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EU Settlement Scheme

Volume 655: debated on Monday 25 February 2019

EU citizens make a huge contribution to our economy and society, and we want them all to stay. The EU settlement scheme enables them to do so. The scheme will be free of charge, and we are putting in place measures to ensure it is streamlined, user-friendly and accessible to all prospective applicants.

With exit day drawing closer, can my right hon. Friend confirm that the Government will do everything to protect the rights of British citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, regardless of whether there is a deal or not?

I am very happy to give my hon. Friend that assurance. It is vital that we give people full reassurance that their rights will be protected as we leave the EU, which is why we have made it crystal clear that, whether there is a deal or no deal, the rights of EU citizens resident here will be protected through the EU settlement scheme. We will continue to work with our friends in the EU, the EU27, asking them to provide the same absolute assurances to UK nationals living in their countries.

The Home Affairs Committee heard in a recent evidence session that those who did not register under the EU settlement scheme in time would be unlawfully resident. Can he confirm whether that is the case? What rights will those people have if they have not registered with the EU settlement scheme?

As the right hon. Lady will know, we want to make sure that all EU citizens who are here know exactly how the process works for them to stay. We want them all to stay and we want to make the scheme that I have just set out as easy and accessible as possible. As with any scheme, there will need to be a cut-off period at some point, not least because this is about protecting the rights of EU citizens so that as we end freedom of movement there is no possibility that we can have another Windrush-type situation, which she knows was created by successive Governments not properly documenting a change in immigration status for people who were already here. It is important that we get this right. In terms of a cut-off, we will take a proportionate and sensible approach.

A whisper may have reached the Home Secretary that my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) is going to propose an amendment on Wednesday calling for a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the draft withdrawal agreement as soon as possible. May I invite the Home Secretary to indicate, for the very reasons he has just set out, that the Government are supportive of that position?

I have been very clear, and I am very happy to say so again to my right hon. Friend, that we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are here in the UK, whether there is deal or no deal. She refers to concerns raised by hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire. I welcome the interest of both him and my right hon. Friend. I would be happy to meet them to discuss it further.

Further to the question from the Select Committee Chair, the right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), does the Home Secretary not realise that there could be a large number of EU citizens living here now who may not, for a number of reasons, manage to register by the June 2021 deadline? Will the Home Secretary therefore look at alternative ideas that are being put forward, for example a declaratory scheme, so that EU citizens can get their rights here and we can treat these people with the respect and dignity they deserve?

I could not be clearer: the rights of all EU citizens who are here in the UK prior to exiting the European Union will absolutely be protected. We will do everything we can, whatever is necessary, to ensure that. The right hon. Gentleman makes a suggestion about a declaratory scheme. I say again—this is a very important point—that that is exactly what was done in the ’70s with the Windrush generation and we all have seen the consequences of that all too clearly. They were not designed by anyone; that was the outcome of a declaratory scheme. We cannot have such a situation again. I am happy to look at any other ideas and thoughts that hon. Members have on this matter, but I think we all share the concern that we must ensure that rights are protected and properly protected.

I was pleased recently to add my name to an open letter from the Cornwall leadership board to all EU citizens living in Cornwall, making it clear that we want them to remain here and that we want to make it easy for them to do so. However, concerns remain about getting the message out about the settled status scheme to the more rural and hard-to-reach communities in Cornwall, so will the Home Secretary reassure me that the Home Office will make every effort to get the message out to the remotest parts of our country?

Yes, I can give my hon. Friend that reassurance. That is a very important point: we want to make sure that we are reaching not just people in rural communities outside our big cities, but those who might be more vulnerable, perhaps because they are disabled or are children who are being looked after by local authorities. We need to make sure that we reach out to all of them, which is why we are working with a number of organisations. We have allocated £9 million of funding for them to make sure that they can go out and reach all these vulnerable groups.

The right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) has asked the Home Secretary about an amendment to be debated in the House later this week, requiring the Prime Minister to seek to ring-fence the rights of both UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, regardless of whether the withdrawal agreement is signed. This ring-fencing has cross-party support across the House, including from many Government Back Benchers. What possible reason could there be for the Home Secretary not to recommend to the Prime Minister that the Government accept that amendment?

The hon. and learned Lady will know that the Prime Minister is not able to speak on behalf of the EU; she can speak only on behalf of the UK. She is not able to force the EU to ring-fence anything—that is ultimately a decision for the EU. What the UK can do, though, is unilaterally guarantee the rights of all EU citizens, regardless of whether there is a deal or no deal, and that is exactly what we are doing.

Well of course, what the Prime Minister is being asked to do is to seek an agreement from the EU, not to force the EU. However, if the Government are not prepared to do that, will they do this? The British in Europe campaign group told the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill Committee last week that the best alternative to bilateral ring-fencing was to put the settled status qualifying criteria in the Bill along with a clear statement of strong settled status rights. That would be best practice and would give other countries in the European Union significant encouragement to reciprocate. Will the Home Secretary commit to that as a fall-back position?

I absolutely share the hon. and learned Lady’s concerns. It might be useful to point out that we can guarantee people’s rights through secondary legislation, which would be much more straightforward and easier, and that is our plan. As we have set out, we absolutely will be guaranteeing the rights of all EU citizens, regardless of deal or no deal, and when that comes to this House, hopefully through secondary legislation, I hope that hon. Members will support it.