[Mr Gary Streeter in the Chair]
I beg to move,
That this House has considered negotiations on the future rights of UK nationals in the EU.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I am grateful for the opportunity to consider the negotiations on the future rights of UK nationals in the European Union and I look forward to constructive clarification of the Government’s position on the matter from the Minister.
According to the United Nations Population Division, 1.2 million British people currently live in the European Union. The largest communities are in Spain, with 309,000 people; Ireland, with 255,000; France, with 185,000; and Germany, with 103,000. It is estimated that of those 1.2 million British people living in another European Union country, about 800,000 are workers and their dependants. It is worth pointing out that, contrary to widely held assumptions, only 20% are pensioners. Some 70% to 80% are working, often cross-border.
This subject is one of the most sensitive in the current negotiations, in part because it affects so many people directly. In yesterday’s debate in the main Chamber, I said that we should not be leaving the European Union. I will not revisit that point today, although I will say that it would be by far the simplest resolution to the problem facing some 4 million people. Today’s debate will be largely about UK citizens in the EU, but there is a clear link—reciprocity, to use the Government’s favourite term—between the two groups.
I have a particular interest because some 9,000 non-UK EU nationals live and work in and around Cambridge. Unison, the public service union that I worked for before entering Parliament, estimates that it has some 70,000 members who are non-UK EU nationals. Some from both those groups will be lobbying Parliament tomorrow, in an event organised by the 3 Million, British in Europe and others. I hope hon. Members will take the opportunity to meet them and listen to their concerns. I found the lobby in February quite harrowing, listening to people’s concerns—as I do for many of the people who visit my surgeries and are from families that face a completely unexpected and totally uncertain future.
I am conscious that many others wish to speak, Mr Streeter, so I will try to set out the current position succinctly. I will try to be balanced—as in any negotiation, both sides have taken positions that might look unfair to an impartial observer, and one hopes that the differences will narrow as the process develops. It is perhaps worth observing at the outset that the very idea of a negotiation on the future of 4 million innocent people leaves more than just a bad taste. As has been said many times, people are not bargaining chips. Many of us wanted an absolutely clear settlement at the outset, regardless of reciprocity, to give certainty and to calm fears. I was personally assured, as were others, by people close to Government that this would be achieved quickly—within months. That is not what has happened, and I fear that whatever is said, we are in a negotiation.
In the UK Government’s position paper published in June, “The United Kingdom's exit from the European Union: safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU”, there is much about the position of EU citizens in the UK, although many of us were disappointed by the substance, and the reaction from the EU was not positive. Conversely, there is very little in that document on the future rights of UK nationals in the EU. The Government paper states:
“The Government’s objective is to ensure continuity in the immigration status of EU citizens and their family members resident in the UK before our departure from the EU (including their ability to access benefits and services). At the point that the UK leaves, EU citizens lawfully resident here (and their families) will be able to continue their activities in the UK. The Government will not discriminate between citizens from different EU member states in providing continuity for the rights and entitlements of existing EU residents and their families in the UK.
The UK fully expects that the EU and its member states will ensure, in a reciprocal way, that the rights set out above are similarly protected for UK nationals living across the EU before the specified date. Firstly, UK nationals in the EU must be able to attain a right equivalent to settled status in the country in which they reside. Secondly, they must be able to continue to access benefits and services across the member states akin to the way in which they do now.”
That is all fine, but it guarantees nothing at all. It is, as with so many of the other Government papers regarding Brexit, merely an expression of hope.
Sadly, the EU has made it crystal clear that the offer that our Government have tabled is not acceptable, and therefore reciprocal rights cannot be expected as no withdrawal agreement will be confirmed on these terms. Whether one has any sympathy with the EU position or not, that is the fact: there will be no reciprocity for UK nationals in the EU on the basis set out in June. Both sides are unwilling to make a unilateral offer, so there is no clarity for the 4 million.
Reciprocal rights are only a possibility if the EU thinks that the Government’s offer is sufficiently beneficial to the rights of EU citizens, and currently it does not. The latest joint technical document on citizens’ rights has been published. It sets out the UK and EU’s positions, helpfully highlighted in green for agreed positions, yellow for those that need work or clarification, and red for those on which the UK and EU disagree. Sadly, there was a lot of red. The lack of clear guarantees in the UK’s offer on comprehensive sickness insurance, future family members, the role of the European Court of Justice, administrative procedures surrounding the documentation that the UK proposes for EU settled citizens, criminality checks, healthcare, and rescinded status after two years’ leave, are all raised as problems by the EU. Equally, there is a range of issues on which the UK is unhappy with the EU offer, such as the residence rights of UK nationals within the EU, voting rights in local elections and the protection of posted workers.
There is a particular issue concerning those who on paper are British citizens, but who in some cases may not even have set foot in the UK. In the second round of negotiations, the UK proposed that children and other family members should have post-Brexit rights as “an independent right holder”. Currently, the EU position is that these citizens should have the status of “family member” post-Brexit. That implies that we could have a situation where a child born to UK parents in the south of France, who is completely fluent in French and whose entire life has been made in France, could find themselves with no protection under the withdrawal agreement if their 18th birthday falls a few months after Brexit. In contrast, an adult who takes the last Eurostar to France the day before Brexit could receive more protections than that child. That does not seem acceptable to me.
It is possible that the imbalance of the number of EU citizens in the UK versus the number of UK citizens in the rest of the EU 27 can at times result in many forgetting that there are 1.2 million British citizens in Europe. That is 1.2 million people who have decided to start a career, enjoy their retirement, start a family or study, and essentially establish a life outside of the UK, because they have had the right to do so. Many British children have been born in EU countries to British parents and have not pursued the path of dual nationality because it was not necessary to do so. There was simply no need. What will happen to the rights of the children who turn 18 after Brexit? Some will argue that these children should seek dual nationality, but what about those living in Spain, Austria or the Netherlands, where dual nationality is not an option?
I apologise that I cannot stay for the entire debate, Mr Streeter, but I am glad to have the opportunity to ask my hon. Friend whether he has also considered the potential conflict of law. Where a British child resident in another European country is involved in a parental dispute—separation or divorce—it may not be clear which legal system will prevail in deciding the family law issues.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Sadly, I suspect that we could spend much of the afternoon considering yet further such problems.
All these difficulties confirm what many of us have argued from the outset—that a negotiation would be difficult and a unilateral guarantee was needed, even just to get the discussion going. It is not about exchanging these rights for those rights, but about having a genuine conversation, trying to do the right thing, and moving into a position where we have a genuine discussion rather than get locked in to a winners-losers negotiation, which seems to me all too likely to remain deadlocked for a very long time, not least because there are many players involved.
I suspect that it is not always clear to everyone in Britain that it is not just the Commission negotiators who must be satisfied; the European Parliament has a key role as well, and it is not very impressed either. Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s chief negotiator, has been fairly definitive. In his statement, he said:
“The European Parliament cannot be clear enough that sufficient progress means progress across the board, and not just in one or two areas.”
“To be precise, the European Parliament will remain vigilant regarding citizens’ rights and will continue to push for full rights for EU citizens in the UK as well as UK citizens in the EU. It is a core mission of the European project to protect, not to diminish, the fundamental rights of all citizens… The European Parliament specifically seeks to fully safeguard the rights concerning family reunion, comprehensive healthcare, voting rights in local elections, the transferability of (social) rights, and the rules governing permanent residence (including the right to leave the UK without losing this status). Simultaneously, we seek to avoid an administrative burden for citizens and want proposals which are intrusive to people’s privacy off the table, e.g. proposed systematic criminal checks. Last but not least, the European Parliament wants the withdrawal agreement to be directly enforceable and to include a mechanism in which the European Court of Justice can play its full role.”
For the Parliament to be satisfied, as it must be, movement is required on both sides, but I suspect that it will be harder for the UK Government, not least because of the Prime Minister’s continuing aversion to the European Court of Justice. In previous debates, I have described it as a fetish, but whatever it is, it is a problem. It is not just this Government’s Achilles heel; it is their Achilles legs, arms and body too, and it creates problems in considering directly the rights of UK citizens resident in EU member states.
If the European Court of Justice no longer has any jurisdiction over the UK’s treatment of EU nationals, a reciprocal agreement would work the same way for UK nationals in Europe. We are therefore leaving UK nationals vulnerable to the domestic laws and national courts of member states, without any protections. We need an international referee to ensure that countries comply with their obligations on citizens’ rights. The EU demands that it be the ECJ, but the UK Government say no, so what should it be? What is likely to be acceptable to both? The conundrum not only dogs this discussion but is a problem across the piece.
Turning to another problem, the UK’s creation of settled status comes saddled with a range of problems that, if reciprocated, will seriously compromise the rights currently enjoyed by UK nationals in the EU. The UK condition that EU settled status in the UK can be rescinded after two years’ leave is unacceptable to the EU, as well as to me and many others. To understand why, think of it in reverse: imagine a UK academic from my constituency, Cambridge, who has been living and working in Rome and who is offered the opportunity to do a different job at a UK university, on a temporary basis, for a couple of years. Would they take it, knowing that they might not be able to return to their home in Rome? That is not a hypothetical example but an everyday occurrence.
To be at the leading edge of research and study, we need global flexibility. It is not just about economics; there are many situations in which someone might have to move for a period of two years or more, such as for family reasons. We must think through the real-life consequences of the proposals. When we do, we can see the problem.
I apologise, Mr Streeter; I too cannot stay for the whole debate. A constituent of mine has told me about her son, who is married to a German woman and lives in Germany with her and their two young children. She says that it is all very unsettling. Does my hon. Friend agree that the lack of legal certainty is causing great distress, disrupting family life and interrupting people’s ability to pursue their careers?
I agree. The human cost has been completely underestimated. Whatever the final outcomes, the stress and unhappiness being caused now are real.
As I have said, the Government maintain that reciprocal arrangements are the way forward and will best guarantee the rights of UK citizens in the EU, but if our treatment of EU nationals here is seen to be ungenerous, where will that leave our people in the European Union? It need not even be by design. In the past month, some EU citizens in the UK have received mistakenly sent letters threatening them with deportation. We are told it was an error, but clearly we do not want that to be reciprocated. Sadly, the 3 Million campaign has been compiling compelling evidence of discrimination against EU nationals across employment, housing and a range of services ever since the referendum. We do not want that reciprocated either.
Last week, the Home Office’s immigration plans were leaked. Many people—rightly, in my view—reacted with outrage. Are we really going to restrict the rights of EU family members to enter and remain in the UK, and police that with biometrics? Is that the kind of treatment that we want reciprocated?
My hon. Friend is describing convincingly this Government’s catalogue of errors involving leaks and letters wrongly sent. Regarding discrimination, is he aware of the figures released by the House of Commons Library? In 2011, 49% of British citizens living elsewhere in the EU were over the age of 50, compared with only 15% of EU nationals here. In our aging society, age discrimination is another thing to consider.
I was not aware of that statistic, but it helps to build a powerful and compelling case. I suggest that in general the Government need to rethink their tone, strategy and approach to the negotiations, as well as their aims, because progress so far has been so slow.
Last week, the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament met and published a statement which said that,
“a clear majority of group leaders were of the view that continued lack of clarity or absence of UK proposals on separation issues as well as the latest developments in Brexit negotiations meant that it was more than likely the assessment on ‘sufficient progress’ on the first phase of Brexit negotiations is unlikely to have been met by the October European Council.”
Progress is likely to remain glacial, which takes me back to the point about the uncertainty that many people face.
Although progress may be glacial, fear and uncertainty will certainly not grow as slowly—quite the opposite. The millions of people affected by the failure to secure a settlement deserve better. It is not too late for our Government to change tack and realise that a generous unilateral offer is far more likely to secure progress than a bit-by-bit, step-by-step battle of attrition. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply. He is a decent man, and I live in hope that he might surprise us, but I suspect that he may not be in a position to do so.
I apologise, Mr Streeter. I mean no discourtesy to the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner), the Opposition spokesman, my hon. Friend the Minister or you, but the curse of conflicting appointments has landed on me, and I must be elsewhere at 3.30. I will stay and hear as much as I can of the debate in the meantime.
I am acutely aware of the importance of the EU citizens employed in my constituency. If I removed the EU citizens among the ancillary staff in my hospital—never mind the highly qualified surgeons and others—the hospital would shut. If I removed the equivalent people from the care homes in my constituency, those would shut. If I removed the Lithuanian bakers from Speciality Breads, an excellent and award-winning company in my constituency, that company would have great difficulty finding replacements. The largest greenhouse complex in Europe is in my constituency. It is the size of about six football pitches and grows tomatoes hydroponically, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Those tomatoes are harvested by Poles and Romanians. Why? Despite my requests and the company’s endeavours, it cannot recruit British labour to do the job, not because of price but because it is hard work and there are not enough people available to do it.
I accept entirely the arguments about the necessary people—not merely the highly qualified and skilled, but the semi-skilled and unskilled—from the European Union and beyond who work, live, enjoy life and pay taxes in this country. However, this debate is about the plight—I use the word advisedly—of United Kingdom expat citizens living in what will be the remaining 27 member states of the European Union. Most of them are in France and Spain; significant numbers are in Italy and Greece, and there are many others dotted around.
There is an imbalance of about three to one between European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom and Brits living throughout the rest of the European Union. Moreover, the European Union citizens—by and large, but not exclusively—are working. The overwhelming majority of the UK citizens are retired, so they have much less room for manoeuvre, and they are very frightened people.
I have certainly seen evidence to suggest that the age profile of UK citizens living overseas is different from that of EU nationals living in the UK. What is the evidence for the hon. Gentleman’s assertion that the overwhelming majority of UK citizens in the rest of the EU are retired? I think those were his exact words.
I think we can accept—well, maybe we cannot, but I accept from personal knowledge—that most Brits who live in France outside Paris and in Spain outside Madrid, as the majority do, are not necessarily over retirement age but are retired or semi-retired. Some are working online. There is a significant number of them, and they are frightened people.
I have become involved because many years ago, under the last Labour Government, I had to fight a battle to secure payment of disability living allowance as an exportable benefit to UK citizens living in the European Union. That decision was taken by the European Commission. Shamefully, and in spite of the best efforts of the then Minister Jonathan Shaw—a very decent man and a personal friend—it took us a long time to secure the payment, but eventually it was made. Within the European Union, there is an understanding that certain benefits are exportable, mainly the disability living allowance—now the personal independence payment—attendance allowance and carer’s allowance. Mobility allowance is not a health benefit and therefore not exportable. That was another battle that we fought but lost.
A significant number of UK citizens are receiving those benefits throughout the European Union. Contrary to popular belief, they are not rich retired people living on yachts in Cannes sipping gin and lying in the sun. Generally, they have worked in the United Kingdom all their lives, paid their taxes and national insurance contributions and for whatever reason—perhaps health, or the climate—found it desirable to live in the Mediterranean or in France. They have no flexibility in their incomes, which have fallen quite dramatically because of the fall in the pound, as many of them are living on United Kingdom state retirement pensions and little else.
If I say to hon. Members that those people live in genteel poverty, I mean it. It is genteel because they have a roof over their heads and they own their property, but having sold up and moved out from the United Kingdom, they are now faced with a choice between a rock and a hard place. Do they stay and face losing perhaps their healthcare and certainly their exportable benefits?
I agree absolutely that there are no guarantees that UK citizens will continue to receive those benefits after exit, because many benefits depend on reciprocal arrangements. Is the hon. Gentleman saying, as I would, that the UK Government should now make it clear whether they intend to continue those benefits for UK citizens in the rest of the European Union after Brexit, irrespective of what the EU 27 decide in respect of their nationals?
Not just no—it happens to be the case that many people who live in mainland Europe could not, for example, secure private healthcare insurance at their age, in any meaningful sense. That may not be the case for the 3 million people from the rest of the European Union living in the United Kingdom, many of whom are working. There is a disparity between the two causes.
I chair the all-party parliamentary group on frozen British pensions. As hon. Members will know, significant numbers of elderly people who paid their taxes in the United Kingdom all their lives have moved to Canada, Australia or New Zealand and found their pensions frozen at the point of departure because we have no reciprocal agreement. That is why this point is so important. We do have a reciprocal agreement with other countries, such as the United States, so pensions there are uprated. This results in the ludicrous situation in which a pensioner living in Canada on one side of the Niagara Falls has a frozen pension, but another on the other side of the falls, 200 yards across the river in the United States, has an uprated pension. There is a real danger that if we cannot reach a bilateral agreement with the 27 other member states, we could find ourselves with pensioners moving to or living in other countries in the European Union with frozen pensions.
These are significant issues. There are a significant number of frightened people who want and need answers urgently. I am aware that I have taken up a lot of time, and I apologise. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss these matters in person with my hon. Friend the Minister.
May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter? I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate and on his powerful opening speech.
I wish we were not having this debate. It is an absolute disgrace that, 15 months after the referendum and six months after article 50 was triggered, so little progress has been made on a reciprocal citizens’ rights deal, despite three rounds of negotiations between the Secretary of State and his European counterpart.
As the UK and EU’s joint technical note recently showed, there are still several areas of disagreement on the future rights of EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU, including future family reunions, the cut-off point for settled status, rights of onward movement within the EU, and legal avenues to enforce rights. A British national who lives and works in Italy, for example, may move freely to other EU countries to live and work, but has no guarantee of maintaining those rights after Brexit, not least because our Government have not made a similar reciprocal offer. For example, a German university lecturer in my constituency—there are a number of them—is currently allowed to spend a few years working on a research project somewhere else in Europe and then come back freely to Durham to continue his work at the university, but we simply do not know whether he will be able to do so in future.
My second area of concern relates to the avenues of legal redress available to UK nationals living in the EU after Brexit. The Prime Minister seems to have an ideologically imposed red line regarding the role of the European Court of Justice after Brexit. If the UK leaves the EU and its courts, and the Government enshrine citizens’ rights in UK law, to be enforced by UK courts and some kind of independent monitor, UK nationals in the EU could lose the right to take cases to a higher European court. They will then have recourse only to the national courts of the country they are in, which may not be able to enforce the rights given by any agreement between the UK and the EU. Labour wants the Court of Justice of the European Union, or a similar court-like institution, to oversee compliance with any future agreement.
The Government could have made all this easier by making a unilateral offer to guarantee EU nationals in the UK their existing rights, which is what a Labour Government would do. That would not only have been the right thing to do morally, by providing assurances to the 3 million EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK and who have been left in a limbo and unsure as to their future status; it would also have been a good gesture with which to begin negotiations and would make it simpler to seek reciprocal rights for UK citizens in the EU. Instead, 3 million people living in the UK and 1.2 million UK nationals in the EU have been used as bargaining chips by the Government in their negotiations, which is simply outrageous.
We all know from work in our constituencies that EU nationals make a large contribution to our economy and society. As I mentioned in the Chamber yesterday, there are 2,500 European workers in the health and social care industry in the north-east, carrying out vital services in our community. However, we should not value people only by their economic worth or the services they carry out; they are members of families, friends, neighbours or colleagues. They are close to us. The lack of clarity and the limited offer from the Government are causing anxiety and anguish.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point and I hope the Government are listening, because this issue is absolutely fundamental. More than one in seven of my constituents is an EU national and most of them are living in a relationship, or simply sharing property, with UK citizens. Even though I was not seeking to canvass them, this was the biggest issue on the doorstep at the election. It is a constitutional outrage that we are putting millions of people—people who are productive but who also want to make their home here—in this position.
My hon. Friend makes a really excellent point, and I hope that the Minister is paying attention to it. I think we have all had hundreds of letters and emails from constituents who are EU nationals asking that the Government guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
Anecdotally, I have been told of job adverts that contain the words, “Europeans need not apply”. There seems to be increasing evidence of discrimination and hostile working environments for EU citizens living in the UK. Will the hon. Lady condemn in the strongest terms the Government’s lack of action to tackle this, to make sure that the UK remains a place that people want to come to, and to send the message that all citizens are equal?
I think that what the hon. Lady describes is a challenge to the Minister.
As I was saying, many of our constituents are very worried that they will have to uproot their families by the end of March 2019. That is only 18 months away and it is completely wrong that people’s lives are still being negotiated over, which is causing this amount of concern. I hope we get some reassurances from the Minister that the Government are making progress and that we will get details of a reciprocal agreement very quickly, so that we can put at rest the minds of our constituents and those of UK citizens in the EU.
I will start by being quite clear about one thing: the rights of UK citizens living in the European Union have been put at risk by the vote that took place 15 months ago. If the British Government cared so passionately about the rights of those UK citizens living in other EU states, why did they not give them a vote in that referendum? However, we are kind of beyond that now. Like many other people in this Chamber, I am sure, I wish we were not where we are now, but we are where we are. As has already been said very eloquently by the hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods), we are 15 months down the line, we are well into the negotiations, and we still have no certainty about the position of UK citizens living in other EU states or the position of EU nationals living in the UK.
My constituency email box is full of emails about EU nationals who live and work in Edinburgh South West and who are uncertain about their ongoing position, but I am also starting to get quite a lot of emails from former constituents who now live abroad—UK citizens in the EU—who are worried about their position. I will quote from a typical email, which I received earlier this week when the correspondent realised that this debate was happening. A former resident of my constituency who is now resident in France, she is very worried and uncertain about many things. Here are some of the questions that she raised:
“Will my British son be able to attend University in Edinburgh post-Brexit…without having to pay prohibitive ‘international’ fees?...will my daughter, currently training as a nurse, be able to choose to work in France after her course, which ends after Brexit?...will my husband and I be able to aggregate our pensions (we have paid contributions in both the UK and France) and retire in the country of our choice? ...as our parents age, will we be able to bring them to France to look after them, or alternatively, would we be able to return to the UK to look after them, perhaps for several years, without losing our right to live in France? ...will my daughter’s French girlfriend be able to settle with her in the UK if that is what they want to do?”
These are all perfectly legitimate questions to which, prior to the uncertainty created by the EU referendum, there would have been certain and clear answers—one of the many joys of the EU. Now, however, as a result of a referendum that was fought in a void of information, people asking such questions are gravely uncertain.
The United Kingdom created this problem and it is incumbent upon us to make a generous gesture to try to resolve it. I and other Scottish National party MPs have said many times on the Floor of the House and in hustings throughout the election campaign that Government Members often say to us, “If you make a unilateral guarantee to EU citizens living in the United Kingdom, then you are selling down the river the rights of UK citizens living in Europe.” My reply to Government Members is, “No, because we started this problem. We started it and it is incumbent upon us to make a generous gesture.” We are constantly told by the Brexiteers and some Government Members that the UK has so much to gain from these negotiations and so much to offer the EU that the EU will be desperate to give us the terms that we want. If that is the case, why not make a generous gesture?
People should not just take my word for this. In the last Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and I sat on the Exiting the European Union Committee. That Committee produced a unanimous cross-party report that made the following recommendation:
“EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU are aware that their fate is subject to the negotiations. They do not want to be used as bargaining chips, and the uncertainty they are having to live with is not acceptable. Notwithstanding the assurance given by the home secretary, we”—
the cross-party Committee—
“recommend that the UK should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.”
We made that recommendation because we had heard evidence from UK citizens living in the EU that that was what they wanted. It was not just the odd random person who came to give evidence to us. We took evidence from UK citizens representing groups of British people resident in France, Italy, Spain and Belgium, and to a man and a woman they said that they wanted this unilateral guarantee to be given. Let us stop messing about and using people as bargaining chips. Let us make that unilateral guarantee without further delay.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this debate. I will address the reality of the issue rather than some of the myths around it. I represent Reading, a town with a large population of EU nationals who play a significant role in our local NHS, in the IT industry that is a core part of the town’s economy and in many other services. I should also declare a personal interest in that my sister-in-law is German and she too is facing deep uncertainty at the moment.
I was concerned last week when a document entitled “Border, Immigration and Citizenship System After the UK Leaves the EU” was leaked by the Home Office, because it gave a very unfortunate window into the Government’s thinking on this important matter. In the document, it was proposed to drive down the number of EU migrants by offering them residency for a maximum of only two years, and it was suggested that only those in highly skilled occupations would be considered for permits that would stretch that period for a few more years, despite the repeated warnings from business and the public sector of the significant negative impact that that would have. That is of great concern, and I hope the Government will rethink.
The document also describes a phased introduction to a new immigration system that ends the right to settle in Britain for most European migrants and places tough new restrictions on their rights to bring family into this country. That could lead to thousands of families being split up. This is serious: such a heavy-handed approach drives a cart and horses through both businesses and families in my constituency and across the UK. The ill will generated by such an approach would harm our remaining negotiations with the EU.
Having stepped down from threatening the EU with no deal, I urge the Minister to be more collegiate in his approach. He should denounce the paper and take a more even-handed and much more reasonable approach. Perhaps he should listen to the Labour proposal and offer unilateral guarantees, to create a climate of good will and a positive negotiation with our European partners.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.
On Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill last night, this House voted to pursue one of the most treacherous attacks on our democracy that we have seen for many decades—and that is the constitutional experts speaking. In the debate, many Members also addressed the substantive issue of the impact of an uncertain, disorganised, panicky, unplanned Brexit on all of us—on our lives, our economy, our jobs, our rights, our protections and our standards. The debate today is on just one aspect of the implications of Brexit. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) for securing this debate and British in Europe for its excellent briefing.
For 40 years, UK citizens have been able to travel to and move freely in and around the EU. An estimated 1.2 million UK citizens live there now, and about 3 million EU citizens live in the UK. Like other colleagues who have spoken today, I also have a large number of EU nationals living in my constituency who have written to me about their concerns. All of those 4 million-plus people are employees, or they have set up businesses, or they are studying, or have retired, or have married cross-nationally. Many European and UK citizens have parents of different nationalities, so they start their lives seeing their future rooted in more than country.
Since the referendum last year, the threat to freedom of movement has meant that UK citizens who move country may have to worry about visas. They benefit from many reciprocal arrangements such as in health and social care. Their nationality until the referendum has been no bar to owning property or setting up businesses, or to developing a career and moving up the career ladder at work. They have been able to plan and have a family, build friendships, get healthcare and benefit from local community services for themselves and their children and often for their parents, too. They can grow old, knowing they can benefit from reciprocal health and social care arrangements. They can come and go between their current home country and their original home to return permanently or simply to visit friends and family.
Let us remember that many UK nationals in other EU countries have set up businesses that support us British when we go on holiday, whether we are going to the campsites of the French coast, on pilgrimages to Lourdes, on city breaks, or skiing in the Alps. British-owned businesses play an essential part in local economies, providing employment for UK and local young people. My son spent four months working in France before he went to university. The uncertainty also affects UK people living here and planning their future. I met a couple at the weekend who have lost work contracts because of Brexit. They wanted to bring forward their retirement to France, but now they are uncertain about what that will mean. Brexit has put an end to all planning. Investment, certainty and security are all out of the window. Fifteen months have elapsed since the referendum result, but we still have no more certainty from Government, so I look forward to what the Minister will say today. The referendum result was bad enough for all those people, but the Government’s shambolic approach to all things Brexit has made everything even worse.
The British in Europe group briefing raises a host of concerns very eloquently: not just the lack of detail on proposals, the ring-fencing on citizens’ rights, cut-off dates and the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, but specific concerns about equal treatment, the reunification rights of family members, especially children, settled status, work and professional qualifications, and planning for students. For the sake of the wellbeing of the 4 million-plus UK citizens living in other EU countries, and EU citizens living here, as well as their families, their employers and employees, Labour Members seek a full and unconditional offer on citizens’ rights. The Prime Minister’s limited and conditional offer on such rights is too little, too late. The Government’s threat to walk away with no deal risks leaving British citizens living in the EU in a legal limbo.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on the considered way he presented his thoughts. This aspect of Brexit is incredibly important. It is about the reciprocal arrangement that needs to be in place to ensure that the people who live, work and play a part in our local economy can and will continue to do so, as will British nationals living and working in the EU and making contributions to their local economy.
Hon. Members know that I supported leaving the EU. I am a confirmed Brexiteer and my constituency is of the same mind, but I recognise the issues for EU nationals in my constituency. It seems the situation will be mutually beneficial—indeed, that is what the figures indicate. As usual when it comes to European issues, Britain gives more than it receives. The latest available data suggest that in 2015 there were around 1.2 million British citizens living in EU countries compared with 3.2 million EU citizens living in the UK. It is not hard to work out that it is in everyone’s interest to make arrangements to continue to benefit those who are working.
I am puzzled and a little concerned about the hon. Gentleman’s analysis. The claim that Britain gives more than it receives in relation to EU migration falls back on the fact that there are more EU nationals in the UK than there are UK nationals in the EU. That implies that immigrants take from communities rather than put back into them, but in my constituency, immigrants who have come into Glenrothes in the centre of Fife from the European Union have contributed greatly. I want them to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
In two seconds I will be saying the same thing. I have been very clear from the outset of Brexit that our leaving Europe is not a purge of non-British people from our shores. It is the ability to ensure that those who come here and make the most of what we have to offer also give back locally. In the two major sectors of agri-food in my constituency of Strangford, 40% or 50% of the workforce is European. They are needed, so we sought assurances from the Prime Minister. When the right hon. Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) was Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, she visited my constituency at my invitation. She understood the issues, although we did not get assurances from the Prime Minister or the Minister at the time.
It is important to mention that the people who live in the Republic of Ireland can travel across to Northern Ireland to work, and people in Northern Ireland can travel across to the Republic of Ireland to work. The hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who spoke earlier, referred to nurses in hospitals and care workers. Such matters are important for me as well.
The current system as described in the briefing paper shows that free movement is central to the concept of EU citizenship. It is a right enjoyed by all citizens of the European Union. All EU citizens have a right to reside in another EU member state for up to three months without any conditions other than the requirement to hold a valid identity card or passport. After three months certain conditions apply, depending on the status of the EU citizen and whether they are a worker or a student. Those who opt to exercise their free movement rights are protected against discrimination in employment on the ground of nationality. The provisions in relation to social security are clear. EU citizens who have resided legally for a continuous period of five years in another EU member state automatically acquire the right to permanent residence. To qualify for permanent residence, students and the self-sufficient must possess comprehensive sickness insurance cover throughout the five-year period. I mention the stats because it is important to have them on the record.
It is clear that the Government’s White Paper that was published in June, which sets out proposals for the status and rights of EU citizens in the UK after the UK's exit from the EU, allows for those who are EU citizens present in the UK before a cut-off date and with five years’ continuous residence in the UK to apply for a new settled status that is akin to an indefinite leave to remain. I need the provisions to continue in my constituency.
I am conscious of time, so I will conclude. I know we are all aware of these points, but they bear repeating out loud. I do not see how anyone can have a problem with securing our shores and ensuring that those who live here, work here and pay in here have protection. By the same token, it should naturally apply that those who live and work in Europe should have the same protections. I know that the Minister is a fair, honourable and compassionate man. I look to him for a way forward, to alleviate the fears of hon. Members on this side of the Chamber. My mum was a great person—mums are great people, because they always tell stories about what is important. She always said that what is good for the goose is good for the gander. If we are going to allow 3 million people to remain here to live and work, surely 1 million Brits in the rest of the EU can do the same.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on securing this important debate and making such forceful opening comments. The Prime Minister’s limited and conditional offer on citizens’ rights is too little, too late. EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU must not be used to bargain with. We are playing with human lives. The Government’s threat to walk away with no deal risks leaving British citizens who live in the EU in a legal limbo.
I am fortunate that in my 20s I went to live and work in Madrid. It was an easy transition and I was proud to be an EU citizen, able to work in one of the many EU countries. I would like my daughters to be able to do the same, but the Government’s threat to walk away with no deal risks leaving British citizens in strife. As has been mentioned, it would have a huge human impact. We have heard examples. Many EU citizens live in my constituency and they are deeply concerned about the Government’s haphazard and harmful approach to the negotiations and towards citizens’ rights. Cardiff North is a deeply diverse and happy community, with citizens of many EU countries living and working alongside each other. Yet from the outset the Government set themselves against those people, communities and families, and the businesses that depend on them. The heavy-handed, arrogant approach has left many wondering what that will mean for them and their right to live and work in the UK.
I have been contacted by many constituents who are deeply worried by the situation. Katrin is a German citizen. She has lived and worked in the UK for 14 years and is worried—anxious beyond belief—about what the situation means for her. She was granted a British passport for her daughter, but is now being asked by the Home Office to submit a new application for permanent residency. She has no stability and is anxious about her future. That is happening at great emotional and financial cost to her family.
Jamie is a taxi driver. He and his wife moved here from Madeira in 1991. Both their daughters were born in the UK. In October 2016 Jamie and his wife applied for permanent residency and his wife was successful. The Home Office refused him, saying that his employer could not provide enough evidence that he was a resident. All the people I have mentioned are understandably worried, and cannot get the answers that they need.
Those two examples are a drop in the ocean of emails that I receive—I am sure that many colleagues receive such emails as well. It is a disgrace that we do not yet have an agreement to put an end to the uncertainty. As has been said, it is 16 months since the referendum and no progress has been made on reciprocal rights, so I urge the Government to set out a clear position and outline a reciprocal deal to give certainty and reassurance to all the people affected.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter.
In August, I visited Cyprus, where my parents were born. During my visit I had the pleasure of meeting the British high commissioner. I was surprised to learn from him that more than 40,000 UK citizens live in Cyprus, which, as hon. Members will be aware, is an EU member. Some of those 40,000 citizens are retired people who have decided to spend their autumn years in the glorious sunshine by the Mediterranean, enjoying the delights that the island has to offer. All is well and good, as long as we remain in the EU, but a number of unanswered questions are causing great uncertainty and concern.
The fear is that, to get tough on immigration, the UK Government could marginalise those UK citizens’ rights. For example, at present EU citizens automatically have the right to have an elderly parent, sick relative or EU spouse join them in the UK, and that is reciprocated in other EU countries. If that right were to be curtailed it could have a devastating effect on UK citizens settled in EU countries, who would not be able to have their family members join them. In June the Prime Minister rejected the EU’s offer that the rights of all EU citizens affected by Brexit, including those of UK nationals living in other EU countries, should be protected for life. She made in return a far weaker proposal, which left UK citizens abroad concerned and confused as to why the UK Government was throwing away their rights.
Healthcare is another issue of great concern to UK citizens living in the EU. As we get older we tend to be more reliant on healthcare, and it is of huge benefit to have the blue European health insurance card. I have one here, and it means that were I to fall ill abroad I would get the healthcare I needed, even without travel insurance. Settled UK citizens living in EU countries, who might have long-term ailments and conditions, could find that the withdrawal of that benefit was critical to their health. Would they have to go back to the UK to receive medical care? What if they were not registered with a GP? Would they be able to get access to the treatment they needed in the UK? At present the UK reimburses UK pensioners if they are treated in another EU country, but if that arrangement were stopped and the UK citizen’s sole income was the state pension they could be left with crippling hospital bills to pay. What if the UK citizen was married to a non-British, non-EU citizen? Could they bring them back to the UK, if they needed urgent medical treatments there?
There are many other unresolved issues in the negotiations, such as the mutual recognition of professional qualifications for workers, the complexities of the two-year rule and the rights of frontier workers, to name but a few. The bottom line is that the Prime Minister and her Government have been woefully bad at negotiating a good deal for UK citizens abroad, by trading away their rights for the chance to control immigration. The offer of protection for the existing rights of all EU nationals affected by Brexit should have been grabbed by the Prime Minister with both hands. At a stroke, that would have reassured and calmed the fears of UK citizens and EU nationals living in the UK.
What does my hon. Friend make of an email that I had from David Hulmes, an ex-constituent, now in Lyon in France, who says that the EU position was initially generous but seems to have hardened? The reason he gives is the settled status after Brexit, which is insulting, inhuman to people who have been living here for years, and should be scrapped.
I am in total accord with my hon. Friend’s very good point.
People who have been resident in the UK for many years have received deportation letters. One of my constituents received such a letter after being resident for more than 20 years. The argument that the Prime Minister and her team would be able to negotiate a better deal for UK citizens living in EU countries is fanciful at best. All that seems to have happened since article 50 was triggered is that we are all six months older. The Government need to wake up to the fact that it will be expected that reciprocal arrangements will be made with the EU negotiators, and that the rights of UK citizens living in EU countries and EU nationals living in the UK must be protected. Anything short of that will be seen as a serious failure.
Like many who have spoken today I appreciate the chance to speak in the debate, but am deeply angry that it is still necessary, because the questions should have been settled on 24 June, not left unsettled and uncertain 15 months later.
I do not see any conflict, or any need for a trade-off, between the rights of people from one country living in another and the rights of people from that other country living in the first. The UK Government should have unilaterally and immediately moved to give absolute guarantees, not to give rights to European Union nationals living here but to respect the rights they already have and always will have, and they should have done so not to use that as a bargaining position or a negotiating manoeuvre but because it was morally and ethically the right thing to do. The Governments of the other EU nations, individually and collectively, should also have moved quickly, to give unconditional guarantees to respect the rights of UK citizens living in their countries, not because it would have looked good on the negotiating table but, again, because it was morally and ethically the right thing to do.
However, we should not lose sight of the fact that the majority of the burden to fix the mess must rest with the UK Government; let us face it, the UK Parliament created this mess. No one in Europe asked for an EU referendum. No one in Europe asked the Prime Minister to make the unilateral decision that leaving the EU meant leaving the single market—that was not even a question on the referendum. We have never had a vote by the people of these islands on whether they want to leave the single market, or whether they want to give up on the benefits of the free movement of people.
I do not have time to comment on all the contributions we have had, but we have heard many interesting comments from Members on both sides of the Chamber, complimenting, for example, the significant benefits that EU citizens bring to each and every one of our constituents. I was disappointed that the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale), who is no longer in his place, propounded and compounded the old myth that the vast majority of people from the UK who live abroad are retired, with the implication that somehow they do not really contribute to their host nations. They do. Their contribution is different perhaps to that of EU nationals to the UK, but it is still a contribution, and such people are often greatly valued by the countries in which they live.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that walking away with no deal threatens Scotland’s world-leading higher education and research sector? Our researchers have to be able to move freely to the EU, and European researchers to our universities and research centres, so that we benefit mutually from the expertise.
I absolutely agree, and it is not only Scotland’s exceptional universities that are under threat; every research-based university and institution in the United Kingdom is in danger of losing out because of short-sighted folly.
One thing the debate has demonstrated is the absolute folly of those, particularly on the Tory Benches, who still try to tell us that we could just walk away today without a deal and it would make no difference. What a betrayal that would be of the 4.5 million people who, right now, are worried about whether their basic human rights will be respected: the right to continue to live in the house they already live in, and the right for their children to keep going to the school they already go to and keep playing with the same friends. Those rights are not ours to give and take away; they are rights that people have because they are human beings. For Ministers even to use phrases like “bargaining chips” to deny that they are treating people as such, makes it clear that somewhere, deep down inside, that is part of the thinking.
Every time we have discussed in the Chamber the rights of EU nationals living in the United Kingdom, the chorus of protest from the Conservative Benches has always been, “We are very concerned about the rights of UK citizens and UK nationals living in the European Union.” Today, those Members have been given a full 90-minute debate in which to express those concerns, and where have they all gone? They can turn up in their hundreds in the middle of the night to vote for the process to start removing the rights of those UK nationals, but when it comes to speaking out for them it is another matter. I can understand that some of them had other things to do, but when 320 of them cannot stay for the full 90-minute debate, that tells us more about where their beliefs and values really lie than anything we might say.
It is now six months since the Brexit Secretary told us that reaching an agreement on the rights of nationals in each other’s countries would be
“the first thing on our agenda”.
He went on to say:
“I would hope that we would get some agreement in principle very, very soon, as soon as the negotiation process starts.”
We are now a third of the way through that negotiation process, and the Library, in analysing the joint technical note of 31 August 2017, has indicated that there are five areas on which agreement is close and 20 on which it is nowhere near. In other words, in one third of the available negotiating time the progress on our No. 1 priority is that 80% of it is nowhere close to being agreed. That is what happens when human beings are used as bargaining chips instead of saying, right at the beginning, “This is what we’re going to do because it’s the right thing to do.”
We should never forget that the position of the UK Government in relation to the two sets of citizens is very different: we can ask other people to respect the rights of UK nationals living overseas, but we can absolutely guarantee the rights of non-UK nationals living here. Once again, I repeat the call for the UK Government to do that, not because it might make the Europeans do something we want them to do but because morally it is the only acceptable course of action.
The debate should have concluded on 24 June. The reason it has not is that the Government’s obsession with being seen to get hard on immigration has got to the point where any price, but any price, is worth paying. The economic price of losing our membership of the single market will likely be counted in hundreds of thousands of jobs and losses of tens—possibly hundreds—of billions of pounds to our economy.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the insurance giant, Chubb, is just one of the latest large companies to announce plans to move their headquarters from London—to Paris, in this instance—after Brexit. Would he consider it likely that those EU nationals who can still come to the UK—and still want to—might not have jobs to come to?
It is not just that they might not have jobs to come to; the question is why on earth they would want to come when they look at the welcome they get from a leaked Government draft proposal that wants to start discriminating against people depending on the letters after their name, or when they have seen the unbridled joy on the faces of Government supporters when it was announced that every week since the referendum has seen a reduction of 1,000 in net migration from the European Union. In other words, the Government’s message to EU nationals is, “We are going to say that you’re welcome, but we’re actually happy that every week 1,000 people just like you have given up on the UK and gone to live somewhere else because they no longer feel they have a welcome future on these islands.” That should make us all feel utterly ashamed.
At its heart, the European Union was set up primarily as a trade union, an economic union. It is described as a political union, which it clearly is not. Fundamentally and most importantly, the European Union is now a social union, about the ever closer union of the peoples of Europe. Who could possibly want to see further division between those peoples? Union between the peoples of Europe should be what we all strive for. The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) hit the nail on the head perfectly in the first few minutes of her speech—and, indeed, in the rest of it. We have spent far too long talking about constitutions and politics, quotas and legislations, and not enough talking about human beings. Today, we are talking particularly about the plight of well over a million human beings who just happen to have birth certificates that say they were born in these islands. Their rights are important, as are those of the 3 million people who live here but were born elsewhere, and those of the 60 million people who will have to cope with the aftermath of this mess, long after some of us are no longer here.
I hope that there is still time for the Government to wake up to the folly of what they are doing. It is not too late for them to say, “We have messed up completely; the only way to get out of this mess is to agree to remain in the single market and to agree that the free movement of citizens between the nations of Europe should continue in perpetuity”.
It is a pleasure to wind up the debate with you in the Chair, Mr Streeter. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) not only on securing the debate but on his characteristically comprehensive introduction to the issues that UK nationals in the EU face. I am also pleased by the level of interest that Members have shown in this debate, at least on the Opposition Benches. It is disappointing to see the Government Benches empty and the contributions of Conservative Members who seek to champion the rights of our citizens so limited.
Since the referendum, we have clearly been talking a lot about citizens’ rights, but much of that debate to date has been framed in terms of the EU nationals within the UK. That is inevitable and understandable, because those are the people who live in our constituencies and are pressing us with their concerns. They are worried about their future, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) articulated so passionately. Their issues are also those of the 1.2 million Brits living and working in the EU. They also want to continue their lives with certainty. We talk about the number of Poles and other national groups working in the UK, but it is worth noting that the Brits abroad are the largest single national group affected by Brexit. Their concerns should be central to the Government’s concerns, just as we are rightly concerned about EU nationals who live alongside us.
The interests of the Brits abroad are represented by the British in Europe group, which is represented here today. Tomorrow, it is joining with the3Million campaign in a day of action to highlight concerns and to lobby us here in Parliament. They are campaigning together not simply because their worries are the same, but because under the principle of reciprocity what will apply to one group will inevitably apply to the other. In looking at what the Government expect for UK nationals in the EU post-Brexit, we need to look at what they are proposing for EU nationals here, because that signals their expectations for British citizens in the EU27.
Last week, as my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) highlighted, we got some indication of Home Office thinking. The Government have been backtracking on the paper ever since, but they are clearly considering some of those proposals; otherwise they would not have been in the paper in the first place. I do not expect the Minister to comment on leaked documents any more than he did when I pushed him on the issue last Thursday at Brexit questions, so instead I will ask him about some of the general issues that happen to be in the paper. For example, is he prepared to see British citizens in the EU subject to biometric screening and fingerprinting? Would he want British citizens in the EU to have time-limited residency permits? We are quickly approaching the September round of negotiations and the 4.2 million citizens affected are yet to have firm reassurances on their future. As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) highlighted, some 100 EU nationals received erroneous letters from the Home Office threatening deportation, despite assurances I received from the Home Office—we have raised this issue from the Opposition Front Bench—in a written answer back on 30 March that that would not happen.
We have also had the appalling dossier from the 3 Million compiling discrimination against EU nationals in work, goods and services in the UK. I first took that issue up with the Minister’s colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union, and I received no commitment for action. The Minister is raising his eyebrows. I received a sympathetic letter saying that such discrimination was illegal, but I am yet to receive even a response to my letter asking, “What are you going to do about it?”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point, which is not that the Government have done nothing—although they have done nothing positive—but that they have sent out so many signals that make European nationals in this country feel unwelcome. There is a climate of uncertainty—I would even say fear—out there, and he is making exactly the right point: is that how the Minister wishes British citizens in Europe to be treated? It is disgraceful.
My hon. Friend raises a point that I was going to make. In the absence of a satisfactory reply from DExEU, I am relieved that the Government Equalities Office has launched an investigation. Clearly such discrimination is totally unacceptable and we need an investigation, but we also need action and more than action on those cases. We need to do more than send a signal to employers and landlords. It is precisely the lack of clarity created by the Government and, frankly, the uncertainty created by their willingness to use citizens’ rights as a bargaining chip that are creating the hostile environment in which this sort of discrimination takes place.
UK citizens in the EU are also facing uncertainty. I am sure the contribution from the hon. Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) was well meant, but I want to take this opportunity to correct the record. There is a common misperception that all the UK nationals abroad are retired on the Spanish coast or Cyprus or other places, but in actual fact 70% to 80% are working and running businesses. There are different figures, but they are of that order. Those running businesses are often doing so on a cross-border basis, which raises some specific issues. Will the Government commit to pressing for UK nationals in the EU27 to be able to enjoy the same cross-border rights after Brexit as they have now? Simply securing the right to remain is not enough. People need to earn a living, so what progress are the Government making on securing the mutual recognition of professional qualifications? For many, those qualifications are essential to their livelihoods. Brits in Europe are concerned about their future. They need certainty and clarity on freedom of movement and issues such as family reunion rights, which I hope the Minister will address in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury) highlighted the way that the Government are maintaining this ludicrous position on the overall negotiations that no deal is better than a bad deal. Having no deal risks cutting our citizens adrift and leaving them in legal limbo, just as it does for EU nationals in the UK. I hope the Minister will take the opportunity to rule out the ludicrous idea that having no deal is a satisfactory conclusion to our negotiations. The interests of this important group must not be neglected. It is essential that the rights they currently enjoy continue to be protected, and part of that protection is robust enforcement.
As my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) pointed out, the Prime Minister has set herself an unacceptable and untenable red line on citizens’ rights and the European Court of Justice. That position is guided either by narrow ideological interests or simply by a need to keep some of her hard-line Back Benchers happy, but let me turn the question around. Would the Minister be content for the recourse of any British citizens in the EU over any matter to be limited under the agreement to national courts in the countries in which they live? Should their rights be subject to changes in domestic legislation of a single EU member state? Should they and EU nationals in the UK not be able to have recourse either to the ECJ or a similar court-like body overseeing the agreement on citizens’ rights? Is it not the case that anything else would be untenable? As my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate and many others have pointed out, we would not be in this mess if the Government had offered certainty from day one in the way that the Opposition were asking. Will they offer it now?
As always, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge (Daniel Zeichner) on calling this debate and I thank all those who have contributed. I hope I can provide some constructive clarification, as he challenged me to do. The future of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK is an incredibly important issue, as we have heard from so many Members today.
All hon. Members here will be aware that the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have prioritised the strand of negotiations on citizens from the start of the negotiating process, and we have welcomed progress in those negotiations from the other side. It is essential that we provide certainty and continuity to the 4 million people affected—3 million EU citizens living in the UK and, as hon. Members have said, 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU.
In June, we published our policy paper on safeguarding the position of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU, which a number of hon. Members have referred to. It clearly set out the UK’s position across a number of key areas of citizens’ rights, including residency rights, access to benefits and public services, and—as the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) just touched on—mutual recognition of professional qualifications. I want to reassure the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) that the paper made it very clear that that was without prejudice to our commitment to the common travel area and arrangements between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Those areas are, of course, being dealt with in a separate strand of the negotiations, which is also making good progress.
We are all agreed that it is of great importance that we reach a swift resolution through negotiations with the European Union on citizens’ rights. We have been engaging on those matters at pace, and I hope I can show hon. Members that we are making progress. Hon. Members have focused today on the status and rights that UK nationals are afforded in the EU, but as many have said, it is important that we secure the rights of EU citizens choosing to make their lives in the UK as well.
Rights for UK nationals who have already built a life in the European Union have been a key focus of negotiations in the first few rounds. It is essential that we provide certainty and clarity on all the issues as soon as we can. We have held positive and constructive discussions and there is clearly a great deal of common ground between our respective positions. We have taken significant steps forward in both the July and August negotiation rounds. Someone suggested that we did not agree on two thirds of issues, and agreed on a third, but the reverse is true. In our published tables, there are many more green issues than red or yellow ones. Importantly, many of the areas in dispute are where the UK’s offer is currently going beyond that of the European Commission.
I am happy to plead guilty to being the hon. Member in question. I think the figure that I quoted was 80% to 20%, taken directly from the House of Commons Library analysis of the August negotiations. Is he telling us that the Library researchers have got it wrong?
I would never dare criticise the Library researchers, but we have agreed on more issues through July and August, and there are many more green issues in the papers than red ones.
As the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) and my hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet (Sir Roger Gale) set out, many UK nationals are worried about whether they will be able to continue to access healthcare in the member state they have settled in. That is why we have placed great importance on resolving that issue. In the August round, we agreed that we would protect existing healthcare rights and arrangements for those EU citizens in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU, present on the day of exit. That means that British residents and pensioners living in the EU will continue to have their healthcare arrangements protected both where they live and when they travel to another member state, by using their EHIC card, which the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate held up earlier.
We also set out our intention to continue to uprate pensions for UK citizens living in the EU, subject to a reciprocal agreement. We know that it is important for many UK nationals to be able to continue to work across borders after we exit—the hon. Member for Sheffield Central raised that point. That is why, in the last round of negotiations, we agreed that we should protect the rights of frontier workers, which I know is particularly important for the Gibraltar-Spain border.
On aggregation of social security contributions, we have agreed to protect social security contributions made before and after exit by those UK and EU nationals covered by the withdrawal agreement. That means where an individual has moved between the EU and the UK, their contributions will continue to be recognised—for example, when determining their state pension entitlements. As we have previously set out, such pensions will be uprated every year, as they are now.
Although we are making good progress, there of course remain areas of difference between our position and that of the EU. As shown in the joint technical note that was published on 31 August, it is clear that we want to go further than the EU in some areas. For example, the EU does not plan to maintain existing voting rights for UK nationals living in the EU, but we think that that is an important right. We want to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the UK to stand and vote in municipal elections, and the reciprocal voting rights that UK nationals enjoy when living in the EU.
The EU is also suggesting that UK nationals currently resident in the EU should not be able to retain onward movement rights if they decide to move within the EU. We have always been clear that we should seek to protect that right for UK nationals currently resident in EU member states, and we will continue to push for that during negotiations. Furthermore, we are seeking to ensure that individuals who have started but not finished their qualifications—as in one of the examples the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) gave, about a nurse in training—continue to have those qualifications recognised after we leave. We recognise that that is a hugely important issue for many UK nationals in the EU; we will return to it in future rounds of negotiations.
Progress in those areas will clearly require flexibility and pragmatism from both sides, but I am confident that we are close to agreeing a good deal for both UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. A number of hon. Members touched on the important issue of family reunions. Our policy paper on citizens’ rights set out that family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years, irrespective of the specified date. We believe we have taken an expansive approach to the issue, and we hope that the EU will do the same for UK citizens. We remain open to exploring that and potential methods of dispute resolution over time with the EU, to understand their concerns and to look at all constructive suggestions.
We are, of course, keen to move on to discussions about our future relationship and the future partnership between the UK and the EU. I would like to respond to some of the remarks made by colleagues throughout the debate on the immigration system that the UK will implement once we withdraw from the EU. I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda) on that issue. As the hon. Member for Sheffield Central said, I will not comment on leaked drafts; however, we have repeatedly been clear that we do not see the referendum result as a vote for the UK to pull up the drawbridge. We will remain an open and tolerant country, which recognises the valuable contribution that migrants make to our society.
Since the referendum, we have engaged with businesses up and down the country to build a strong understanding of the challenges and opportunities that our EU exit brings, including access to talent. We are very aware of the importance of future mobility in particular sectors. The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West and the hon. Members for City of Durham (Dr Blackman-Woods) and for Glasgow North West (Carol Monaghan) all mentioned the importance of research. I draw their attention to our recently published paper on science and research, in which we made it clear that researcher mobility is associated with better international networks, more research outputs, higher quality outputs and, for most, better career outcomes. We said in that paper that we will discuss with the EU future arrangements to facilitate the mobility of researchers engaged in cross-border collaboration.
The UK is a world leader in research collaboration and we recognise that the ability of UK citizens to travel within the EU, and EU citizens to contribute to our science base, is vital to that co-operation. We are carefully considering the options open to us. As part of that, it is important that we understand the impact of any changes we make to sectors of the economy. The Home Secretary has commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to build an evidence-based picture of the UK labour market to further inform that work.
My hon. Friend the Member for North Thanet and a number of other hon. Members spoke passionately about the contribution of EU citizens to their constituencies, but it is right that the point has been made—by Members on both sides of the House—that UK citizens in the EU also make an important contribution. We will set out initial proposals for a new immigration system later in the autumn, and we will introduce an immigration Bill to ensure that Parliament has a full and proper opportunity to debate that system, which will apply to EU nationals in future.
Of course, many British citizens will also wish to live and work in the EU after the UK’s exit and we will discuss those arrangements with the EU in due course. Our embassies and ambassadors across the EU have engaged extensively with communities and expats in individual countries. Throughout this process, as we seek to reach agreement with the EU about citizens’ rights, we will want to do everything that we can to reassure those people.
The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) gave a couple of concerning examples from her constituency of people who are well established in this country and deserve that reassurance. If she writes to me or the Home Office about those cases, we will look into them in detail and make sure those people get the reassurance that they undoubtedly should receive. A number of hon. Members have mentioned the Home Office; I know an apology has been given for those letters. Throughout the negotiations, we will seek to secure the best deal possible for UK nationals—
Order. There is sadly no time for Mr Zeichner to respond, but I thought it was important to let the Minister inform the House. We now move on to our next debate. Would those leaving the Chamber please do so quickly and quietly?
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 10(6)).