The heads of 35 Oxford Colleges and Permanent Private Halls have signed an open letter urging MPs to guarantee the right of European Union citizens to reside in the UK after the Brexit process is complete, ahead of a key parliamentary vote on Article 50.
The letter, published in The Times today and signed by Vice-Chancellor Louise Richardson, appeals to MPs just before they vote on a Lords amendment to the Article 50 bill guaranteeing the right of EU citizens in Britain to remain after withdrawal.
The College heads address members of all political parties to ask them to support the amendment, adding that Oxford University and its research would “suffer enormous damage” if academics and support staff from the EU lost their right to remain. The letter also dismisses the government suggestion that European citizens are likely to be allowed to stay as “insufficient”.
“Our EU colleagues are not reassured by a government which tells them that deportation is not going to happen but declines to convert that assurance into law”, the letter argues, before going on to note that some EU citizen academics are “already making plans to leave”.
It continues: “Many of our staff do not know whether absences abroad on research contracts will count against them. Others do not know, however longstanding their work and residence, whether their children will be able to remain in the UK.”
Notable absentees from the signatories are heads from Christ Church, Corpus Christi, Lincoln, Mansfield and St. Peter’s.
Earlier this month, Alastair Buchan, Oxford’s Head of Brexit Strategy, told Cherwell: “[Academics] are most worried about their staff, they’re worried about students being able to come, they’re worried about their staff being secure and confident and having what they need in terms of what we all take for granted in this country, which is free education, free healthcare, free social care”.
Speaking on how he would attempt to align the views of colleges heads who had spoken out against Brexit following the referendum, Buchan said: “They are very senior people, often from government, often from the civil service, often from the media and academe, and they are in a situation where they really are speaking as individuals. My job is to somehow forge a common purpose for the university.”
Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities said yesterday (12 March) that the government wanted higher education to remain “open to collaboration” after Brexit.
The letter aims to persuade backbench Conservative MPs to support the amendment alongside Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP. The government, which is likely to be supported by a number of opposition MPs, has a majority of 17 in the Commons and has insisted that the rights of EU citizens are a priority.
Oxford University and the signatories of the letter have been contacted for comment.
This is a breaking news story. More information will be added as we receive it.