EU and Irish citizens face Brexit uncertainty, says UK minister

Lord Keen said EU citizens’ immigration status unclear in event of a vote to leave Europe

IBEC, Brexit, Ireland, benefits, upside, currency, trade, EU, referendum, Danny McCoy

The British Union Jack flies alongside the Irish Tricolour in front of Government Buildings. Image:

Three million EU citizens living in the UK - including 600,000 Irish people - face uncertainty about their legal immigration status in the event of Britain leaving the EU, a British Home Office minister has said.

Lord Keen of Elie, the UK government’s home affairs spokesman in the House of Lords, said that the process for leaving the EU was unprecedented and there is "a great deal of uncertainty about how it would work".

He did not explain how the immigration status of EU citizens would change in the event of a vote to leave.

Elie had been asked by a fellow peer whether EU citizens would automatically be entitled to remain in the UK and whether there were any contingency plans to defend legal challenges if they were not.

"UK citizens get the right to live and work in the other 27 member states from our membership of the EU.

"If the UK voted to leave the EU, the government would do all it could to secure a positive outcome for the country, but there would be no requirement under EU law for these rights to be maintained," Elie said.

The reply raises the prospect that some Irish and other EU citizens could be asked to leave or be removed at some point after the UK withdraws.

Boris Johnson, the former London mayor and leading leave campaigner, said everyone who was already in the UK should have the right to remain.

Yet there are still unanswered questions about whether EU citizens in the UK would automatically have the right to stay, whether they would have to apply for leave to remain, how they would be affected if they left the country but wanted to return and how the process would be organised.