Nicola Sturgeon has offered to pay the residency fees for EU citizens who currently work in the Scottish public sector, in an effort to reinforce her anti-#Brexit credentials as her party’s conference opened in Glasgow.
Sturgeon said the pledge would protect up to 20,000 EU nationals who work in Scotland’s hospitals, schools, universities and public agencies who face losing their UK residency after Brexit.
The measure was unveiled on Sunday as the Scottish National party gathered for a subdued conference, its first since it lost 21 Westminster seats in June when voters rejected Sturgeon’s attempt to use Brexit as the justification for a fresh Scottish independence referendum.
Sturgeon’s government is now changing tack to focus far more heavily on domestic policy and managing the Brexit process, pushing back a decision on the timing of an independence vote by at least a year.
The offer to pay residency costs for any EU citizen working in the public sector will be popular among SNP activists.
The UK government has said EU nationals will be able to apply for “settled status” if they have lived in the UK for five years or more at the point of Brexit. It remains unclear how much that would cost.
The current Home Office fee for naturalisation is £1,282, implying that it may cost the Scottish government up to £25.64m to fund those applications, but a UK residence card for nationals of non-EU countries costs far less, at £65.
After urging private companies to consider the same offer in a statement on Saturday, Sturgeon told The Andrew Marr Show on BBC1 on Sunday that the offer sent “a message to EU nationals that we want them to stay here because we welcome them”.
The Scottish Tories dismissed the offer as a stunt. The Scottish government would want EU nationals to have a vote in a future Scottish independence referendum, as they did in the 2014 referendum.