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Brexit: European Union Citizenship

Volume 777: debated on Tuesday 13 December 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are planning to protect the European Union citizenship status of United Kingdom citizens who were born after the United Kingdom joined the European Union on 1 January 1973.

My Lords, when the United Kingdom is no longer a member state of the European Union, British nationals who are not nationals of another EU member state will no longer be EU citizens. In terms of UK citizens already living in the EU, the Prime Minister has been clear that the Government want to protect their status in the same way as we want to protect the status of EU nationals already living here.

My Lords, I would be happy if the Minister will advise me how I can explain to my grandchildren how a leave vote of 18 million can affect the status of 65 million—the whole population of the UK—and that that vote seeks to deny them a fundamental right which they have. That is especially true for those born since 1 January 1973, when we joined the Union. The birthright of half the population of the UK is now being denied to them. Will the Minister explain that, please?

Yes, my Lords, I can explain in one word—the referendum, a point which the noble Lord made earlier. I can totally understand and sense the passion with which he speaks but this was a decision taken by the British people. The actual Act to introduce that referendum was passed in the other place by six to one. It is a manifesto commitment from this Government to respect the outcome and that is what we will do.

My Lords, many of the officials working currently in EU institutions fall into this category and appear not to have been consulted by the Government or by my noble friend the Minister’s department as to what their future status will be. Will he undertake to give an early commitment to meet as many of these British officials as possible, and possibly rely on their good offices and knowledge for the help that his department will undoubtedly require in preparing Britain for Brexit?

I thank my noble friend for drawing my attention to that point and I will indeed look into it straight after Question Time. I was under the impression that we were in talks about those issues, but clearly I need to look into that and I will write to my noble friend.

My Lords, we look forward to the publication tomorrow of our EU Select Committee’s report on acquired rights. Does the Minister acknowledge that Brexit would take an axe to the valuable EU rights that individuals have either as consumers, as we discussed yesterday, or as citizens, workers and students? Is that not why it is so important to let British voters decide whether they can support any eventual Brexit deal once they see its full implications for their lives and their families’ lives?

I am sorry to say that I disagree entirely with the noble Baroness’s final point about a second referendum. As regards the first point about rights, I draw her attention to the great repeal Bill, the whole premise of which is to transpose EU law into UK law, and to the commitment given by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to ensure that workers’ rights are fundamentally protected.

Respecting the Brexit decision, sooner or later the Government will have to deal with the issues of Brexit-related migration and market access—and in a way that seeks to unite the whole country and not just the 52% whom they are dealing with at the moment. To do so fairly, the Government surely have to look at issuing ID cards to all those resident here at the time of Brexit. Does this form part of the Government’s Brexit plans, currently actively under consideration?

I start by welcoming the noble Lord to his place, and I look forward to other interesting questions such as that one. The Home Office is obviously looking at the Government’s plans and proposals for immigration post-Brexit, and I am sure that it will bring forward its proposals in due course.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that part of being a democrat—either a Liberal Democrat or another sort of democrat—means that one should respect democracy? When the good people of this country have voted to leave the EU, we should get on with it and not listen to discredited people such as Mr Clegg or Mr Blair, who say that we should not.

My noble friend speaks with such passion. I just remember what the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said in the minutes before the referendum result:

“It is our duty as those who serve the public to make sure the country does the best it can with the decision they have taken. In. Out. When the British people have spoken you do what they command”.

My Lords, is it not quite wrong that any citizen should be left in any doubt about this issue, as people undoubtedly are? Will the Minister personally vouch that this issue will be cleared up? People should not be left in any doubt at all.

I thank the noble Lord for that. If he is referring to the issue of UK nationals in the EU and EU nationals in the UK, I assure him that the Prime Minister and the entire Government wish to see it addressed as quickly as possible.

The Minister referred to discussions in the Home Office in response to the question of identity cards. Are any discussions at all going on in the Home Office about the introduction of some kind of identity documentation?

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that if the Government, in a gesture of friendship towards the other 27 nations of the European Union, made it abundantly plain that we would not use EU nationals as a bargaining counter, the negotiations would get off to a very much more positive start?

I note what my noble friend has said, and I also absolutely note the strength of feeling on this issue in this House and the other place. I am sure that my ministerial colleagues and others will bear that in mind in the weeks ahead.

My Lords, will the Government explain to all those British citizens who have been issued with European driving licences what the process will be for transferring them back into UK licences and when that will happen? Does he consider this to be a slight problem?

The noble Viscount puts his finger on another of the myriad issues that my department and others are thinking about.

Will the Minister explain why the Government were happy to give a referendum to the British people when they did not know what the outcome of the negotiations would be, yet the Minister feels it would be inappropriate for them to have a vote when they do know the implications?

My Lords, I too accept the result of the referendum and accept that Britain must leave. However, the NHS played a major part in that referendum, and it is beginning to fall apart. It depends entirely—entirely—on overseas staff working in it. Will the Minister pressurise his colleagues to guarantee that those who have spent years working in the NHS will be allowed to stay in Britain?

The noble Lord makes a passionate point and I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those who work in the NHS, wherever they come from. I am sure that that issue, as well as the myriad other issues regarding immigration, is one that my colleagues, especially in the Home Office, will take account of.