We have agreed to protect the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU under the withdrawal agreement. Our message to EU nationals is that we value the contribution that you make and we want you to stay.
My question has been prompted by a particular case at my surgery involving a German couple who have been here for many years and contributed hugely to my town of Solihull. They have been concerned by scare stories and by EU intransigence on this issue, and they would like me to ask the Secretary of State whether he can clearly confirm that, after Brexit, EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU will be able to continue to live their lives as they do today.
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. Of course, under the withdrawal agreement, we have set out very clearly the rights that people would have in order to give effect to the assurance that he is seeking. They include the right to stay in this country; the right to work; protection for those working as frontier workers; the right for close family members to join them; the recognition of EEA professional qualifications; and a role for the independent monitoring authority in relation to the application of the citizens’ rights element of the agreement, which would mirror what the Commission will do for UK citizens on the continent.
Does the Minister seriously believe that the Home Office will be able to cope with the number of applications from EU citizens, when its existing immigration systems are in overload?
I have had a number of conversations with the Home Secretary and indeed with the Cabinet to ensure that not only the legislation but the operational systems will be in place.
A technical notice on EU citizens in the UK was expected as part of the no-deal preparations. That was confirmed in a recent technical notice from the Department for Transport, but it has not yet been produced and the Prime Minister’s spokesman apparently told journalists on Tuesday that there were no more notices in the pipeline. Will the Secretary of State clarify which is correct? If there is to be a notice, will he tell us when it will be published?
Most hon. Members would agree that citizens’ rights are an issue of scale, importance and sensitivity, which means that it will be dealt with not in technical notices, but in a different format. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman that all the details will be coming along shortly to provide the assurances that I think both sides of the House want to give to EU nationals here. We value their contribution and want them to stay.
Both sides of the House certainly do want those assurances, but I am unsure whether that answer provides them, so let me try with another issue. The Prime Minister said that, in the event of no deal, she will make a unilateral offer to EU citizens remaining in the UK, but the right to remain in itself does not provide the reassurance that they need. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that, in those circumstances, their rights will be identical in every respect to the provisions in the withdrawal agreement as currently drafted?
The hon. Gentleman is right that the Prime Minister made that commitment after the Salzburg summit. We are going to set out all the details in due course, but I can give him some reassurance right now, because the healthcare Bill, which is due to be introduced shortly, will provide reassurance, for example, in the context of reciprocal healthcare for UK nationals who live in, work in or visit the EU, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. The hon. Gentleman will have to wait just a bit longer for all the details.