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European Council

Volume 783: debated on Monday 26 June 2017


My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council, and on the proposals we are publishing today, which, on a reciprocal basis, seek to give reassurance and certainty to EU citizens who have made their homes and lives in our country.

This Council followed the formal start of the negotiations for the United Kingdom’s departure from the EU, as well as marking the first anniversary of the referendum that led to that decision. In that referendum, the British people chose to take back control of our laws, our money and our borders, to restore supremacy to this Parliament and to reclaim our sense of national self-determination, and this Government will fulfil the democratic will of the British people.

But the referendum was not a vote to turn our backs on our friends and neighbours. Indeed, as we become ever more internationalist in our outlook, and as we build the global Britain we want to see, we will continue to be reliable partners, willing allies and close friends with all the member states of the European Union. We want to work with one another to make sure that we are all safer, more secure and more prosperous through our continued friendship. We want to buy each other’s goods and services and trade as freely as possible. We will continue to celebrate and defend the liberal democratic values that we share, and to project those values that are the foundation of our freedoms and our way of life. In short, we want to build what I have described as a new, deep and special partnership between a confident, self-governing, global Britain and all our friends and allies in the European Union.

That is the positive and constructive spirit in which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union began the formal negotiations last week, and it is the same spirit in which the United Kingdom made a full contribution to all the issues at this Council, including on security, migration, climate change and trade.

On security, I thanked our European partners for their condolences and for their resolve in standing with us following the appalling terrorist attacks that the UK has suffered in recent weeks. Those attacks have seen citizens from across Europe tragically killed and injured, but they have also seen our citizens standing together in some of the most inspiring ways. At London Bridge, we saw a Spanish banker tragically killed as he rushed to the aid of a woman being attacked, and we saw a Romanian baker fighting off the terrorists and giving shelter to Londoners in his bakery. These moments of heroism show how, far from dividing us, such attacks on our way of life will only ever serve to strengthen our shared unity and resolve.

But these attacks also show that we need to respond to a new trend in the threat we face, as terrorism breeds terrorism and perpetrators are inspired to attack by copying one another using the crudest of means. So, building on the bilateral agreement I reached with President Macron earlier this month, at this Council I argued that we must come together to defeat the hateful and extremist ideologies that inspire these attacks, and to stop the internet being used as a safe space for extremists. When one-third of all links to Daesh propaganda are shared within the first hour of release, it is not enough for technology companies to respond reactively to extremist content on their platforms. So the Council agreed to put pressure on these companies to do more to remove this content automatically, and also to ensure that law enforcement agencies can access encrypted data. This was a significant step forward. We will continue to work together with our European partners to combat this evil, to defend our values and to keep our citizens safe.

Turning to other issues, on migration, the Council recommitted to the comprehensive approach that the UK has advocated, dealing with the drivers of migration while also doing more to stem the flow. At the summit, I confirmed a new UK commitment of £75 million to meet urgent humanitarian needs in the central Mediterranean, while also facilitating voluntary returns of migrants making these treacherous journeys.

On trade, as the UK leaves the European Union we will be forging trade deals around the world with old friends and new allies alike, but this will not undermine the EU’s trade agenda; it is not even in competition with it. So for as long as we remain part of the EU, we will continue to press for an ambitious trade agenda that can deliver jobs and growth across the continent. That is what I did at this Council, where there was a particular focus on work towards deals with Japan, Mexico and the Mercosur bloc of South American countries.

On climate change, the Council reaffirmed the commitment of all member states fully to implement the Paris agreement. The UK has already reaffirmed its own commitment, and I have expressed my disappointment to President Trump that he has taken a different decision. We will continue to make the case to our American allies to think again.

Turning to citizens’ rights, EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to our United Kingdom: to our economy, our public services and our everyday lives. They are an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of our country, and I have always been clear that I want to protect their rights. That is why I initially sought an agreement on this before we triggered Article 50, and it is why I am making it an immediate priority at the beginning of the negotiations.

But that agreement must be reciprocal because we must protect the rights of UK citizens living in EU member states, too. At the Council, I set out some of the principles that I believe should underlie that reciprocal agreement, and there was a very positive response from individual leaders and a strong sense of mutual good will in trying to reach such an agreement as soon as possible. So today, we are publishing detailed proposals to do exactly that. Let me set out the key points for the House.

First, we want certainty. I know there has been some anxiety about what would happen to EU citizens at the point we leave the European Union. Today, I want to put that anxiety to rest. I want to completely reassure people that under these plans no EU citizen currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave at the point the UK leaves the EU. We want you to stay.

Secondly, any EU citizen in the UK with five years’ continuous residence at a specified cut-off date will be granted settled status. They will be treated as if they were UK citizens for healthcare, education, benefits and pensions, while any EU citizens with less than five years’ residence who have arrived before the specified cut-off date will be able to stay until they have the five years’ residence to apply for UK settled status.

Thirdly, the specified cut-off date will be the subject of discussions, but it will be no earlier than the date we triggered Article 50 and no later than the date we leave the EU.

Fourthly, no families will be split up. Family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen here before the UK’s exit will be able to apply for settled status after five years. After the UK has left the European Union, EU citizens with settled status will be able to bring family members from overseas on the same terms as British nationals.

Fifthly, there will be no cliff edge: there will be a grace period of up to two years to allow people to regularise their status. Those EU citizens who arrived in the UK after the specified cut-off date will be allowed to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period, and may still become eligible to settle permanently.

Sixthly, the system of registration that citizens go through will be as streamlined and light touch as possible, and we intend to remove some of the technical requirements currently needed to obtain permanent residence under EU rules. For example, we will not require anyone to demonstrate that they have held comprehensive sickness insurance.

Seventhly, we expect this offer to be extended on a reciprocal basis to nationals of Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland. The reciprocal agreement on citizens’ rights will apply to the entire United Kingdom and Gibraltar.

Eighthly, this is all without prejudice to the common travel area arrangements that exist between the UK and Ireland. We will preserve the freedoms that UK and Irish nationals currently enjoy in each others’ states, and Irish citizens will not need to apply for permanent residence to protect these entitlements.

Finally, the UK will continue to export and uprate the UK state pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU. We will continue to protect the export of other benefits and associated healthcare cover where the individual is in receipt of those benefits on the specified cut-off date. Subject to negotiations, we want to continue participating in the European health insurance card scheme, so that UK card-holders can continue to benefit from free or reduced-cost healthcare while on a temporary stay in the EU, and vice versa for EU card-holders visiting the UK.

This is a fair and serious offer. Our obligations in the withdrawal treaty with the EU will be binding on the UK as a matter of international law, and we will incorporate commitments into UK law guaranteeing that we will stand firmly by our part of the deal. So our offer will give those 3 million EU citizens in the UK certainty about the future of their lives, and a reciprocal agreement will provide the same certainty for the more than 1 million UK citizens who are living in the EU.

One year on from that momentous decision to leave the EU, let us remember what we are seeking to achieve with these negotiations. We are withdrawing from a system of treaties and bureaucracy that does not work for us, but we are not withdrawing from the values and solidarity that we share with our European neighbours.

As a confident, outward-looking and self-governing nation, we know that it is not just our past that is intertwined in the fortunes of our friends and neighbours; it is our future, too. That is why we want a new, deep and special partnership and it is why we approach these negotiations with optimism, because a good deal for Britain and a good deal for Europe are not competing alternatives. They are the best single path to a brighter future for all our children and grandchildren. That, I believe, is the future that the British people voted for, and that is the future I want us to secure. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement. The European Council focused on work being undertaken across the EU to protect its citizens in counterterrorism, security and defence, external borders and illegal migration, and economic development. These are clearly issues on which co-operation at the highest levels is essential and a key priority for the EU. It must be hard for the Prime Minister at such Council meetings, because although on those specific issues our priorities are shared, this country’s priority is not how EU members tackle those together in the future. A quick glance at the Government’s programme in the Queen’s Speech shows that they are going to be preoccupied with Brexit throughout this Session, so I am a bit curious about the Prime Minister’s role at these summits. Our joint work across the EU, on which the UK has taken a lead, on tackling serious and organised crime, including terrorism, is essential. We share common goals, and in order to be effective we must have joint responsibility. However, as the EU discusses future work, it is our priority—and this will take the attention of our Prime Minister—not to be part of that work.

Given the seriousness of those issues, what was the Prime Minister able to say to the Council meeting on both defence and security about the UK response and responsibilities? Specifically, did she take part in discussions on the improvements of the European travel and authorisation system to enhance external border controls? Will that be taken into account in discussions about how to manage the border with Ireland to ensure that there are no changes from the current position? At the weekend, in a TV interview that others may have seen, the Brexit Secretary made some suggestions about how that could be managed. I have to say that he sounded unconvincing, even to himself. He should understand the need for clarity on this issue as soon as possible, but instead he spoke about issues such as monitors on cars and number plate recognition. The Irish border is not like the Dartford tunnel. This has to be resolved as a matter of urgency.

I want to pick up the issue of digital Europe. Is it not something of an irony that while the European Council was discussing an overarching approach to digital issues, including cybersecurity, our own parliamentary network was under sustained attack? I think the whole House will want to thank all our staff who have sought to resolve the problem and assist colleagues. Given that the digital economy knows no physical boundaries, and that UK exports of services are an important growth area of our economy, I would be interested to know what contributions the Prime Minister was able to make on this specific issue.

There was considerable discussion at the Council of the single market and trade, recognising the benefits and addressing areas where improvements are needed. One of the issues discussed was the European Fund for Strategic Investments. In the Council’s conclusions there is a call for rapid agreement on the extension and reinforcement of that fund.

That fund has provided £184 million for the northern powerhouse investment fund. I know that the noble Baroness and the Prime Minister have previously been clear that we are in until we are out and that we remain a full and functioning member of the EU until Brexit negotiations are concluded. Given the importance of that particular investment, can the noble Baroness assure us that no part of it will be lost to Brexit, and what advice would she give regarding further applications to the fund from the UK?

Turning to EU agencies, the background note stated that the EU 27 were to agree the procedure regarding the relocation of the European Medicines Agency and the European Banking Authority from the UK as a consequence of Brexit. There are several issues to be addressed. I understand why the EU has pushed the decision on relocation back to November, but for the UK these issues are live and need to be addressed now. I understand that more than 1,000 staff are employed in those two agencies. Can the noble Baroness confirm that? Do the Government know how many UK staff are employed by other EU agencies and the status of their position?

Outside the EU, we will need mechanisms, organisations or quangos to undertake the functions of those bodies and the other EU agencies of which we will no longer be part. We are all aware of the significant public safety issues that can arise and the economic implications that flow from effective regulation. Has any estimate been made of the cost involved in establishing new structures or agencies, what form they will take and how long it will be before we set them up? If we look at the European Medicines Agency alone and the importance of pharmaceuticals to public health and the economy, surely the Government must have a plan in place to address those issues. I think particularly of pharmaceutical companies, which currently invest significant amounts in research and development here in the UK because they want access to those European markets. Can the noble Baroness share the Government’s initial thinking on this issue with us?

Finally, we come to the point about certainty for EU and UK nationals. From the background notes to the Council meeting, it is clear that there was a short space at the end of the dinner on Thursday and before the session for the rest of the EU members on Brexit where the PM had the opportunity to “inform the leaders” about Brexit negotiations. As predicted, this issue has caused tensions. I have not yet had time, as I am sure other noble Lords have not, to digest all the implications of the new documents, but others across the EU apparently do not share the PM’s confidence that there was a “very positive” response. Reading the comments of other leaders, I would describe them as being underwhelmed but clearly open to further discussion.

I have had a brief look at the document. It seems quite complicated, and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for reading out some of the details. It seems that the Government have now come round to the idea of an identity card, although I am not clear exactly how it will work when the only people who will carry them are EU nationals residing in the UK. The noble Baroness talked about a light-touch approach, but it seems grossly inefficient and disrespectful that 180,000 people who have applied for permanent residency will now have to apply again under the new system. Surely there is a better way to resolve that for those people.

I also understand that under the new arrangements there will have to be an assessment of conduct and criminality. Is the noble Baroness sure that all those can be undertaken within the two years between now and the exit from the EU? If some of them will be undertaken later, what guarantees have been made about access to EU databases so that the accuracy of that information can be checked?

We are talking about citizens from the other 27 EU countries living in the UK whose rights we seek to protect. There are also UK citizens living across the other 27 countries, many of whom have reacted with dismay to the Prime Minister’s comments. But there is also a third group. There are about 60 million UK citizens living here in the UK who will also have their rights affected. All these discussions focus on the rights of those who are already established here in the UK, or on UK citizens already living and working in one of the other 27 countries. But the future impact on UK citizens who want to travel, live and work abroad must also be addressed. Will they need visas? Will they need work permits? The Select Committee report on acquired rights is very helpful on some of these issues.

When your Lordships’ House agreed to the amendments on the Article 50 Bill, by a majority of 102, to protect the rights of EU citizens, it was not because we were being difficult or, as some claimed, trying to oppose Brexit. It was precisely because we recognised, as did the Select Committee report, that this is a difficult issue, and resolving it in a simple and straightforward way would not only give certainty but would ensure negotiations to proceed on key issues in a better tone and a better atmosphere.

The Government worked hard to make sure that that amendment was not agreed by the House of Commons. There were meetings at Downing Street and promises were made that this would be resolved quickly as an early priority, all in pursuit of a so-called clean Bill. I have to say that I wonder whether this House would vote the same way on that amendment.

As we have heard, nothing will be agreed until everything is agreed, so meanwhile there is a twilight zone of uncertainty for many. That is already having an impact. We have heard from the Nursing and Midwifery Council that there has been a 96% reduction in the number of nurses from the EU registering to work in the UK since the referendum. How many of our citizens have lost out on work in the EU?

The new editor of the Evening Standard said that all Cabinet Ministers backed David Cameron in wanting to address this issue immediately after the referendum result, but the then Home Secretary, now the Prime Minister, held out against it. Perhaps the EU’s proposal should have been used as a starting point for the Prime Minister to try to resolve these issues.

Finally, I appreciate that these issues are difficult for the Prime Minister. I was struck by President Tusk’s comments at the end of the Council meeting. He said:

“Brexit took up very little time at this European Council. We devoted most of our work to addressing people’s concerns over security, illegal migration and uncontrolled globalisation”.

These are the concerns of citizens everywhere, and a challenge for the Prime Minister is to make sure that these issues, plus jobs and the economy, remain at the top of our agenda for the UK while she negotiates Brexit.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement. The two principal issues debated at the Council that are of relevance to the UK were, first, security and, secondly, citizens’ rights.

On security, the Prime Minister rather patted herself on the back that she had taken the lead in having had discussions with President Macron and then, at the Council itself, in moving the technology companies to responding more effectively to extremist content. It is clear that whatever happens over the coming months in respect of the technology companies, the area of security, which faces the whole of Europe, will not become less of a priority or less of a concern. My question for the Government is: what plans do they have to have a continuing voice on European discussions on security? They will not be at the EU table. Will they put proposals to the EU about how they will have a continuing voice in European security discussions? If we lose that voice it will undoubtedly be the case that the UK will be less secure.

The biggest area of interest for the UK, not so much in the summit but subsequently, is around citizens’ rights. We have now seen the Government’s paper. As the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, pointed out, when your Lordships’ House debated this issue four months ago, it took the view that the UK should unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU citizens in the UK. We on these Benches continue to believe that the Government should unilaterally guarantee EU nationals the right to stay in the UK now. It is to be regretted that it has taken so long for the Government to attempt to provide any certainty about their future status. The very fact that the Government have today announced a series of issues and proposals that are dependent on reciprocal decisions by the EU means that there is still no certainty or clarity for EU citizens living in this country.

I turn to some of the specific proposals in the Government’s document today. First, there is still no specified cut-off date. Can the Leader of the House explain why the Government have left that open and, in doing so, extended the uncertainty of people who are thinking about whether they might come from the EU to the UK at some point over the next couple of years, when they could have made a decision to specify the date today? At what point and by what process do the Government plan to announce a cut-off date?

Secondly, it is not clear how long the application process for residence status will take. We know about the huge backlogs in dealing with such questions at the moment. Do the Government plan to resource the relevant agencies properly so that applications, albeit in their cut-down form, can be dealt with speedily? What assessment have the Government made of how many EU citizens currently resident in the UK will need to apply for the new residence status?

The Government talk about avoiding a cliff edge at the point at which EU citizens cease to be able to settle freely in the UK, and propose a two-year period during which there will be a generic umbrella of temporary leave to remain. Do the two years apply to the period during which EU citizens must apply for residence status, or do the Government envisage that we will have processed all requests for residence status within the two years—and, indeed, that everybody wishing to achieve that status will need to have achieved it by the end of the two-year period?

The document states:

“Obtaining settled status will be subject to meeting certain requirements. The eligibility criteria will be set out in UK law”.

Could the Leader of the House give some further idea of what sort of requirements are envisaged? Will the UK law referred to be in primary or secondary legislation? Is this what is envisaged to be covered in the new immigration Bill and, if so, when do the Government plan to publish that Bill?

Finally, to take up another point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, today’s documents states that:

“Obtaining documentation showing their settled status will enable EU citizens resident here to carry on living here lawfully”.

But it then states about that documentation:

“The Home Office may also need to capture evidence of EU citizens’ biometric information during the application process”.

That raises concerns that what is being proposed is ID cards just for EU nationals with settled status. Can the Government guarantee that this new status will not require EU nationals who receive it to carry documentation signalling their status and this will not amount to an ID card? If there were to be some kind of ID card, could the Leader of the House set out how much the Government would expect such a policy might cost and how they might expect it to work—particularly given that it would result in only a small minority of those living in the UK being required to carry such cards?

This Statement and the policy paper begin to answer the many questions that EU citizens have about their future status in the UK, but it leaves many unanswered. The Government need to answer those questions quickly to bring about the certainty that they claim to seek.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and the noble Lord for their comments today. As I said, this Council is the first to follow the formal start of negotiations for our departure from the EU, and it shows that we will continue to play a full part in Europe as reliable partners and as friends and neighbours.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked about the Prime Minister’s involvement in the summit. As the Prime Minister made clear in the Statement, she led on the discussion on internal security and tackling online extremism, which built on discussions that she had had bilaterally with President Macron—and, of course, also complements work that has been done with the G7 and which will be pushed within the G20. We will obviously need to work with our EU partners on how we have a continuing voice in these discussions at an EU level, but it is clear that we have a voice at a global one. We are a member of a variety of institutions and organisations in which we will continue to play a key role. It is also clear that we have very strong expertise and knowledge in this area. Our EU partners value this and we want to continue to work together to make sure we can all benefit from joint communication and collaboration. As the negotiations continue it will become clear that that is as much in our interests as it is in those of our EU partners.

The noble Baroness asked about defence. The Prime Minister made it very clear that the UK supports the development of capabilities, such as the European action plan and European defence fund, which contribute to our collective resilience and our ability to combat shared threats. We must continue to create a genuine internal defence market, not a protectionist one, and we will continue to work with the EU to achieve that. I do not have the information to hand to answer the noble Baroness’s questions about the number of employees in agencies and relocation, but I will write to her with it. The Prime Minister welcomed the recent progress made across the EU on delivering the digital single market strategy and we want to continue that work. We have been clear in our support of the letter on the joint digital initiative and welcome the Commission’s plan to introduce a legislative proposal to prevent unjustified data localisation.

The noble Baroness asked about the Northern Irish and Irish border. She will know that we agreed, in the first negotiation last week, that there will be regular and technical talks. There was a very early emphasis on four key issues: the rights of citizens is one but that border is another. We are absolutely determined to try to move those discussions on as quickly as we can.

The noble Lord and the noble Baroness asked a number of questions about the paper on EU citizens. Once we exit, we will be asking EU citizens to have a new status and document. I am not saying it will be an ID card—we have not discussed in detail what it will be—but it is true that there will be new documentation. We will be asking EU citizens to apply to the Home Office for this documentation demonstrating their new settled status in due course, in line with what most nationals in the EU currently do. As I also said in the Statement, the reaction from EU leaders was broadly positive and this is a good basis for discussion. The fact that we have published such a detailed proposal shows the seriousness with which we are taking this issue. Noble Lords have discussed it at great length and we have had a lot of passionate debate about it. The fact that we have come out early and now have a detailed document as a starting point shows the seriousness with which we also take the issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about the specified cut-off date. This will be a matter for negotiation and, as I said previously, we made it clear that this will be an early priority. He also asked about the legal basis. We want to see the outcome of our negotiation with the EU on citizens’ rights included in the withdrawal treaty. This will be binding on the EU 27 under EU law and on the UK as a matter of international law. Rights will be enforceable in the UK legal system up to and including the Supreme Court. The new immigration Bill will be about setting out our future system and we will be bringing forward proposals before that, later in the year.

My Lords, there is much in this Statement to welcome and be reassured about. It is also right that we focus on terrorism and cyberattacks—about which your Lordships’ House knows a bit today—as these are the clear priorities of the age. It is worth remembering that they are global as well as European and can be settled only in a global context, not just in a European one. Does the Minister agree that one aspect in which this Statement is particularly welcome is that it uses throughout the phrase, “seeking agreement” in our deep and special relationship with our European neighbours? Does she agree that “agreement” is a much better word to use as we approach the months of difficult negotiation ahead and that we should try to adhere to this practice rather than return to the “deal”, which has a more antagonistic tone about it?

My noble friend makes a very good point. Certainly, the initial discussions were positive. We are both starting to identify our priorities. We all want to achieve the best possible outcome and the strongest possible partnership, one that works for the UK and the EU. Now that we are around the negotiating table, that is what we will all be working for.

Will the Leader of the House confirm that what I am about to say is accurate? Everyone in this House has two citizenships—one is normally United Kingdom citizenship and the other European citizenship. European citizenship is conferred by the treaty of Maastricht and the rights it confers are enforceable and protected by the European Court of Justice. Therefore, my first question is: if that is right, does my doctor, who is a German living in this country, have European citizenship rights protected by the European Court of Justice? My second question is: what about people like me, who are British citizens and European citizens under the treaty of Maastricht? The Government cannot take away the rights of EU nationals under the treaty of Maastricht, which are protected by the Luxembourg court. However, do they intend that British citizens will be in a worse position as we will no longer be protected by the European Court of Justice and will not have the rights conferred by the treaty of Maastricht?

I believe that our legal system is second to none and we should be very proud of it. The proposed agreements will be enshrined in UK law and enforceable through the UK judicial system, up to and including the Supreme Court. We are also ready to make commitments in the withdrawal agreement which will have the status of international law. We will discuss with the EU how to ensure that UK nationals in the EU will be able to rely on their rights that are agreed.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement, which contained some very important principles on citizens’ rights. However, will my noble friend confirm that the actual outcome will depend upon negotiation, and therefore it is rather important not to set out any premature red lines? Furthermore, we must be imaginative in trying to resolve differences. For example, with regard to judicial supervision of the ultimate rights, surely we should contemplate the possibility of EU judges sitting alongside UK judges in British courts or tribunals in appropriate cases.

I thank my noble friend. The Government believe that we have set out a fair and serious offer. We have put a detailed proposal forward which will now be for negotiation. The next round of negotiation and discussion begins next month. We now have a fair and serious offer with which to begin our discussions.

My Lords, the noble Baroness was keen to say that the residence documentation that EU citizens will be required to hold is not an ID card but a residence card backed by a biometric database. If and when EU citizens say that it is discriminatory to require them to hold ID cards, does this herald the backdoor introduction of a national ID card scheme, which was one of the issues which caused Secretary of State David Davis to resign in 2008, calling it an,

“insidious and relentless erosion of civil liberties”?

I have been pretty clear that we have said that once we leave the EU there will need to be a new settled status and documentation. I have been very clear as well that we have not specified exactly what that will be. However, I am sure that everyone will be pleased to know that the administration of the system will be streamlined and as user-friendly as possible, and that we intend to improve the process and remove some of the technical requirements currently needed to obtain permanent residence under EU rules, such as not requiring anyone to demonstrate that they have held comprehensive sickness insurance.

My Lords, with reference to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt has suggested an associate membership for any UK citizen who wishes to retain a European passport to travel, work and study abroad. Can that membership be considered as part of future discussions?

As I have said, we have put together what we believe is a fair and serious offer, and we are beginning the negotiations on that basis.

My Lords, the Prime Minister has said that Britons who live elsewhere and are pensioners at the specified cut-off date will, as at present, have access to healthcare elsewhere in Europe after we leave the European Union. Are we therefore to infer from that that those who live elsewhere in Europe and become pensioners after the specified cut-off date will lose access to UK-funded healthcare; and that people who move elsewhere in Europe after the specified cut-off date, even though they are pensioners, will not have access to healthcare? On the European health insurance card, can my noble friend explain the rationale for the British taxpayer funding health insurance after we leave the European Union for a family that visits France but not for a family that visits Florida?

We intend to treat EU citizens with settled status in the same way as if they were UK citizens for the purpose of not just healthcare but education, benefits and pensions, and we intend to protect the current healthcare arrangements for EU citizens who are ordinarily resident in the UK before the specified date. We will also continue to export and uprate the state pension and provide associated healthcare cover within the EU. We want, subject to negotiations, to continue to participate in the European health insurance card scheme, and we will try to achieve that.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness agree that when it comes to jobs requiring foreign language skills, the UK is highly dependent on other EU nationals? For example, over a third of public service interpreters who work in the National Health Service and the criminal justice system are from other EU countries, as are 35% of language teachers and 85% of language assistants in our schools. Therefore, while the possibility that EU nationals already here might now be able to remain is welcome, does the noble Baroness agree that future recruitment of EU citizens needed for their language skills also needs to be safeguarded and prioritised through whatever new immigration regime emerges from these negotiations?

I know that this issue is very dear to the noble Baroness’s heart and to many of us in this House. Of course, we want to continue to attract the bright and the best. As I mentioned, later on there will be plenty of opportunity for noble Lords to discuss the future immigration system, which her question alludes to. It will of course be implemented in primary legislation, so there will be plenty of opportunities for noble Lords to have an input. We also want and intend to continue to recognise professional qualifications obtained in the EU 27 prior to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and vice versa. We will certainly keep those issues in mind, because we want to ensure that we continue to attract the bright and the best from the EU.

My Lords, if, as my noble friend said—I welcome it—we want to recognise the special status of EU citizens resident in this country, what is the overwhelming argument against what this House decided it wanted, by a large majority: namely, a unilateral declaration, where we take the moral high ground and give these rights, and hope very much that they will be reciprocated? Why cannot we begin the negotiations by taking control and putting this issue behind us?

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware, as I am from several emails, of families of joint EU nationals whose lives are being directly affected by this? We could move very swiftly to guarantee our citizens’ and EU citizens’ rights by remaining within the single market and reinforcing the conditionality of freedom of movement.

As I said, we believe that this is a fair and serious offer. It is one that we want to implement because we want to provide as much certainty as we can to the 3 million EU citizens in the UK and to the 1 million UK nationals in the EU, and that is what we are working towards.

My Lords, does my noble friend not feel that she is in a no-win position? On the one hand, people are saying that she ought to make a unilateral declaration and abandon the rights of British citizens living in Europe; on the other, she is being told that it is wrong to put forward red lines at this stage in the negotiations.

I thank my noble friend. As I said, we are taking this matter extremely seriously and it is one of the first issues that we have raised in the negotiations. We have put forward a comprehensive offer and look forward to discussions. As I said, our partners in the EU are keen to sort out this issue as soon as possible, as are we, and this is a starting point from which we hope to begin detailed discussions next month.

My Lords, the Brexit Secretary has stressed that in the negotiations nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Does that not mean that on some issues there will be so much delay that particular interests, whether individual citizens or financial institutions, will take action ahead of any agreement and may, for example, have already left the United Kingdom?

My noble friend raises an important issue and that is why we are trying to discuss this matter at a very early stage. We want to see whether, with the EU, we can come forward with proposals that give people the certainty they want, and we believe that we have put forward a fair and serious offer to begin those discussions.

Are the Government considering extending the new proposal for some form of identification card for immigrants from the EU to the majority of immigrants to this country who come from outside the EU? Will that be in the forthcoming immigration Bill? It seems rather illogical to introduce this sort of scheme for people moving to this country from inside the EU but not for the majority of immigrants who, every year since we have worried about immigration, come from the rest of the world. Therefore, would it not be appropriate for the Government to propose a general scheme for foreigners within Britain—perhaps under something called the “Aliens Act”?

My Lords, the Leader of the House has talked about a fair and serious offer. Having mentioned the medicines agency and the financial agency, have the Government had any discussions about patenting law?

My Lords, the noble Baroness talks about a fair and serious offer but it is not heard in that way by those affected. Is she aware of the number of EU citizens who are now leaving this country because they feel unwelcome and because they feel that, if they do not get back to their country of origin, they may lose the opportunity of finding work there? For them, settling this is a very urgent matter.

I am very well aware of the issues that concern many people and of the anxiety felt by some. That is why we have brought forward these proposals urgently; it is why we have been very clear that under the plans we would like to bring forward no EU citizen who is currently in the UK lawfully will be asked to leave; it is why the Statement makes it very clear that we do not want families to break up; and it is why we have brought this proposal forward at this point and why we will be attempting to get an early agreement.

Is this issue representative of the way the Government are going to conduct these negotiations as a whole? I was very taken by the point made about the potential for people and businesses to take action and vote with their feet in the absence of a clear commitment on this issue. I must admit that I find that to be true in respect of other issues that will be part of the negotiations.

There are two points that I should like the noble Baroness to respond to. First, if we keep going round in circles saying that this “might” be the proposition but it depends on the other side coming up with something sensible, we will potentially never resolve anything. Secondly, in spite of the way that the Conservative Party has been trying to portray the Brexit vote, it was quite marginal. The reality is that we are a deeply riven country. When will the Government come forward with a proposal to deal with the issues in the negotiations that includes wide, involving engagement with opinion formers, decision-makers and the public of this country, before they go to Europe with a proposition? At the moment, it feels as though the Government open the black box and let us peer in, then ask, “What do you think of that?”. We all say it is terrible and then they shut the box and the issue remains unresolved.

Over the past year, since the referendum result, the Government have engaged extremely widely with a range of representatives from groups and organisations to feed into our thinking. For instance, DExEU has conducted analysis of more than 50 sectors of the economy, covering financial services, retail, agriculture, energy, infrastructure and transport. In your Lordships’ House we have had a lot of debate, and the Select Committees have published very useful reports to help feed into that thinking. We have put in place a solid foundation for further discussions, admittedly under an ambitious timetable. The UK and EU teams will meet every four weeks, coming together for a number of days at a time to progress discussions as quickly and effectively as possible. We have now started the negotiations and therefore hope that we will see progress, which we have not seen over the past year because we had not triggered Article 50.

My Lords, although I regret that this announcement did not come earlier and is not unilateral, I none the less welcome that the Government have at least made some progress. However, there is discussion in the document about the fees for the new scheme being set at reasonable levels. Given that the current fee for settled status is almost £2,000, and given that the change of status for EU citizens has come about through no fault of their own but by a decision from which we are excluded, does the Minister think it right that the Government should carry this out with no fee whatever to EU citizens?

I can certainly assure the noble Lord that fees and charges are being looked at as part of the negotiations. I can only repeat that our aim is to offer a streamlined and high-quality service for everyone and to keep fees at a reasonable level.

My Lords, I am sorry to return to the noble Baroness, but I asked two questions on settled status that she was not able to address. First, can we do anything better than ask 180,000 people who have already applied to apply again under the new status, alongside the costs that that will incur for them? Secondly, will all the applications be dealt with in two years and, if not, are the Government guaranteed access to EU databases to get the information required? The Minister did not answer either of those questions, and if she is unable to do so today, will she write to me?