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EU: British Nationals Resident Overseas

Volume 773: debated on Tuesday 28 June 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what advice they plan to provide for British people who are currently living and working in, or have retired to, other European Union member states.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as the co-owner of a vineyard, wine business and house in France.

My Lords, as the Prime Minister has said, there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of British citizens living in the EU, for European citizens here or in the way that our people can travel. The Government have committed to ensuring the best possible outcome for the British people now that the decision has been made to leave the EU.

I thank the Minister for her reply. I am sure that the 1.2 million British nationals living in the European Union will be pleased to hear that there will be no immediate change. However, two years is no time to relocate your business, take your children out of school, relocate to a different country and buy a new home. Will this country negotiate on a bilateral basis with each of the 27 member states or will they negotiate en bloc? Secondly, in the new unit to be based in Whitehall, which was also mentioned in yesterday’s Statement, will there be a member of staff with special designated responsibility for this area of work?

My Lords, clearly, those who are negotiating the terms of our relationship with the European Union will do that work, with a very firm view about the importance of preserving the rights of British citizens wherever possible. I feel sure that whoever is the next leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister will put first and foremost in his or her mind the importance of bringing the country together and getting the best deal possible. Therefore, I cannot give any details in answer to the first part of the noble Baroness’s question. On the unit that is being set up, the Prime Minister and my noble friend the Leader of the House made it clear yesterday that the brightest and best from across government, but also from outside government, will be brought together to ensure that ground work is done in order that, when there is a new Prime Minister and new Government, the negotiations can go ahead.

My Lords, although I agree with the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, will the Minister agree that if we go ahead and withdraw from the European Union, it would be quite wrong for someone who lives, let us say, in the south of France, to continue to be a Member of this House?

My Lords, I do not think that this House has ever taken action against noble Lords because of the country in which they live. That introduces a new prospect, but it would be a matter for the House and not for the Government.

My Lords, does there need to be any negotiation to protect the interests of either British people living in Europe or Europeans living in the United Kingdom? Surely they are protected by an international treaty as it stands today.

My Lords, although I know that my noble friend asked that question in very good spirit, I am afraid that I cannot give him the good news that he would like. There is the question of acquired rights, which is a very complex legal matter and not straightforward. We would need to rely upon negotiations to give certainty to those who do, after all, need and deserve it.

My Lords, I want to pick up on exactly that point. It is not only the markets that are extremely worried by the uncertainty. People’s lives are affected; people who have lived in this country for 20 years—like my husband, who woke up on Friday morning thinking that his country had rejected him. That creates a fear, and we need to ensure that we respond to that fear. There is another point: British people who live in mainland Spain in Gibraltar are going to be even more worried. We need clear guidance to ensure that people are not anxious and can get on with their lives and work.

I entirely agree with the noble lord and that will be the thrust of the work to be done by the unit being set up. I feel sure it will be at the forefront of the minds of those who carry out the negotiations later this autumn.

With regard to Gibraltar, my colleagues in the Foreign Office have of course been in contact throughout with the Gibraltarian Administration, and we have given every indication of full support for their sovereignty and that we will not let them down.

My Lords, does the Minister not recognise that the assurances given by the Prime Minister are a bit of a wasting asset, not because he will no longer be Prime Minister but because, as the negotiations go ahead, the people we are talking about will become increasingly anxious about the outcome? Will the Minister try to ensure, first, that these people are consulted when the Government are making up their position—it is not too difficult to have consultations and it will help—and secondly, that they are kept informed at each stage of the negotiations so that the rather complex arrangements they may have to make to take care of their interests are done in full knowledge of what is happening?

The noble lord makes an important point and anybody who carries out the negotiations will have in mind that, in bringing the country together, it will be vital to take account of the interests of those so directly affected. In the interim, as soon as the decision was known on Friday, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ensured that there was a system whereby anybody who phoned in with concerns about these matters was able to get an answer and a reassurance at that stage.

While it is relatively clear, at least as far as England and Wales are concerned, what the outcome of the referendum was and that the Government have no choice but to abide by that, what was far from clear last Thursday was the alternative that was on offer. What proposals do the Government have for bringing definitive statements to both Chambers of Parliament, and how will a decision be taken on the alternative that should then be taken forward?

That specific procedure will clearly be a matter for consideration by the new Government but in the meantime, as my noble friend the Leader of the House made clear yesterday, there is a system whereby parliamentarians may contribute their views. Indeed, she pointed out that there will be ways in which we hope Members of this House will use their expertise to inform the process—beginning, I believe, next week with a debate.