Skip to main content

UK Citizens in EU Countries: Rights

Volume 615: debated on Thursday 20 October 2016

5. What rights he plans to secure for UK citizens living in other EU countries; and whether he plans to negotiate a reciprocal agreement with EU partners on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. (906691)

12. What rights he plans to secure for UK citizens living in other EU countries; and whether he plans to negotiate a reciprocal agreement with EU partners on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. (906699)

13. Whether it is his policy to allow EU nationals living in the UK to remain after the UK leaves the EU. (906701)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Basildon and East Thurrock (Stephen Metcalfe) on his election as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee.

We had a very good debate on this matter yesterday and it was clear that Members on both sides of the House wanted to provide reassurance. The Government fully intend to protect the status of EU nationals already living here and the Prime Minister has been clear on that point. We expect UK citizens’ rights in other EU member states to be protected in return. I find it hard to imagine a scenario where, in negotiations, that is not the outcome. At every step of the negotiations, we will seek to ensure the best possible outcomes for the British people at home and overseas.

To follow on from the question asked by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire (Lucy Frazer), the Government have made clear their desire to control the borders and the fact that free movement cannot continue as it is now. However, will my hon. Friend reiterate that a degree of free movement will be necessary to protect key areas of our economy such as science and technology, and in particular research collaboration?

I absolutely recognise my hon. Friend’s point and the need to strike that balance. As the Secretary of State said in his conference speech, to which he has already referred, pulling out of the European Union does not mean pulling up the drawbridge. He said:

“We will always welcome those with the skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still. If we are to win in the global marketplace, we must win the global battle for talent. Britain has always been one of the most tolerant and welcoming places on the face of the earth. It must and it will remain so.”

This is particularly true in areas such as science and technology. The UK is a science superpower and we intend to make sure it stays that way.

As well as ensuring that British pensioners living in other EU countries retain the right to remain in those countries, will the Government make sure that their pensions are protected under their current terms?

My hon. Friend raises an important point. Clearly, this is something that we will want to secure in the negotiations. We are working on the basis that what is fair to UK citizens in the EU should also be fair to EU citizens in the UK. We will certainly be looking to protect the interests of British pensioners as we go through this process.

The most recent census indicates that 1,588 of my constituents were born in other EU countries. From personal experience, I know that they include doctors, dentists, teachers, nurses, home care workers, residential care workers, pupil support assistants and many more. Why are the Government already able to give unilateral guarantees about the remaining rights of bankers but unable to give the same guarantees to my constituents?

We are clear that it is important to secure the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU. We will seek to do so through the negotiations.

The Minister is seeking to brush away concerns about this issue. Last month, the British Chambers of Commerce reported that 41% of companies said that their staff had expressed uncertainty about their future. Across the country, EU staff in our universities, who make up 15% of academics and contribute hugely to our research, are reconsidering their position. NHS England’s chief executive is so concerned that he has called for early reassurance about the future of EU workers. Will the Government simply resolve this uncertainty by committing to implement the decision of this House on 6 July and acting with urgency to give EU nationals currently living in the UK the right to remain?

As I said in yesterday’s debate, the Government recognise the enormous contribution that EU citizens make to our health service, our universities and business. We want to ensure that their rights are protected, but we need to do so through the process of negotiation and agreement.

Will the Minister now answer the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant)? Why was the Chancellor yesterday, in front of the Treasury Committee, able to give an unambiguous guarantee about the travel and residential rights of bankers that he is not prepared to give to our hard-working fellow European citizens?

When the right hon. Gentleman intervened on me in yesterday’s debate, I had a sneaking suspicion that he might be, perhaps inadvertently, misrepresenting the comments of the Chancellor to the Select Committee. Having read the transcript, it is clear that the Chancellor was making it clear that his role was to advocate on this in the policy discussions to come with the Home Office and other Departments. He was not doing as the right hon. Gentleman says.