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Brexit: EU Nationals’ Right to Remain

Volume 777: debated on Wednesday 11 January 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will confirm whether those non-British European Union nationals employed in the agriculture, caring and hospitality sectors will be given the right to remain in the United Kingdom following Brexit.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has been clear that she wants to secure the status of EU nationals already living here. The only circumstance in which that would not be possible is if British citizens’ rights in other EU member states were not protected in return.

Is it not time, though, that the Government dropped this ridiculous pretence that there is a trade-off here? The reality is that significant sectors of our economy, such as caring, hospitality and areas of agriculture, would virtually collapse if non-British nationals did not remain and work here. There is massive anxiety out there in the country, among employer and employee. Is it not time that the Government did the right thing, both morally and commercially, and gave these individuals the right to remain?

My Lords, the Government have been absolutely clear that we will seek to reach an agreement on this issue at an early stage of negotiations with the EU. I totally dispute the notion of a trade-off, because the EU’s refusal to guarantee the status of UK nationals elsewhere in the EU prior to negotiations shows that the Government have been absolutely right not to give away the guarantee of status for EU citizens in the UK. As the Prime Minister has said, that would have left UK citizens high and dry.

My Lords, may I remind my honourable friend that for the agriculturalists and horticulturalists in Lincolnshire and adjoining counties access to migrant labour is very important indeed? Without migrant labour it is probable that many of those businesses would not survive.

My Lords, I totally agree with my noble friend—I am proud to be his honourable friend. Of course, this will be part and parcel of what we discuss. The Government totally acknowledge where the skills gaps lie, where temporary labour might be needed, and that will be important.

My Lords, while it is quite right that migrant workers in these hospitality and caring industries are important, does the Minister appreciate that tens of thousands of European citizens work in our health service? Indeed, our health service would fall apart—I am not exaggerating—if it were not for these workers. Can we not show them the hand of friendship?

My Lords, the Prime Minister has been very reasonable in her position. We are absolutely welcoming to EU residents who come here and have said that we will protect their status as long as that is done in return. When the noble Lord talks about the proportion of NHS workers, he is absolutely right: almost 10% of doctors and 6.3% of nurses in England are from an EU country. We are very mindful of that.

My Lords, are there any plans for the Government to ask for a transitional period after the terms of a Brexit deal are negotiated? This was asked for by members of the financial services sector at the Treasury Select Committee yesterday. It would allow not merely the financial services sector but hospitality and other industries to plan for the future, rather than have to take pre-emptive action now and risk revenue to Her Majesty’s Exchequer.

My noble friend is absolutely right about the importance of the financial sector to the UK economy. We have the largest financial sector in the world. The Prime Minister will lay out those plans in due course as we exit the European Union.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are key workers in the health sector already looking for jobs because of the uncertainty, fearful that 12 or 18 months down the road there will be tremendous competition with people looking back to their home countries for jobs? Will she do everything she can to end that uncertainty?

My Lords, I am sure that the Prime Minister will lay out the position in a clear manner as we move towards the triggering of Article 50 by the end of March, which is not very long to go.

My Lords, I feel a bit naive in this. Perhaps the Minister could explain. Supposing the EU countries decide not to do a deal to protect the interests of British nationals abroad, will the response be to say that those who are here will have to leave? We will face exactly the same problem that has been mentioned by several speakers—that we cannot maintain our agricultural, hospitality, health service and university industries. If that is the case, it does not sound to me like a bargaining point.

My Lords, as we conduct our negotiations, it must be a priority to regain more control of the numbers of people who come here from Europe but also to allow British companies and British public services to employ people with the correct skills, and companies to trade with the single market in goods and services.

My Lords, does the Minister agree with the statement in the recent CBI report that we need,

“a system informed by business rather than imposed on business”,

and that this is,

“essential to the future economic growth of the UK”?

Are the Government talking and listening to employers? What have they had to say about the £1,000 levy about which we have heard today?

My Lords, the Prime Minister has made it absolutely clear that she wants to hear from all sectors and from anybody who is interested in the subject of Brexit. All opinions and cases made to her will be listened to, and she will form her views accordingly.