The Prime Minister has made it clear that one of her 12 negotiating priorities is to secure the status of EU nationals already living in the UK as soon as possible, once formal negotiations have begun. She has also made it clear that she seeks a deal based on reciprocity, which also secures the status of UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU.
The cross-party Exiting the European Union Committee published its second report yesterday. It unanimously agreed that the Government should make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK. Will the Home Secretary now commit to doing so?
I will of course read the report with the respect and interest that it deserves. Nevertheless, I feel that reciprocity is an important part of securing the position not only of the EU nationals, who add such value to our economy and are so welcome here, but the UK citizens who live their lives abroad in the EU.
This weekend, Rita Windham-Wright, a Hungarian national living in Oban told me that she and her family were considering leaving Scotland, Celia Krezdorn from Helensburgh, a Swiss national married to a German, whose children are Scottish, told me they have no idea what the future holds for them, and Jean Michel Voinot from Lochgilphead asked whether his family will be able to hold together. Given that the Exiting the European Union Committee said it would be “unconscionable” if such people were to be denied clarity about their future, how do the Government intend to—
Order. That is too long, I am afraid. We have got the gist of the question, and we are grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but we have a lot to get through and not much time in which to do so.
I urge the hon. Gentleman to reassure his constituents, if that is what they are, about how valued they are for the contribution they make to the UK economy. I also point out that the recent immigration statistics show that we remain just as popular a destination as ever for EU nationals.
We cannot even deport convicted criminals. The reality is that even if we wanted to, which we do not, we are not going to deport a single EU national. It seems to me that we might as well acknowledge this fact now, while reserving the right, in the extremely unlikely possibility of our EU partners deporting any UK citizens—which they will not, for the same practical reasons—to change our mind. But let us at least reassure these people now.
My hon. Friend makes a very fair observation about the reality of the situation. I point out, however, that as he seeks the assurance and certainty that the EU citizens who are here want, I seek it, too, for the UK citizens who are in other parts of the EU. It is a priority; the Prime Minister has said that she will move on to that as soon as negotiations begin.
Does the Home Secretary agree that the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) could refer his constituents to the acquired rights EU citizens might have under the Vienna convention? Those same rights might not be available to UK citizens abroad, who also need our protection.
My hon. Friend makes the very good point that EU citizens here have existing rights and that we need to ensure that equivalent rights are extended to UK citizens in the EU.
The Home Secretary advises Members to tell their EU constituents that they are safe, and many of us have been doing that, but, frankly, they need to hear it from her and from the Prime Minister. We really need the Government to step up and say to those individuals that their lives here in Britain are secure, at the same time as trying to ensure that the people who went from Britain to Spain will be equally secure.
I understand the concerns that the right hon. Lady has raised. We have all experienced this as MPs in our surgeries. My point to the hon. Member for Argyll and Bute (Brendan O’Hara) was that as MPs we can give that reassurance that EU citizens are valued here and that it is the Prime Minister’s intention to do that. We will make it a priority as we begin the EU negotiations.
If we are to be accused of using EU nationals as bargaining chips, could the same accusation not apply to the attitude of other EU 27 nationals towards British citizens abroad?
Which is why I would refer to this as a reciprocal arrangement, which we hope to complete in parallel with the EU.
The Home Secretary talks about reciprocal arrangements, but when she gets round to reading the report from the Exiting the European Union Committee, she will see that representatives of UK citizens living abroad, to a man and woman, gave evidence to the Committee that they want the British Government to give a unilateral guarantee to EU citizens living here because they think that it will benefit British citizens abroad. Will she listen to the voices of UK citizens living abroad and give that unilateral guarantee?
There are more than 1 million UK citizens living in the European Union, and they are not all represented by the groups that gave evidence to the Brexit Committee. I care about every one of those UK citizens, and I repeat that it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that we protect their position as much as we protect that of EU citizens.
Last week, the chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce pointed out that Scotland relies heavily on EU residents for the supply of labour. She said that business in Scotland wants a separate deal for immigration in Scotland. The Exiting the European Union Committee has said that the UK Government should respond fully and speedily to the Scottish Government’s proposals for a differential immigration policy for Scotland. Will the Home Secretary listen to the voice of business in Scotland and give a guarantee that that full and speedy response will be given without further delay?
The Scottish Government already play a full role in the negotiations and planning for the EU exit, and I am sure that that will continue over the next few months.
Does the Home Secretary agree that we can reassure EU nationals that their rights to remain in this country are guaranteed in our law and that it would require an Act of Parliament, at the very least, to remove those rights?
Yes, my hon. Friend is exactly right. There will be a moment to have a full debate on that, and that will be in this House when those rights are changed.
Is the Secretary of State aware that British public opinion increasingly thinks that the Government are being callous in continuing to seek to use EU nationals as bargaining chips? Is she also aware that, given the cloud of uncertainty hanging over EU nationals and their families, employers in sectors that rely on their labour—notably financial services, health and education—want that uncertainty to be removed?
It is because we care about employers and the jobs that they provide that we will be consulting during the summer on the right form of immigration process to put in place as we leave the European Union. There is no question but that this Government are going to continue to listen carefully to the employers who have provided so many jobs to people in the UK and quite a few in the European Union as well.