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Leaving the EU: Rights of EU Citizens

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 1 November 2018

1. Whether he has provided the Prime Minister with legal advice on the rights of EU citizens after the UK has left the EU. (907420)

5. Whether he has provided the Prime Minister with legal advice on the rights of EU citizens after the UK has left the EU. (907425)

9. Whether he has provided the Prime Minister with legal advice on the rights of EU citizens after the UK has left the EU. (907429)

As the hon. Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) will know, the Law Officers convention prevents me from disclosing whether I have given advice—and, if so, the content of that advice—on this or any other subject.

The Prime Minister said that EU citizens’ rights will be unilaterally respected. Does the Attorney General agree that that statement does not provide sufficient legal guarantees in the case of no deal and that the best way to guarantee EU citizens’ rights is the ring-fencing that has already been agreed in the draft withdrawal agreement?

The Prime Minister has indeed guaranteed the rights of those living here who are citizens of the EU. Those guarantees will be fair, generous and comprehensive. The Government are working on the detail now.

Earlier this week, the Immigration Minister appeared before the Home Affairs Committee and was questioned about the rights of EU citizens in the event of no deal. Can the Attorney General confirm whether it is true that in the event of no deal, EU citizens who have not applied for settled status will find it impossible to distinguish themselves from new EU arrivals?

In the event of no deal, is there any legal reason why citizens who have EU settled status could not have the same rights to vote in local elections as EU citizens have at the moment?

Again, the hon. Gentleman will have to forgive me, but that is a matter that I cannot disclose, because that would be to disclose the advice that I give to the Government.

The Attorney General has been rather reticent in his replies. Would he recommend that hon. Members watch the video of him at the Conservative party conference, as that would answer many questions? [Interruption.]

It is a question that warrants an answer, but more particularly, if the Attorney General does get to his feet, we shall enjoy more of his baritone.

I am most obliged, Mr Speaker. I am afraid that I did not quite catch my hon. Friend’s question, but if it referred to me in the video, I think that I am best taking the fifth amendment.

Can the Attorney General confirm that EU citizens should have no concerns about their legal rights, especially given the Prime Minister’s commitment that they will be guaranteed in all circumstances?

The Government are currently in dialogue with all countries where EU citizens are living. The Government are making certain that the case is being made to those Governments for reciprocity, but this Government will none the less, whatever the position, ensure that those living in this country from the European Union are treated fairly and generously. That is what this country would expect, and it is consistent with the character of the people of this country. Their rights will be protected and guaranteed.

The Foreign Secretary yesterday told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the Foreign Office is doing work on what will happen if UK citizens are trapped after Brexit in other parts of Europe because there are no flights. Can the Attorney General tell us how many people that will affect and which circle of hell they will be in?

I am not able to give the hon. Gentleman that detail. It is not my sphere of ministerial responsibility. Much as I would like to answer for every aspect and part of the Government, I cannot answer that question, but if he wishes an answer, I will write to him about it.

Order. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) is not being asked by anybody else to resign. That is not going to happen.

Does the Attorney General agree that EU citizens can take great comfort from the clear commitments that have been given in the case of no deal and that they should therefore ignore the scaremongering from the separatists on the Opposition Benches?

I quite understand why, at a time of national uncertainty, those affected by this situation might be worried, but let me say from the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Government that they should not worry. The fact is that their rights will be protected. This Government are determined and committed to that.

Despite that answer, is it not the case that the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 only copies EU law until the moment that the UK Government decide to adopt different provisions, which, as far as immigration issues are concerned, is likely to be soon after Brexit? Does the Attorney General agree that that would leave EU citizens in a precarious legal position, especially without any agreements regarding pensions, social security aggregation and access to healthcare?

The arrangements under the withdrawal agreement as so far agreed would provide for the comprehensive protection of all the rights of EU citizens, on both pensions and social security.