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EU Nationals: Residency Rights

Volume 620: debated on Thursday 26 January 2017

10. If the Government will make it their policy to enable the Scottish Government to provide residency rights for EU nationals living in Scotland after the UK has left the EU. (908400)

We will make the status of EU nationals in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, a priority for the negotiations. I think that we can all agree that this is the right and fair thing to do. The Prime Minister has already set out that we tried to achieve an early agreement on this issue with our EU partners. We will continue to do so. We also want to ensure that our immigration framework operates in the best interests of all parts of the United Kingdom, and we are working closely with the devolved Administrations to achieve that. For example, the Joint Ministerial Committee, which I chair, carefully considered the Scottish Government’s paper “Scotland’s Place in Europe” last week. We have made it clear that we intend to protect the existing rights enjoyed by UK and Irish nationals when in the other state, and to maintain existing border arrangements provided by the common travel area. None the less, immigration is a reserved matter.

If the Government are not going to guarantee residency rights for EU nationals, may I ask what assessment have they made of the impact on the economy and public services of an exodus of EU nationals and the return of thousands of retired British immigrants?

We do not intend to pursue a policy that will lead to that. There is a real issue at the heart of this, but the process is not helped by the slightly holier than thou stance of the Scottish National party. Perhaps the House should be reminded of the words of Nicola Sturgeon during the independence referendum in 2014. She said:

“We have set down a robust and common sense position. There are 160,000 EU nationals from other states living in Scotland, including some in the Commonwealth Games city of Glasgow. If Scotland was outside Europe”—

after independence—

“they would lose the right to stay here.”

I will deal with the issue properly.

The Prime Minister will today meet an American President who champions torture and is proud to discriminate against Muslims. Does the Secretary of State agree that it is therefore even more important that this Government should send the strong moral message that goods and chattels are bargaining chips, but human beings are not? Will he confirm the residency rights of EU nationals?

The hon. Lady knows my stance on torture down the years—better than most, I suspect. The British Government’s stance on torture is very plain: we do not condone it and we do not agree with it in any circumstances whatever.

At a conference on Brexit in Berlin at the weekend, the uncertainty facing EU nationals who are resident in the UK was made very clear. The Prime Minister’s comments were immensely welcome. Would it be possible for this issue to be resolved as rapidly as possible in the negotiations?

The Prime Minister has made it plain that she has already tried to get agreement among all the member states. Most of them agree, but one or two of them do not, and we have to keep pressing, as we will, to resolve this as quickly as possible. I hope that EU nationals who are currently here will take heart from what we are saying. Our intention is to give them the guarantees that will also apply to British citizens abroad.