NICOLA Sturgeon has hit out at the Home Office after officials kiboshed Scottish Government attempts to help to EU citizens living north of the border.

In a speech yesterday, the First Minister revealed that a bid to pay the £65 settled status fees for Europeans working in Scotland’s public services had been knocked back by Whitehall.

The SNP leader first made the offer to pay the residency fees last year, before her party’s annual conference.

She promised to protect the tens of thousands of EU nationals who work in Scotland’s hospitals, schools, universities and public agencies.

At the time the Scottish Tories dismissed the offer as a stunt.

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Yesterday, the First Minister told the Health and Social Care Scotland conference in Glasgow that the UK Government was refusing to accept her government’s money.

Sturgeon said the Tory’s “hostile environment” immigration policy had already caused a drop in the number of nurses from Europe applying to work in Scotland.

She challenged politicians in Westminster to ditch the “unacceptable” settled status fee and instead “value the doctors, nurses and carers working day in, day out to provide care in our times of need”.

The First Minister said: “It is unacceptable that the UK Government insists on charging EU citizens, including children, a fee to apply for a status they are already entitled to.

“The Scottish Government is committed to paying the fee for EU citizens working in our devolved public services.

“However, the UK Government will not allow third-party payments, thereby forcing EU citizens to pay it up-front.”

Sturgeon added: “EU citizens working in our public services are crucial to their successful delivery.

“It is of great concern that the more barriers the UK Government places on enabling people to stay in the UK, the more people could be forced to leave.

“In Scotland we are already seeing a drop in applications from nurses from across the EU – and that is hardly surprising given the hostile environment being created by UK Government policy.

“The UK Government has consistently failed to deliver a suitable migration policy for Scotland.

“Instead of forcing charges upon EU citizens, the UK Government should value the doctors, nurses and carers working day in, day out to provide care in our times of need, and drop the settled status fee.”

The EU Settlement Scheme gives workers from EU countries the right to continue to live, work and study here if they have been resident for more than five years.

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The Home Office did not respond to requests for a comment.

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Meanwhile, Scottish Brexit secretary Michael Russell has renewed warnings over the proposal to end freedom of movement as part of the draft Brexit deal being voted on by MPs next Tuesday.

The “political declaration” agreed by negotiators in Brussels, which sets out a rough sketch of the future relationship between the UK and the EU, commits to scrapping free movement of people after 2020.

The Prime Minister has said that in the future EU citizens will not be able to “jump the queue” and get preferential access to come and work in the UK over other immigrants.

Russell urged the Commons to vote against May’s deal: “Leaving the EU and ending freedom of movement will be disastrous for Scotland: the consequences of the UK Government’s stated intentions will be a fall in the number of people working and contributing to our public services.

“The evidence is clear but the views of businesses and the Scottish Parliament have been ignored.

“The Prime Minister has set her face against maintaining freedom of movement, with strident and deeply regrettable language. We will continue to work with others to maintain our place in the EU”.