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European Union: Migration

Volume 779: debated on Tuesday 7 March 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they expect to use article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to secure a new policy for the admission of migrants to the United Kingdom from the European Union.

My Lords, the Government’s White Paper on exiting the EU was published on 2 February. It sets out the Government’s priorities and the broad strategy for exiting the EU and made it clear that we will take back control of our own laws. There are a number of options as to how EU immigration might work once we have exited the EU; we are considering those options and will consult businesses and communities. Parliament will also have a critical role to play.

Of course, the so-called main pressure is really from non-EU migrants. Why did not the Government, many years ago, use Article 45 of the TFEU, particularly paragraphs 3(a), (c) and (d), to impose necessary civilised restraints on migrants coming in with authorisation to do so, so that the horrendous hostility to immigrants from all over would not have been so evident in the referendum on 23 June?

My Lords, I cannot be accountable for what happened in the past. We have been a very, very generous country in terms of letting people come here for the purposes of work. There was a very clear message sent last year about controlling the numbers of people who come into this country from both EU and non-EU countries. That is what we intend to do and we will keep Parliament fully involved in the process.

On 12 January the Government stated in response to an Oral Question:

“The directive sets out that in order for an EU citizen to reside in another member state beyond three months, they must be exercising a treaty right; that is, working, self-employed, self-sufficient or a student”.

After being asked three times why they did not implement this three-month rule for EU citizens still here without a job, but who were not students, the Government said,

“it is not a failure to implement … This country is more than generous in its implementation of that directive”.—[Official Report, 12/1/17; col. 2059-61.]

First, why do the Government maintain that it is only by leaving the EU that we can reduce EU migration, when they accept that they have not applied the EU directive’s three-month rule as firmly as they could have done, instead considering that they have been “more than generous” in their implementation of that directive? Secondly, how much lower would the net migration figure for EU nationals have been in each of the last five years, had they applied the directive as firmly as they believe they were entitled to do?

My Lords, as the noble Lord said we have been a very generous country, and certainly when Labour was in power it decided not to exercise the opt-out the noble Lord asked about. In terms of what the figures would have been had we adopted a different process, we are where we are. The country has given a very, very clear message in the referendum and we intend to follow that through by making sure that net migration to this country is in the tens of thousands.

My Lords, I shall endeavour to be helpful to the Minister: the previous questions have been about the past; I want to ask about the future. Article 45 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union relates to the free movement of workers, not people generally. What thoughts have Her Majesty’s Government given to the excellent report by the House of Commons Brexit committee? It talks about the rights of UK and EU nationals in relation to the non-work related aspects of immigration policy, including students and family reunion, and EU spouses compared with non-EU spouses. I declare my interests as listed in the register.

My Lords, I am glad the noble Baroness is talking about the future and not the past, which probably neither of us, and certainly I, do not remember. The directive is about the movement of workers and their families. The Prime Minister has been absolutely clear about protecting the rights of EU nationals living in this country. We talked a lot in Committee about the fairness of the process and, therefore, protecting the rights of UK nationals in return. The Government do not want to do this on a unilateral basis. We need to think about all the people involved, both UK nationals living in the EU and EU nationals living here.

My Lords, the Minister has actually been very patient with the House during recent Questions in explaining to us the right of residence after five years of work for European citizens, and the right of citizenship after six years. If a European citizen becomes a citizen of the UK, does that mean he or she has the right to remain in this country?

I am very grateful to the noble Lord; we talked about this at length the other day. When we talk about the right of residence and comprehensive sickness insurance, that is an EU law, not a UK law, which we implement after five years, abiding by treaty obligations. The noble Lord is absolutely right: an EU national living in this country has permanent residence, and they do not have to prove that permanent residence. He made another valid point, which is distinguishing that from applying for British citizenship. In that application process, which is based on UK law, that person has to prove residence and not be breaking any immigration rules. After six years, they will then be granted UK citizenship, and the noble Lord is absolutely right: they have the right to remain here.