MPs vow to protect Oxfordshire as EU exit plan is triggered

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith.

An Oxfordshire MP has vowed to defend vital services and employment across the county after MPs voted against protecting the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and offering parliament the chance to veto Brexit negotiations.

The country’s MPs voted against the proposed amendments by the House of Lords on Monday evening, paving the way for the Government to trigger Article 50 and begin the UK’s process of leaving the EU.

Andrew Smith, the Labour MP for Oxford East, was the only Oxfordshire MP to vote against rejecting the amendment and described parliament’s decisions as “disappointing” and vowed to protect Oxfordshire’s businesses and services closely associated with the EU.

He told The Oxford Paper: “Whilst I believe it is right to uphold the referendum outcome, it is important in so doing to safeguard the position of our health services, Mini plant and university research, which are very dependent on the commitment and freedom to travel of EU citizens.

“I shall keep up the pressure for recognition in the Brexit negotiations of the strong cultural and economic interest we have locally.”

All other five Oxfordshire MPs – Nicola Blackwood (Oxford West and Abingdon), John Howell (Henley), Ed Vaizey (Wantage), Victoria Prentis (Banbury) and Robert Courts (Witney) – followed the Tory line and voted against the Lords amendments.

Oxford West and Abingdon Liberal Democrat candidate Layla Moran accused Ms Blackwood of ‘betraying’ hundreds of EU nationals who live in her constituency.

Ms Moran said: “This is a betrayal of the hundreds of people from the EU in Oxford West & Abingdon as well as their friends, colleagues and neighbours.

“The hundreds of local nurses and doctors from the EU are already worried about their futures here.”

Ms Blackwood said: “While I voted and campaigned for Remain the outcome of this national referendum was clear, and to try to reverse the country’s decision would be democratic poison.

“I will continue to stand up for the key issues important to Oxford and Abingdon as we go into negotiations.”

Witney MP Mr Courts added that, although he ‘firmly agrees’ that EU residency rights should be top of the agenda, “it is essential that this is agreed alongside the rights of UK citizens living in the EU”.

Monday’s vote came after leading academics of 35 Oxford University colleges pleaded with MPs to protect the rights of EU citizens and claimed an exodus of academics has already begun.

In a letter to The Times newspaper, which was signed by Oxford’s vice-chancellor Louise Richardson and the heads of all but three of the institution’s colleges, the group urged MPs to back the Lords’ amendments and tell Prime Minister Theresa May that EU workers must stay.

They said: “Oxford University relies on EU citizens as lecturers, researchers and support staff.

“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; some are worried, some are already making plans to leave.”

Mrs May is to trigger Article 50 to begin the UK’s departure from the EU by the end of this month, and she could get the process under way from next week.

And while former Conservative Henley MP Lord Michael Heseltine was sacked as a Government adviser last week after saying the final Brexit deal would be “totally unpredictable”, a director from Harwell Campus has said facility is continuing to grow.

Angus Horner said: “The UK Government is full square behind Harwell, regardless of Brexit.”

Peers in the Lords eventually backed down over the issues of EU residency rights and a ‘meaningful vote’ on the final Brexit deal after their objections were overturned by MPs.

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