Today is a sad day for all of us who wanted our country to stay a part of the European Union. Our departure weakens our influence in Europe and the world, while at home the Tories’ years of infighting over Europe have left our society more divided than ever.
One thing that should unite all of us is the hope that we can move on from the Brexit obsession dominating politics ever since 2016. But Brexit is far from being “done” today – we face great uncertainty for a long while yet.
I have been leading Lewisham Council’s response to Brexit which is to mitigate the damage to our residents as much as possible, not least our 25,000 EU residents.
Last year as we twice faced the prospect of car-crash no-deal Brexit, we had to prepare our local public services for all kinds of scenarios, from lack of food and medical supplies to difficulties in maintaining staffing levels in social care and schools.
The Government did give additional financial support to Councils to prepare for Brexit, but it nowhere near what would be needed to cover a serious impact. In Lewisham’s case we received £320,000 – that’s just £1 per every resident.
We decided the best thing to do with such limited funds was to use them for one group of our residents who we knew were definitely going to be impacted by Brexit, our EU residents. This is in line with Lewisham Labour’s manifesto commitment to create an Open Lewisham in which we welcome and support all people who have chosen to live here.
We’re actively helping Lewisham’s EU residents with their settled status applications by providing a free verification service and working with local advice organisations like Lewisham Refugees and Migrants Network.
We’re also encouraging EU residents who haven’t yet applied to do so as soon as possible. Residents applying for benefits or reporting changes in circumstances could be affected if they haven’t yet applied for pre-settled or settled status.
We held an “Supporting EU Citizens” event at the town hall on Tuesday 28 January to provide information to residents about settled status and how our council services can help. But we also wanted to show our appreciation of our EU residents in the face of Brexit.
Speaking at the event, Mayor of Lewisham, Damien Egan said:
“We know the contribution that EU citizens make across Lewisham is invaluable and Lewisham and London would not be able to function without you. We want to ensure that Lewisham residents have practical support and we will continue to challenge the Government on your behalf.”
So far we have reached just over 20,000 of these EU residents in Lewisham, which is fantastic, but we need to ensure we reach every single EU resident. The deadline for applying is not certain, so please do not let friends or relatives leave it to the deadline. If you know anyone who hasn’t got around to applying it is vital they do so now.
Whatever happens with Brexit, we are proud to have residents from across Europe who call Lewisham home, and we want them to stay.
For more information on the Council’s response to Brexit, including help for EU residents, visit the Council website here: https://lewisham.gov.uk/mayorandcouncil/brexit-guidance
Councillor Kevin Bonavia
Cabinet Member for Democracy, Refugees & Accountability