The Liberal Democrats have pledged to lobby for immediate action to allow the thousands of overseas nurses from European Union countries that work in the NHS and social care to remain.
Ahead of a crucial vote in the House of Lords today on the right to remain, the party highlighted new figures showing the dependence of the UK economy on EU nationals.
“You can’t have a hard Brexit and a strong NHS”
Peers are currently debating calls from the Liberal Democrats for the UK to protect the rights of EU citizens to remain in the UK after Brexit
The party is confident it can muster enough cross-party support to inflict the government’s first Brexit defeat by passing an amendment that would give all EU nationals already living in the UK the permanent right to stay.
Official figures, published in January, show that over 215,000 EU nationals work in health and social care.
The figures were highlighted today by the Liberal Democrats as the party said it would push to guarantee an immediate “NHS passport” for the 59,000 EU nationals who work directly for the NHS.
Around 10% of doctors and 4% of nurses are understood to come from other EU countries. Overall, around 5% of NHS staff – almost 59,000 people – are from elsewhere in the EU.
Nick Clegg, former deputy Prime Minister and now Liberal Democrat Brexit, spokesman, said: “The NHS would collapse if we told all the doctors, nurses and other valued staff from other EU countries that they were no longer welcome here.
“Not only would that be a slap in the face to those who have cared for and helped so many British people back to health, it would also seriously damage health care in this country and put the nation’s very health at risk,” he said.
Mr Clegg added: “You can’t have a hard Brexit and a strong NHS, or a hard Brexit and an economy that delivers the homes Britain needs.”
His party has become increasingly confident of inflicting the government’s first Brexit defeat, based on a projection of likely voting intentions after today’s debate.
It has sounded out a large number of peers and have also logged that in debates over 80 peers across the parties have spoken up for the rights of EU nationals.
Lord Dick Newby, the Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said: “Theresa May is trying to use families living in Britain as bargaining chips in some escalating hostage negotiation.
“In the House of Lords there is clearly an overwhelming desire to do the right thing and ensure that all EU nationals have the right to remain,” he said.