable that the government won’t grant them permanent residence – although PwC thinks arrangements will be informal.

The government would take 108 years to process the paperwork from 3.4 million EU citizens living in the UK, according to PwC estimates.

The future of EU nationals already resident in the UK is even more crucial for the public sector, especially the NHS.  Last week the British Medical Association said the NHS could face an exodus of thousands of EU doctors after Brexit.

Around 10,000 doctors who work in the NHS – 6.6% of the UK medical workforce – qualified in the EEA with many more working in public health and academic medicine, said the BMA.

But a survey of 1,193 European Economic Area doctors working in the UK found 42% of those responding are considering leaving the UK following the referendum vote, with a further 23% unsure.

Hard-line Brexit supporters will be frustrated by the latest developments – but for pharma and healthcare, which are so reliant on talent from abroad, getting these arrangement right will be crucial

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