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Citizenship Rights

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 24 January 2019

7. What steps the Government are taking to secure citizenship rights for (a) UK citizens residing in the EU and (b) EU citizens residing in the UK after the UK leaves the EU. (908752)

EU citizens will be able to stay in all scenarios under the EU settlement scheme. As the Prime Minister announced this week, we will waive the application fee, removing any financial barrier for them to do so. We are working with member states to understand how they will protect UK nationals in all scenarios. I am pleased that some, like Cyprus and the Netherlands, have published such plans.

That will clearly be good news for the 13,000 EU citizens that live in my constituency, providing certainty going forward, but will the Minister make further efforts to ensure that the European Union provides reciprocal rights to all UK citizens that live in the EU?

Yes, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right: not only are the EU citizens in all our constituencies valued members of our communities, but of course the UK nationals in other EU member states are also valued members of their communities. This is really important. We shall be urging our EU counterparts to echo the reassurances that we have given for UK nationals living in their country, and to provide reciprocal protections.

Although waiving the £65 charge is, of course, very welcome, it still leaves EU citizens as second-class citizens in a country they have chosen to make their home—if not the citizens of nowhere, in that disgraceful phrase used by our Prime Minister. Would the Government consider covering any reasonable costs that EU citizens might incur in securing their settled status, beyond the £65 charge that has been waived?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s welcome for the Government’s decision in this respect, but it is important to say that this is a simple digital scheme—one that should be easy and straightforward to apply to. The Government are providing help and assistance, ensuring that we invest substantial resources in making the scheme work for EU citizens.

I wrote to the Minister immediately after the no-deal paper on citizenship rights was published on 6 December, seeking clarification on points that appeared to reduce rights previously granted in the withdrawal agreement, but I have had no response. One question was: why have the Government made it more difficult for EU citizens to secure their rights, by bringing forward the deadline for settled status applications, so that in a chaotic period, without a transition, applicants would have not six extra months but six fewer months to confirm their status? If the Government cannot answer such basic questions after five weeks, does it not confirm that they are simply not prepared for no deal?

I am surprised to hear that the hon. Gentleman has not had an answer, because I have certainly signed one off. I am sorry if it has not reached him. I shall investigate that matter and check.

In the unsought-for event of no deal, there would be 21 months after we leave the EU for people to register for the scheme. Obviously, the same implementation period would not be in place, so that actually offers a longer period after the change in circumstances than the six-month grace period on offer in a deal scenario.