I beg to move,
That this House notes that there are approximately three million nationals of other EU member states living in the UK; further notes that many more UK nationals are related to nationals of other EU member states; rejects the view that these men, women and children should be used as bargaining chips in negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU; and calls on the Government to commit with urgency to giving EU nationals currently living in the UK the right to remain.
This debate directly affects the lives of millions of people living in this country, so let me start by inviting the House to join me in sending a very clear message to the EU nationals living in the UK, which I think they need to hear right now from this Parliament: you are truly valued members of our society, and you are very welcome here.
Let us remember that the people affected are the mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, and grandmas and grandads of British children such as mine. They are our friends and our neighbours; valued members of local communities; doctors and nurses who look after us when we are ill; teachers who educate our children; and people who run companies employing thousands of British workers. To throw any doubt over their right to remain here in the future is to undermine family life, the stability of our public services, our economy and our society.
But, sadly, that is what the Home Secretary has done. Instead of showing leadership and sending out an immediate message of reassurance in the aftermath of Brexit, she has added to the uncertainty that many people were already experiencing, and she has left them feeling like bargaining chips in the Brussels negotiations.
I share my right hon. Friend’s sentiments absolutely. The problem is that the Home Secretary has made certain statements, and other members of the Government have made other statements, and it is that uncertainty that is the problem. If there was a clear statement about the intent to keep EU nationals here without any further discussion, that would help to deal with the problems we have at the moment. It is that uncertainty that has led to a lot of problems in local communities, which we heard about in the debate last night.
I could not agree more with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. People have been left feeling uncertain. As I will say later, that has created a hostile climate on the streets of our communities, and this is not what people are looking for in someone who seeks to lead our nation. It will not be lost on people that, for the second time in three days, the Home Secretary has failed to come to the House to clear up the confusion. I think we were entitled to hear directly from her, having called this important debate.
I join the right hon. Gentleman in paying tribute to all the European nationals who work in Britain and do such valuable jobs, 52,000 of them in the NHS. Does he agree that we need an orderly settlement as part of this negotiation with the EU? At the moment, there are 1.2 million British people out there in the EU, working in other parts of it, and, no doubt, doing valuable work as well. At the moment, there is no risk to those who are living there or here until the final agreements are reached.
I will come on to that point. However, I do not see why, in seeking to secure the position of British nationals overseas, we should undermine people living here, paying taxes here, and working here.
Let us put some real people into this picture. In the past week alone, I have spoken to an Italian grandmother who has been here for 46 years and is devastated at the thought that she may have to return to her home country, a Dutch DJ who makes our street parties in Walthamstow swing, a Danish climate change scientist who is helping to tackle a problem that faces us all, and an Irish artist who makes beautiful but challenging sculptures for our community. At the same time, my community has faced a spike in hate crime. Today we need to send a message, do we not, that this hate crime—this division—is not orderly and has no place in our society, but these people do, and they are very welcome here.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. I have read in The Guardian the views of some health professionals talking about how they feel. An Allied Healthcare professional—not a DJ—who is Dutch said this:
“Since the referendum, I wish I had not come to the UK. Half the population does not want me here. I am tearful at times. If I had the chance I would leave now.”
It is not true: half the population does not want these people to leave, but that is obviously how they have been left to feel.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for bringing forward this motion, and I agree that we need to offer reassurance. Does he agree that, assuming the motion passes today—because I get the distinct impression that it will not be opposed—that is a great offer of reassurance from this whole Parliament?
I hope the right hon. Gentleman is correct. I do not know what the Government’s intention is, but if we were to follow the logic of what we heard from the Immigration Minister at the Dispatch Box on Monday, they will oppose the motion. We will see. Tonight this House can remove the uncertainty from the people my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) described, sending them a message that they are welcome here in our country, and that is precisely what we should do.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the comments that the Home Secretary has made outside the context of Brexit represent one of the most extreme statements made by any politician? They have caused fear not only among the 15% of my constituents who are EU nationals, but the 46% of my constituents who were born outside the UK, on the basis that, “If they can say this about one group, they can say it about others.” I have had a bigger postbag on this issue than on any other issue ever. I hope that we get the result my right hon. Friend is asking for today, because this is very serious stuff.
It is an abdication of leadership for the Home Secretary not to be here to hear what my hon. Friend has said. One can only speculate that she made those comments in a bid to woo the grassroots of the Tory party. I do not know, because she is not here to contradict me. She could have done if she wanted to, but she is not here to do so. I do not know whether her comments were made with that in mind, but I do know that they have caused a lot of worry for people, as my hon. Friend says. They are in danger of making us look to the rest of the world like a very different country from the one that welcomed the world to London 2012 just four short years ago: a very different Britain from the decent, open-minded, fair country that we are perceived to be, or have been perceived to be, around the world.
There are 36,000 EU residents living in the London borough of Westminster, and my postbag has also been flooded with correspondence on this. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is hard to overstate how disappointed and worried many of these people are at the message that is being sent out and the lack of clarity? I hope he can reassure one constituent who wrote to me this week to say that she has lived in her “beloved London” for 14 years, educated herself, paid for herself, always worked, paid her taxes, supported local charities, and been involved with her community. She says:
“I am probably not the…immigrant everyone fears, but it doesn’t change the fact that I am an immigrant and I worry for my future.”
I find it terrible that that is how people in Britain in 2016 are thinking and feeling today as we have this debate. We should do something today to give my hon. Friend’s constituent some comfort and to send the message that she is indeed valued here.
I would like to put on record what I think has been said already—that countless times the Vote Leave campaign gave exactly this reassurance to everybody from EU countries living and working here, and it is very, very disappointing that that should be called into question. I think it is absolutely right to issue the strongest possible reassurance to EU nationals in this country, not just for moral or humanitarian reasons, but for very, very sound economic reasons as well. They are welcome, they are necessary, they are a vital part of our society, and I will passionately support this motion tonight.
I am pleased to hear it. Let us not rerun the arguments of the referendum campaign today, despite the fact that it has given rise to the situation that we are now in. To be fair to the hon. Gentleman, he and others did not argue that people should be sent back. The leave campaign held the very clear position during the referendum that there should be no question of EU nationals having to return.
My worry is this: why have the Government—the hon. Gentleman’s Front Benchers—muddied the waters in the aftermath of the referendum? Why are they not providing a basic reassurance to millions of people living here? I say that because it was entirely predictable that this question would arise following a potential Brexit vote. The reason they cannot give a straight answer can be found in last week’s Civil Service World, which said:
“Downing Street on Monday reiterated that the civil service had not done separate contingency work for the wider process of withdrawal—something the new team will now lead on.”
I have a simple question for the Minister: why on earth did the Government not do any contingency planning so that they were in a position to give a straight answer to the people who are now worried about their status? Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who is leading this work, told the Foreign Affairs Committee that the unit set up to deal with Brexit is still only looking at “options” for the next Prime Minister to consider. That is not good enough. May I remind Conservative Members that there is still a country to be run here? This will only add to the feeling that they have abdicated their responsibility to lead the country following the referendum and have plunged us into chaos.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that this level of incompetence is frightening, and that it is causing genuine distress among our constituents, and also in areas such as construction, where 49% of construction workers building new homes are European? This could lead to real dangers for the economy and industry as well.
My hon. Friend puts her point very well.
If it were only Labour Members saying this, the public might think it is partisan or point-scoring—but it is not, is it? We have just heard from somebody as senior as the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson). Yesterday, the hon. Member for Reigate (Crispin Blunt) said that the failure to carry out any contingency planning in the event of Brexit amounted to “gross negligence” and a “dereliction of duty” on the part of the Prime Minister. He went on to say that there was not a majority in the Conservative party in support of the Home Secretary’s current position. We saw that for ourselves during the urgent question earlier this week. If there was ever a day for Parliament to do the right thing, surely it is today. I hope that Conservative Members will put their conscience and their constituents first and do the right thing.
Although the Government may be woefully unprepared for the consequences of the referendum outcome, my right hon. Friend will be interested to hear that a number of non-governmental organisations and charities, including Citizens Advice and groups that support Roma families, are already putting plans in place to support worried EU residents. Will my right hon. Friend join me in encouraging the Minister to meet these charities as quickly as possible so that, at the very least, he can have meaningful discussions about the need for security and certainty for the people they represent?
In the absence of the Home Secretary, somebody needs to provide some leadership, don’t they? Somebody needs to meet the community groups that are worried about the current situation. I hope that the Minister is listening to what my hon. Friend has just said, because the sheer lack of any direction at the moment is causing real difficulties on the streets of her constituency, mine and others.
With 3,500 eastern European citizens living in my constituency, I have a huge amount of sympathy for this motion. However, with respect, the Home Secretary’s position is simply that this issue requires a degree of consideration before proceeding. What is the right hon. Gentleman’s position? Is it to give all the European citizens living in this country indefinite leave to remain tomorrow? Is it to make them British citizens? Surely this requires a degree of consideration.
That is precisely my position. Those people came here when they were legally entitled to do so and are contributing to our society. Absolutely, they should be allowed to stay. I am amazed that that is not the hon. Gentleman’s position as well.
The clearest explanation of the Government’s position came from the Minister for Immigration on Monday:
“It has been suggested that the Government could now fully guarantee EU nationals…the right to stay, but that would be unwise without a parallel assurance from European Governments regarding British nationals living in their countries”.—[Official Report, 4 July 2016; Vol. 612, c. 607.]
I want to take the House through the logic of that position and what it means in practice. Effectively, the Government are saying that if, in the course of negotiations, Britain was unable to secure the rights of British nationals living abroad, it would consider sending home EU nationals in retaliation. Let me put it another way: the Government are willing to put the lives of millions of people living here in limbo, and also the lives of their dependants, to secure the position of people who have chosen to make their life elsewhere. How can that be right? I have to say to the Government that this is not good enough.
Yesterday, we had an expansion on the Government’s position from a spokesperson, who said this:
“At last night’s meeting of the 1922 committee Theresa was very clear about the position of EU nationals in Britain, and argued that it was equally important to consider the rights of British nationals living abroad”.
I am all in favour of the UK Government doing all they can to secure the rights of UK nationals living in the rest of Europe, but it should not be at the expense of the security of families who are living, working and paying taxes here. The effect of this position is to prioritise British nationals living abroad at the expense of those living here, and I cannot defend that. I would argue that the best way for our Government to strengthen the position of British nationals living abroad is to make a decisive unilateral move now to secure the rights of those from other countries who are living here. Surely that would build the trust and good will that have been sorely lacking in the aftermath of the Brexit vote.
There is no reason at all why this issue needs to get mixed up in the negotiations with Europe. It was this Government’s decision to make these 3 million people an issue in the negotiations, and it is entirely within the gift of the UK Government to remove this uncertainty today and commit to changing the immigration rules. Although I understand the Minister’s argument that giving status to anyone who is already here before the UK formally leaves the UK could be an incentive for others to come here, he could easily fix that by making it clear that those with the right to stay have to have been resident in this country before 23 June, referendum day. It is very simple; a national insurance number would prove it. According to international convention, people should not have their rights retrospectively eroded. Does it not follow that people who have made a life here, which was perfectly legal for them to do, should not have the rug pulled from underneath them?
There is another more serious implication of the failure to take away the uncertainty. It will create the conditions for the climate of hostility that we have seen since the referendum to continue, and with it the potential for abuse and violence. That is not something that any Home Secretary or Home Office Minister should put his or her name to. If the Government’s formal position is that they might in due course ask people to go home, it can only give encouragement to those who wish to stir up division and hatred in our communities.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that it is quite wrong for the Government to use these people as pawns either in the Brexit negotiations or in the Tory leadership contest?
I could not agree with the hon. Lady more. That is exactly how these people feel. There have been quotes in the papers from people saying that that is the feeling they have been left with. Many of those who work in our NHS, our schools and our universities can go and work elsewhere, and some of them are highly sought-after individuals. If we do not send a clear message to them, others will.
I agree entirely with the thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument. May I ask him to comment on one practical consideration? Many people in my constituency are deciding that they wish to apply for citizenship, as one of the options available to them, but they complain that it is very difficult. For example, my constituent Carmen Huesa, who has been here for 19 years, is a Spanish-born senior researcher at the University of Edinburgh. She has said that the application forms are very complicated; that they require information that, because she has been here for two decades, is not available any more; and that the fees are a bit of a barrier. Does the right hon. Gentleman think that while we are sorting out the mess, it would be a statement of intent from the Government if they at least committed to fast-tracking applications for British citizenship from EU citizens who have made their lives in this country, waiving the fees and putting additional support units in the UK Visas and Immigration offices to help with processing?
That would be something. If the Minister got up today and said that, perhaps these people would feel a little more valued than they do. We will have to wait to see whether anything is forthcoming. It is right for the hon. Gentleman to say that putting obstacles in people’s way and making them pay fees just increases their sense of alienation from our country. I do not believe that any Labour or Scottish National party Member wants to see that; neither, I suspect, do Conservative Members.
I was talking about the climate. There continue to be attacks, and the Metropolitan police have received three reports an hour of abuse since the referendum—a rise of more than 50%. Yesterday in Torquay, graffiti that read “EU rats go home now” was sprayed on a health centre. This is not on. The Government could do something about this. If this climate carries on, it could have serious implications for the NHS and other public services. People who voted leave—I say this while looking at the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip—did not vote for this. They did not vote for their country to become a less welcoming, more hostile place, but in the absence of action and leadership from the Government, that is exactly what is beginning to happen. Only they can change it, and they need to do so now.
I will give way a couple more times before I finish, and of course I will give way to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee.
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way a second time. Does he agree that it would help the Government’s bargaining position with the other EU countries immensely if the next British Prime Minister went to Brussels for the negotiations and said that he or she had already granted the right to remain? The position of the 1.3 million British citizens would therefore be secured. That would help them; it would not hinder them, as the Home Secretary has suggested.
Of course. It is impossible to deny the simple power of what my right hon. Friend has just said. The generous, open-minded gesture of saying now that people are welcome here would not just improve our position in negotiations and strengthen the position of British nationals living abroad; it would say something very important about our country and how it has not changed after the referendum. That is why the Government should do it.
I want to end on a personal note. My wife, Marie-France, is a Dutch national, and she has been here for 26 years since we met at university. In that time, she has been a volunteer working with young people who have learning disabilities. She has been involved in our children’s schools. She has run a business and employed people. Following the death of her sister Claire a decade ago, she has raised thousands and thousands of pounds through Race for Life for Cancer Research UK. I will be honest; she cried and cried after the Brexit result was announced. Although she has paid tax here for more than 20 years, she was not able to cast a vote in that momentous decision. She has never been able to vote for me in a general election, although she often threatens that she would not vote for me if she could. As a result of Brexit, she and other EU nationals could even lose their right to vote in local elections—that is no longer guaranteed unless there is a change in the law. The old saying “No taxation without representation” does not currently apply to the 3 million EU nationals living among us. We could say that this country is already treating them as second-class citizens; they will be even worse off if we do not rectify the situation we are discussing today.
I can trace the alienation the right hon. Gentleman mentioned in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) back to the point when this House refused to give EU nationals the vote in this referendum. We gave them the vote for the independence referendum in Scotland. Does the right hon. Gentleman regret that decision by the Government?
It was entirely wrong. As I said, what happened to no taxation without representation? I cannot defend a situation in which British nationals had the vote in the referendum even if they were living abroad but people living and paying taxes here did not. There was a basic unfairness in that, which needs to be corrected.
We have got this the wrong way around, and I sincerely hope that the Government will act soon to confirm the legal right of EU nationals to be here. Rather than dragging it out grudgingly, should we not take this opportunity to do the opposite and show them how much we value them by giving them that right to have their say at elections? We could go further, as the Institute for Public Policy Research has suggested and the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard) said a moment ago, and offer British citizenship for free to any EU national working in our national health service or other public services.
I agree very much with what the shadow Home Secretary is saying. The fact that British expats—or immigrants to other countries, as they should perhaps be known—had the right to vote in the referendum, whereas EU nationals living here did not, really underlines the crass nature of using EU nationals living here as a bargaining chip in negotiations. That is despicable and should end.
I could not agree more. As I have been outlining, the thrust of Government policy is already to treat them as second-class citizens, because they do not have the same voting rights as other citizens. If they are now to be left in the lurch for two or three years, how will they feel at the end of that process? What will they think of our country? What will the countries that they come from think of us? I do not think any of us—certainly on the Opposition Benches—want that to happen.
Those are big questions and are perhaps for another day. Today, we have a very simple decision to make. We have an opportunity to do the right thing, take away our constituents’ worries and improve the climate on the streets of our communities. It is no secret that I have a high regard for the Home Secretary, even going so far as to give her a backhanded endorsement via Twitter at the weekend. I have seen her show leadership on difficult issues in the past, and I urge her to do so again tonight. Real leadership would be giving her MPs the chance to vote to take the uncertainty away and return a degree of stability to an uncertain and worried country. By passing the simple motion before us, we can send a simple message to those who have chosen to make their life here: we value you, and you are welcome here.
EU citizens working in the health service are at this moment receiving abuse from patients with whom they are working, on the grounds that they should not be working in the health service and should be going home. Will my right hon. Friend invite the Health Secretary to give a very strong statement of support for all those EU citizens working in our health service, who should have the right to stay for as long as their services can be of good for this country?
My hon. Friend has raised a crucial point. I have read out some comments from health professionals that have been reported in The Guardian. I have another here, from a German GP:
“I have lived and worked here for 16 years. It feels as if 50% of the population in the UK doesn’t want me here any more. I feel as if a rug has been pulled out from under my feet.”
If people feel that they have no choice but to leave because they do not feel welcome, what will happen to our health service or to the time that people wait for a GP appointment? What would happen to the pressure on A&E, and to hospital waiting lists? Our NHS is utterly dependent on EU nationals who come to work here, and if they choose to leave, the NHS would be put at severe risk. That is why we should act. It is right for our public services and for those individuals and their families, but it is also right for us as a country to take this action tonight, so that we send a message from this Parliament to Europe and the rest of the world.
Yes, people have expressed frustrations with the EU, but our country and its people have not changed. We are still that same place that has been renowned the world over for doing the fair, right and decent thing. Amid all the chaos in our politics, let us take a step back today towards sanity and stability, and pass this motion overwhelmingly.
The Labour party has called for a debate on the status of EU nationals, following the EU referendum less than two weeks ago and the decision by the British people to leave the European Union. I echo some of the words used by the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), who opened the debate by underlining that EU nationals in this country are truly valued members of our community and welcome here—I think those were the words he used, and I wish to share them at the outset of this debate.
As the motion makes clear, approximately 3 million European Union nationals currently live in Britain. There can be no doubt that in this country EU nationals make an invaluable contribution to our economy, our society and our daily lives.
I would like to make progress and then I will give way.
Up and down the United Kingdom, people from European Union member states are caring for the elderly, tending the sick in hospitals, teaching our children, volunteering for our charities, setting up and working in businesses and providing important local services. There are nearly 250,000 EU workers in the public sector, and, as has been said, in September 2015, 9.4% of NHS doctors and 6.3% of NHS nurses in England were from an EU country. Almost 125,000 EU students study at UK universities. More than that, everyone in the House, and people up and down the country, will hold EU nationals dear as friends, family members and members of their communities. We all recognise the contribution made to this country by EU nationals, and they should be proud of that contribution.
Several hon. Members rose—
I am spoiled for choice, but I will give way to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford).
More than 4,000 EU nationals live in my constituency and do essential jobs in our NHS and our schools. They also work in our private sector and play a critical role in our fish processing sector. The Government’s failure to offer reassurance on the future status of those EU nationals is causing not only distress but huge economic uncertainty. Will the Minister take this opportunity to guarantee that those already living and working here will have the right to stay?
I will come on to the points that the hon. Lady raises, but I recognise the contribution that so many EU citizens make to many aspects of our life and economy, as well as the issues that she highlighted such as the fishing industry in Scotland.
Do not the Government, Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, the minority parties and particularly those listening to or reporting this debate have a responsibility at this time to realise that what we say and how we say it is vital? I welcome the fact that the Minister has not said that anybody needs to return home and that he has recognised the contribution made by EU citizens in the private and public sectors. I, for one, say that they are very welcome in Shropshire.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to make that point about the contribution of EU nationals in his constituency. I will come on to make more points about the approach the Government are taking.
The Minister will know there has been a huge increase in hate crimes, not just against EU nationals but against other foreign nationals in the UK, mainly as a result of the extreme views on the excesses of the political margins becoming regretfully more mainstream as a result of the fall-out from 23 June. Is not the right thing to do to quash this once and for all to say we will put the EU nationality issue to bed by saying these people are welcome in an open and fair United Kingdom?
I will go on to talk about some of the issues in our communities, but at this stage I want to give a very unequivocal message to those who perpetrate hate and division in our communities and in our societies: it is unacceptable that people should seek to cause division, to bully, to harass or to put graffiti on people’s walls as a consequence of their nationality. That is why the police have taken very firm action. That does not represent the country I believe in. The Government will continue to take firm action against anyone who has been involved in that sort of activity.
In the week before the referendum vote, I spent time at 25 of my local schools. It was heartbreaking to hear the children saying, “Will my mum or my dad have to go back?” I never wanted this event to occur and I take it a little sorely from people on the other side of the camp who now proclaim the right to this. Will the Minister reaffirm the position of the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary, who have said there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of European nationals currently residing in the UK? On that basis, nobody should be fearful right now.
My hon. Friend is right that there are no changes to the current situation. We remain a member state of the European Union. Therefore, those rights remain while we remain a member of the European Union.
Perhaps it will help the House if I respond very directly to the false claims that the Government in some way see EU citizens as bargaining chips. In the approach the Government take and the agreements we make, we will never treat EU citizens as pawns in some kind of cynical game of negotiation chess. That does not represent the values of this country or the values of the Government, which are to treat the people who come to this country with dignity and respect.
Will the Minister apologise for the Government being woefully inadequate and underprepared on this vital issue?
The Government are taking these issues into very careful consideration. I will come on to explain some of the challenges, some of the intricacies and some of the complexities that lie behind all this.
Several hon. Members rose—
If I may just make a little bit more progress, I will be generous with interventions, as I always am.
We will look to secure a fair deal for EU citizens, as we secure a fair deal for British citizens in the EU. That is the responsible approach, and that is what we will do. We want to be able to guarantee the legal status of EU nationals who are living in the UK and I am confident we will be able to do just that. We must also win the same rights for British nationals living in European countries and it will be an early objective for the Government to achieve those things together. As the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have made clear and as I stated on Monday, there will in any event be no immediate changes in the circumstances of EU nationals in the UK. Currently, they can continue to enter and live in the UK as they have been doing.
I am struggling to follow the logic of the Minister’s position. He made a very angry statement a minute ago saying that they were not pawns, but he is saying explicitly that there is a negotiation here and that the Government will not make commitments to them until they have got commitments over there. That is precisely what they are. Why is he linking the two issues? Why does he not just say to people living here, working here and paying taxes here that they are welcome to stay, and deal with the British nationals issue another day?
As I said in response to the urgent question earlier this week, it is important to look at all these issues together. This is about ensuring that we look at these matters in this way. As I have said, I am confident that we will be able to work to secure and guarantee the legal status of EU nationals living here in conjunction with the rights of British citizens. It is important for the Government to fight for the rights of British citizens as well. I am genuinely surprised that the right hon. Gentleman is questioning that in some way. It is notable that his motion makes no reference to that at all.
It is important to put on record that those who have been continuously lawfully resident in the UK for five years qualify for permanent residence. It is an important point for those who have raised points about constituents and family members who have been in this country for a long time that those rights already exist, so they should have no fear about that. There is no current requirement for such people to apply for documentation from the Home Office to acquire this status.
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s efforts to fight for the interests of both UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. I asked the Prime Minister a question about investment in this country. Two of the largest inward investors in my constituency, Yamazaki Mazak and Bosch, have asked me to push for the strongest possible negotiation on behalf of EU citizens already in this country being able to stay. Many of them, alongside thousands of local people, are their employees in Worcester. I am grateful for the Minister’s assurances, but I urge him to continue to make this the absolutely first task of our negotiations.
I can certainly give my hon. Friend precisely that reassurance. The Government fully appreciate the importance of giving certainty to EU citizens when the UK exits from the European Union. Addressing this issue is a priority that we intend to deal with as soon as possible. [Interruption.] Let me finish the point. As the Prime Minister has made clear, decisions on issues relating to the UK’s exit from the EU will need to be made by a new Prime Minister.
I think this is the kernel of the problem. The Minister needs to reassure EU citizens in the United Kingdom long before the moment when we leave the European Union. The problem of linking the issue of British citizens in the EU is that a deal on our leaving the EU is unlikely until we actually leave it. Getting certainty about British citizens cannot be linked to the position of EU citizens. It is wrong in principle, and we would be much better off securing their position by making a generous statement of our position now. I understand that there are legal implications about EU citizens coming to the UK from now on, and perhaps that should be the issue to focus on and support the Minister to deal with in view of our understanding of the difficulties he faces. It is the link with British citizens that is causing him all these problems.
Is important for this Government to stand up for the rights of British citizens overseas. I am surprised if my hon. Friend is in some way questioning that. It is the Government’s responsibility to fight for the rights of British citizens. As I have indicated, the Prime Minister has stated that this will be a matter for the new Prime Minister, but it will be an urgent priority for all the reasons that right hon. and hon. Members have given.
The Minister is generous in allowing interventions. My constituent Mrs Pearson is a Maltese national who has lived in the UK for 42 years. She has built her life in Scotland and has contributed not only economically, but socially and culturally. Does the Minister not agree that it is absolutely absurd that my 78-year-old constituent has to live in worry when the Government could sort this out now, so that she and others from Malta could have indefinite leave to remain?
I hope that the hon. Lady noted what I said earlier about the right to permanent residence for those who have been here lawfully for five years. I made that point very carefully and very firmly, as I did in response to the urgent question, because people have raised concerns about the issue. I wanted to be very specific and very clear, to give precisely the sort of reassurance that the hon. Lady’s constituent needs, and I hope that what I have said has provided that reassurance.
The Minister has referred to European students. I have been contacted by a constituent who is about to embark on a medical degree in the Netherlands. I think that this issue is a priority, and I hope that we shall soon be able to reassure students that they will be able to continue their degree courses.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has been actively involved in reassuring students who are about to embark on their studies. I was intending to deal with that point later.
Will the Minister give way?
Of course I will give way to the hon. Lady. I will always be generous to her.
Is there not a cruel irony in what the Minister is saying? Many of those who fought for Britain to vote to leave the European Union did so on the basis of the concept that we would somehow retain sovereignty over our own decision making, yet at the very point when we could exercise that sovereignty—when we as a House could vote unconditionally to give the EU citizens who are currently in the United Kingdom security about their status here—the Minister is choosing to prevaricate and to link that to decisions in the European Union. If the House votes for the motion, will he not accept that it has made an unequivocal statement about the sovereignty of the UK Parliament, and will he therefore give those people the status that they deserve?
I reiterate that we will act fairly. It is important for us to take these steps with a cool head, in a calm way, to secure the best possible outcomes for EU citizens who are here, as well as for British citizens overseas.
Further considerations must be taken into account. As I said on Monday, it has been suggested by Members of Parliament and others—and it has been suggested again today—that the Government could fully guarantee EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay now, but where would the right hon. Member for Leigh draw the line? I think that he has drawn it in one place already by suggesting 23 June, but what about 24 June? What about the EU nationals who arrived later that week, or those who will arrive in the autumn to study at our world-class universities? Or should we draw the line in the future—for example, at the point at which article 50 is invoked, or when the exit negotiations conclude?
It must also be recognised that, as well as working to protect the rights of EU nationals in the UK, the Government have a duty to protect the rights of UK nationals who currently reside in countries throughout the EU. Just as EU nationals are making a tremendous contribution to life in the United Kingdom, UK nationals are contributing to the economies and societies of the countries that belong to the EU.
Surely 23 June was the moment when the position changed. Surely anyone who came here before that date came here in different circumstances. It is easy to trace everything to that day.
May I return the Minister to the issue of the link with British nationals? The Government have a responsibility to people who are living here today, are worried about their future, and are feeling insecure. Why is the Minister saying that people who have chosen, voluntarily, to make a life in another country are as important, if not more important, to the Government as those who are already here in our communities?
Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman is suggesting that we should not be standing up for British citizens? They are British citizens, wherever they may be in the world. It is important for us to ensure that there are appropriate protections for British citizens, whether or not they are in the EU, and also for EU citizens who are here.
As for the timing issue, I repeat what I said about 24 June. We remain an EU member state until we leave, and we are therefore subject to all the existing EU laws and requirements in that regard. All I am saying to the right hon. Gentleman, very firmly, is that drawing up cut-off dates it not as straightforward as he is suggesting, because of the continuing rights that will exist in relation to EU citizens who have arrived since the referendum result, and the need to ensure that this issue is properly addressed.
The Immigration Minister is right to say that we should be concerned about the interests of British ex-pats. Perhaps he can tell the House whether he has been in touch with the Spanish Interior Minister or other Ministers across the EU, or whether these are simply words and a delaying strategy. If he has been in touch with them, can he tell us whether any of those other Governments want to play a trading game with people’s lives and other people’s citizens, because I do not believe they do, and if they do not, why can he not just get on with this—listen to all Members in all parts of the House and give some guarantees now to the EU citizens who are settled here?
I understand the right hon. Lady’s point about certainty, and we want to give certainty at the earliest possible opportunity, but it is not as straightforward as she suggests for the reasons I have already mentioned. Of course conversations have taken place at different levels of government with other member states, and clearly we want to see that this certainty is provided for British citizens in EU member states as well as for EU citizens here. That is why I make the point about this being a priority. But we should not pretend that this is a straightforward task. There is a range of practical, financial and legal considerations. As part of this work, the Government will need to consider the range of circumstances of those who could enjoy these protections, and the form of the protections. For example, an EU student who has embarked on a higher education course might have differing requirements to an EU student who has just graduated from university and is looking for work.
This issue is not simply about the immigration status of an individual. Under free movement law, EU citizens’ rights are far broader than just the right to reside in the UK. There are employment rights, entitlements to benefits and pensions, rights of access to public services, and rights to run a business, which are so closely aligned with the right to provide cross-border services, as well as the ability to be joined by family members and extended family members, in some cases from countries outside the EU. Of course, under current arrangements these rights extend to European economic area and Swiss nationals, who are not in the EU. They all need to be considered, and we must remember that people do not have to register with the UK authorities to enjoy basic EU rights to reside. We will need to work out how we identify fairly and properly the people who are affected.
It is of course possible to make life exceedingly difficult, and that is what the Immigration Minister is trying to do. Will he listen to what my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) said, which was very straightforward: on EU citizens’ rights to residency, we acknowledge that whatever rights they had on 23 June they have now, end of story?
Obviously, I hear the desire for that simplicity, but it is not as straightforward as the right hon. Lady would like to present. She might reflect on some of the themes I have highlighted, because it is important that we get this right, not just for now, but for the years to come. It is about getting the right deal—the fairest deal—for those who are here, and that is what we remain committed to doing. There will need to be detailed and painstaking work examining each of these rights and the different circumstances in which people find themselves, to ensure that there are no unforeseen or unintended consequences. That work will be led by the Europe unit based at the Cabinet Office, which will work in close consultation with all Departments with an interest.
It is important for the House today to underline to EU nationals that they continue to be welcome in the UK. Alongside the statements made by the Prime Minister that there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of EU nationals, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has published guidance for EU students to provide additional reassurance to those who are about to embark on a course.
As a fellow London MP, I am sure my right hon. Friend has received many letters from EU migrants working hard, earning money and starting their lives here in this country, but also from former residents and the families of former residents who live abroad. Does he agree that this whole issue of EU migrants living here and Brits living abroad should be hived off from the main negotiations and dealt with first, and as a priority, between Heads of State now, because we must all have an interest in preserving the status of EU migrants here and Brits abroad?
As I think I indicated in response to other interventions, this is a priority for the Government and we recognise the issues that have been highlighted, fairly, by colleagues across the House. That is why, for the reasons given by my hon. Friend, the matter is being given emphasis and priority within the Government. Despite some across the House having sought, unfairly, to sow doubt and create uncertainty, people should take a message of reassurance from the contributions to the debate and our statements that the intent is to solve the issues quickly.
In recent days, we have seen some appalling hate crimes perpetrated against EU nationals and others living in the UK, including damage to a Polish community centre in Hammersmith, hateful leaflets targeted at children in Cambridgeshire and abuse hurled at people walking in the streets. The Metropolitan police has said that 67 hate crimes are being reported every day. Hate crime of any kind has absolutely no place in our society. We will not stand for these attacks, which should be investigated by the police.
I thank the Minister for mentioning the extremely sobering attack in Hammersmith. We are waiting to hear whether, like the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Minister will support the motion tonight, but it does not sound like it. Indeed, it sounds rather as though he is under instructions not to, which it makes it doubly bad that his boss the Home Secretary is not here to answer for herself—he probably agrees with that.
On the point about community, I spoke on this issue to one of my constituency schools in the education centre. Many of the pupils’ parents were born outside the UK, and I saw real concern on their faces. That is what we are dealing with now and that is why we need an answer to the question today, not in two years’ time.
As I have already indicated, this is a clear priority in relation to agreements with our EU partners. It is absolutely right that we condemn the activities of anyone involved in such incidents in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. Equally, and as I have said, there are no changes to existing EU rights while we remain a member of the EU. I believe that we will be successful in securing those rights and will seek to treat fairly the EU nationals who are here.
As I said, hate crime of any kind has absolutely no place in our society. We will not stand for these attacks, and they should be investigated by the police.
The Minister highlights hate crime and our responsibility to look after EU citizens who are here. Will he come and meet our constituents? A young French teacher in my constituency is living in fear and is alarmed about whether she will be allowed to stay here in the long term. Why do we not do the right thing collectively today and say that the people who are here are citizens of our country and deserve the full rights and support that we can give them? This is not about negotiating with Europe. Let us take that off the table and do the right thing for those who live in this country.
That is why, as I have said several times, we are working and will work to guarantee the rights of those who are here while also protecting the rights of British citizens. I remain confident that we will be able to do that, and people should therefore take a message of reassurance from this debate about the Government’s intention to act fairly and appropriately. Those are the values that I stand for and that is the approach that we will take.
I welcome the reassurances that the Minister has given to the House today. From what we have heard, I think there is a misunderstanding about the status of EU nationals in the minds of some Members. If that is the case here, it is more likely—or as likely—to be the case outside. As a practical step, has the Home Office put something on its website to say what that status is now and will be in the future?
We are clear as to the existing rights of EU citizens, and I have made the point in relation to the five-year residency issues. I am also convening a meeting with ambassadors of EU member states to explain the steps that we are taking in response to threats to communities, and to underline some of the key messages I have given today so that they can reassure any of their citizens who contact them about this.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way once again; he has been incredibly generous. I just want to clear one thing up before he concludes his remarks: how do the Government propose to vote on the motion? One might have the impression, having listened to him, that they are getting ready to vote against it, but it has been suggested that they might abstain. Let us be clear that if the Government abstain, the motion will be carried and the message will go out from this House tonight that people are welcome here and that they will be able to stay.
My concluding remarks might be helpful in responding to the right hon. Gentleman’s intervention.
As I said on Monday, EU nationals can have our full and unreserved reassurance that their right to enter, work, study and live in the UK remains unchanged. We value the tremendous contribution they make every day in towns, cities and villages up and down the country. We fully expect that the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK, and of UK nationals living in EU member states, will be properly protected. Given that both the UK and the EU want to maintain a close relationship, we are confident that we will work together and that both EU and British citizens will be protected through reciprocal arrangements. As part of the negotiations, we want to be able to conclude these matter as quickly as possible.
We therefore have great sympathy and alignment with the themes contained in the Opposition’s motion—I do not think that we are very far apart in that regard. However, as I have set out, any decision to pre-empt our future negotiations would risk undermining our ability to secure those arrangements and protect the interests of EU nationals and British nationals alike and to get the best outcomes for both. That is why we are unable to support the motion tonight.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I give notice that there will a six-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches, although that does not apply to the Scottish National party’s Front-Bench spokesperson, Stuart McDonald.
The day after the referendum, Scotland’s First Minister directly addressed nationals of other EU states, telling them,
“you remain welcome here, this is your home and your contribution is valued.”
It was a simple but powerful statement, and one that was warmly welcomed. Indeed, it was echoed today by the shadow Home Secretary. Like that statement, this motion has our full support.
In contrast, the Home Secretary’s comments were gravely misjudged, causing apprehension where there did not have to be any, and creating uncertainty when she has the power to provide clarity. What makes the situation all the more frustrating and ridiculous, for reasons I will come to, is that it seems blindingly obvious that EU nationals will be able to remain here as and when—and indeed if—Brexit occurs. But people need to hear that loud and clear from the Home Secretary. She must put that beyond any doubt.
On Monday, Members on both sides of the House united to tell the Home Secretary to do just that, and I have no doubt that the same will happen today. The same arguments, based on both simple common decency and plain common sense, remain overwhelming and unanswerable.
We have heard already, as we will hear again today, about the friends and family, the colleagues and the constituents from other member states who are now uncertain about their future. We have also heard, as we will hear again today, about the valued staff, the key personnel and the vital public service workers from other EU countries whose future now seems uncertain. It is utterly unacceptable to expect people to live their lives with such uncertainty. It is a disgraceful way to treat our EU citizens.
On Monday the Minister expressed genuine sympathy with many of those arguments, and it is abundantly clear from what he has said that he wants to get us to a position whereby EU citizens can and will remain in the country. Sympathy and expressions of hope, however, are not enough. Clarity and reassurance now are essential, and they can and should be delivered.
The reasons offered by the Government for refusing to provide that clarity are absurd and bizarre. On Monday the Minister was unhappy—he is unhappy again today—at the use of terms such as “bargaining chip”, but he himself said that securing the status of EU migrants in the UK, alongside that of UK citizens in the EU,
“needs to be part of the negotiations.”—[Official Report, 4 July 2016; Vol. 612, c. 616.]
That sounds exactly like a bargaining chip, because that is what it is, as his own hon. Friends have said. It is because the rights of EU citizens are being used as bargaining chips that the Government are not guaranteeing them.
That is as absurd as it is wrong and unethical, because it is a rubbish bargaining chip. How credible is it for the next Prime Minister to tell EU states, “If you don’t give us what we want, we’ll cut off our nose to spite our face, and if we don’t get the deal we are demanding, we’ll attempt to destroy ourselves by withdrawing rights from friends and loved ones, colleagues and neighbours”? The shadow Home Secretary and, indeed, the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee have already skewered the logic of that tit-for-tat approach.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to protect the rights of British citizens living in other parts of the EU is to give a simple reassurance that EU nationals living here will have their rights protected?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. It is not a complicated matter. If we cannot persuade the Home Secretary on the grounds of common decency or common sense—that sometimes happens in immigration debates, unfortunately—perhaps we can appeal to her self-interest by gently pointing out to her that she is, unusually, making a fool of herself by taking this approach.
I genuinely believe—I certainly hope—that I am not being naïve in saying that I do not for a minute believe that the Government are realistically even contemplating removing rights from millions of EU migrants. I think that all hon. Members know that and I think that the Minister knows it; he did everything he could on Monday to hint at it without saying so explicitly. What is more, the European Commission, other member states and everyone else involved in negotiations know it, too. Sadly, the only people who really matter in all of this—the EU nationals themselves—do not know it, because the Home Secretary is not saying it and the climate that they are living in tells them the opposite. The Home Secretary needs to fix that now.
My hon. Friend has talked about us cutting off our nose to spite our face. I met the principal of Edinburgh Napier University in my constituency last Friday and she has been advised that potential staff members from other EU countries are withdrawing from job offers. Does my hon. Friend agree that if this uncertainty is allowed to continue, it will seriously damage the university sector in Scotland and across the United Kingdom?
That is a perfect example of the uncertainty we are talking about and it has to be brought to an end. As my hon. Friend the Member for Banff and Buchan (Dr Whiteford) has said, this does not require a detailed statement on exactly what form of leave is required or the precise mechanisms for implementing it. It requires a simple statement that all EU nationals in the UK today will continue to enjoy leave to remain in the UK, regardless of Brexit, and, preferably, that they will enjoy such leave on conditions that are at least as favourable as those currently in place. A simple sentence from the Minister or the Home Secretary is all that is required.
As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee has said, it is also absurd to argue that the UK’s position in Brexit talks would be undermined by such a move. On the contrary, it would show that we are approaching any negotiations in good faith, co-operatively, realistically and with integrity. The Home Secretary’s posturing, on the other hand, would engender nothing but ill-feeling and bad blood.
My hon. Friend has said that EU citizens who live in the UK still feel uncertainty. Does he agree that another group who need to be told in no uncertain terms that those people are welcome are the racists who are carrying out racially motivated attacks on EU and other nationals, and that they need to be given an indisputable message that those EU citizens are welcome here and that they are here to stay for ever if they want to do so?
My hon. Friend is absolutely spot on. I will come to that issue shortly. As I have said, the Home Secretary’s negotiating position is complete and utter nonsense. Sadly, that is not out of keeping with too much of her immigration policy and indeed with too much of what passes for debate on matters of immigration.
Finally, since the referendum result Members have quite rightly gone out of their way to recognise the hugely positive contribution made by nationals of other countries, including other EU countries, to the UK’s economy, society, communities and families. Members have condemned the xenophobia, racism and hostility that many are encountering.
There can be no shadow of a doubt that political discourse and rhetoric during, and for many years before, the EU referendum have been factors in legitimising and emboldening that very xenophobia. There has been intemperate talk of “swarms”, “waves”, “benefit tourists” and “NHS tourism” and an explicit Government goal of creating a hostile climate. Instead of tackling anti-migrant myths, there has been acquiescence. Instead of taking on the myth peddlers, too many have sought to ape their rhetoric. There has been empty policy after empty policy focused only on numbers, while the other major components of migration policy—integration and planning—are completely and utterly neglected.
Those failures precede the current Government by many years, but there can be no greater example than the net migration target, which is utter baloney. Every quarter we go through the same political pantomime of the Government wildly missing their net migration target, and the official Opposition demanding that something must be done, even though they have no idea what that something is.
Everybody in this Chamber knows that, whether or not we are in the EU, the net migration target is a complete myth. It has allowed the poisonous fiction to grow that the presence of EU nationals and others in this country is some sort of terrible problem that can be solved simply by turning off the migration tap without consequence, and that getting EU nationals to leave will therefore be a good thing.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I just wanted to see whether his understanding is the same as mine. I think that we had an indication at the end of the Minister’s speech that the Government are planning to abstain on this motion tonight. It is a motion that gives EU nationals a right to remain—that is what it talks of. Does he agree that, if they abstain and there are enough people on the Opposition Benches to carry the motion, that will be the position of the House of Commons? There will be a resolution that people can stay and, in the future, the Government will not be able to take that away.
I certainly hope that that transpires and becomes the case. The message should go out loud and clear from here that it is Parliament’s will that all EU nationals in this country will continue to enjoy the rights that they have just now and on the same terms and conditions.
I am also asking the House to think again about how we approach the debates on immigration. As I was about to say, it is absolutely no coincidence that what was an already desperate and ugly campaign went completely off the rails after 26 May when the latest net migration figures were published. Politicians have turned the net migration target into some sort of Holy Grail, regardless of the fact that it is utterly unobtainable, and we have reaped the disastrous consequences in the weeks since those results.
I am very grateful to the other Stuart McDonald for giving way. I am not suggesting for a minute that this is Scottish National party policy, but something that has been on my mind for a number of years is that, given that we know the economic benefits of immigration, why do we not shift responsibility for it away from the Home Office to the Treasury? Would that not change the terms of the debate?
My honourable namesake makes a very good point. My point is that it is time to do things very, very differently. A few months ago, I went to Edinburgh university to meet Professor Christina Boswell who had arranged a discussion about the dangerous disconnect between political rhetoric and reality when it comes to immigration. She highlighted the launch by the German Government, back in 2000, of a cross-party commission on immigration. The German Immigration Commission brought together the main political parties, as well as representatives of business, trade unions, religious and migrant groups and immigration experts. It allowed for evidence-based discussion on all aspects of immigration, and sought to build consensus around policy reform. It examined Germany’s demographic and economic needs as well as challenges related to the social impacts of immigration and policies for integration. Perhaps more significantly, it changed the whole tenor of debate in Germany, normalising the idea that Germany was, and would need to remain, a country of immigration, and encouraged a more grounded and factually informed discussion of what that would entail.
We can perhaps learn too from the Government of Canada, who just yesterday launched a national conversation on immigration. Their starting point is:
“Although times and conditions may have changed, 21st-century newcomers to Canada have retained…innovative spirit, enriching the communities where they settle and helping to ensure the Canada of tomorrow remains as dynamic as the country of yesterday.
Canada’s strength lies in its diversity. Indeed, the story of Canadian immigration is inseparable from the story of Canada itself.”
The conversation document seeks to engage all Canada’s citizens in a grown-up discussion of all the key questions, from
“How many newcomers should we welcome to Canada in 2017 and beyond?”
“Is it important for Canada to continue to show leadership in global migration? If so, how can we best do that?”
Do I take it the hon. Gentleman is advocating an Australian-style points-based immigration policy?
I do not know where the hon. Lady gets that idea. I have not mentioned Australia. What I am talking about is the Canadian national conversation.
By asking the questions I quoted and having that grown-up conversation, Canada is already showing leadership. It is time that politicians here followed that example. As well as using today’s debate to praise EU nationals and demand that the Government confirm their status, let us think too about how we can work together across parties to combat xenophobia in all possible ways and to ensure that migration policy and debates are based on evidence and honesty rather than political expediency. Anyone who wants to be Prime Minister should sign up to that approach and start by being absolutely straight about the safe and secure future of our EU nationals in this country.
Thank you for calling me, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not think I have ever been the first Back Bencher to be called. This is a record—I must be doing something right.
The emails I have received since the vote to Brexit have been like a tidal wave.
“We felt like a hurricane had hit our house”.
That was a statement made by one of the 200 of my constituents who came to a public meeting I held last Saturday to try to answer questions about the future. I say 200 because that was all we could squeeze in to the council chamber; unfortunately, another 300 or so had to be turned away.
My constituency is home to some of the best scientific and business brains in the country. The Genome Campus, the Babraham Institute, AstraZeneca, Alzheimer's Research UK and Cambridge University colleges—what they all have in common is that their work and global reach is the result of the combined effort of EU and UK citizens, who have moved there for their brains to connect. Our local economy is a major contributor to the EU economy, not just to the UK’s. Our work is developing drugs to beat cancer, pushing medical advancement every single day. Our beloved and nationally famed hospitals, Addenbrooke’s and Papworth, rely on an international workforce making up 11% of the total, which is well above the national average of 6%. These brains have families. Their children learn in our schools, their families contribute to our local communities and they help to run our parish councils.
The irony of ironies is that on polling day I was speaking to a room full of female engineers, encouraging them to lead and inspire more young women to follow in their footsteps. Bright, young and compassionate, they are plugging our science, technology, engineering and maths skills gap, and many of them are Italian, Dutch or Spanish. These ladies—these people—are hurting. The EU is hurting. Everyone is hurting. If this is a divorce, we in this Chamber are the responsible adults and these people are our children. We have welcomed them into our family, they have enriched our family, and we now owe it to them to protect them while we find a route forward.
Not a single candidate for Prime Minister has described or treated those people as bargaining chips; nor will they allow our 1.2 million British citizens living in other EU countries to be pawns of the negotiators on the other side of the water. We must never forget that this works both ways. Our British citizens deserve to be a priority in our mind.
The hon. Lady is taking a very human angle in this debate—an angle that it is important to remember. Does she not agree, though, that we have an opportunity to set the tone of the negotiations—to say to our current EU partners, “This is the way that we approach this. We won’t let this have an adverse effect on your citizens”? Surely that will make myriad areas of discussion that much easier.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman. It is interesting, given that I am about to come to a point about lack of cross-party consensus, that what he says is almost exactly what is on my next page, so perhaps I am about to eat my words. I was about to say that I am disappointed that the cross-party consensus that led up to the referendum seems to have evaporated already, and we are back to the same old, same old. I feel that, here today, we are using these people for political point scoring, and I regret that. [Interruption.] It is how I feel.
Our new Prime Minister and Government will show clear leadership. The negotiations may be complex, the poker hand held close, but if we have learned one thing in the current refugee crisis, it is that people matter, and people must come before politics. I would like our new Prime Minister swiftly to establish negotiating terms of reference—a guiding principle that both Great Britain and the EU can sign up to. It should state very clearly that the lives of those disrupted by this momentous decision will be our collective priority. That would set the tone. That would be the first big test of leadership for our new Prime Minister, and I feel confident that they will rise to it.
Trust in politicians is even lower than it was when I became an MP just over a year ago, and I honestly did not think that was possible. To my Conservative colleagues, I say that our new leader must be someone who can reunite our country and lead the way back to trust. Now as never before in my lifetime, our great country must come together, but to do that, our people must have security, and certainty in their future, their family’s future, and their neighbours’ future. Without that, they will not have the strength to heal the rifts in their communities. My constituents want to play their part. They want to help, but they cannot do that on quicksand. Security is the first step back to trust. I will look to our new Prime Minister to lead by example.
I feel slightly sorry for the Immigration Minister, who has been sent out to defend the indefensible for the second time this week by his Home Secretary. I hope that he has got a very good promise of a very good job out of this. It is not the first time that he and I have debated in this House when he has been sent out while the Home Secretary has gone to hide.
The Minister’s position is still indefensible, though it has moved in the past few days alone. The Home Secretary said on Sunday that there could be no movement until the negotiations had started, and one of her aides said that the issue was a “negotiating point”, even though there was all that stuff about this not being a bargaining chip. The Foreign Secretary said that it was “absurd” to agree on the status of EU citizens before anything could be agreed in wider negotiations, and the Minister himself said that it would be “unwise” to agree the status of EU citizens before wider negotiations had taken place.
Here is where I would probably disagree with the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen), with whom I have agreed many times on other issues: I do not think that it is okay to leave this issue to become the first priority for a new Prime Minister in many weeks’ time. It is not okay simply to leave this question to the process of EU negotiations, when we have no idea how long that will take, given that people are worried about their jobs, homes and kids’ futures right now.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the issue is not just the terms that will need to be negotiated for people from the EU who are living here? The leadership that is needed is about the welcome that we give to people, who should be treated as equals in this country. She might be shocked to know that I spoke to the manager of a coffee chain recently, who was worried about the name badges that his staff wear because so many customers are making terrible comments to people serving coffee, such as “When are you going home?” Such comments have become regular now. Leadership is needed to set the tone that we have as a country, not just in relation to the nuts and bolts of people’s status in this country. It is about the welcome and what kind of country we are now, after Brexit.
My hon. Friend is right. This is an immensely sensitive period and all of us have a responsibility not to give succour to extremists who want to exploit it. That should mean giving confidence to people who have been settled here, often for many years, contributing to our public services or working setting up businesses.
May I draw to my right hon. Friend’s attention to early-day motion 259, of which I am a co-sponsor, which raises exactly that point in respect of all the groups of migrants in this country, as well as the New Europeans group, with which I am pleased to be associated? Will all Members please add their name to early-day motion 259?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We all know that immigration has made a huge contribution to this country over very many centuries and that it will be important for our future.
As a result of the referendum I expect immigration rules to change for the future, and I have argued myself that free movement should be reformed even from within the EU, but there is a big difference between changing immigration rules for the future and suddenly ripping up the rights of people who are settled here, people who are living here now and have been doing so in good faith.
The Immigration Minister made three points today. First, he said that we would effectively guarantee only if the rights of British expats were also agreed. Secondly, he said that the matter was complicated because employment rules and benefit rules were also at stake. That suggests that he is saying that he might be considering ripping up the employment rules in respect of people who are here, so that they would be allowed to stay, but suddenly they might not be able to work. If he is not considering ripping up the employment rules or the benefit rules, why does he suddenly throw that into the debate as a reason to delay securing the rights and the status of people who are here already? Thirdly, the Minister said that the matter would have to be looked at by the EU unit. As he knows, the EU unit is hardly set up at all. Staff are still being recruited. The unit has huge numbers of things to look at. It will not take any decisions until the new Prime Minister is in place and that is simply not fair on people.
Kids in the playground are being told that they have to go home. They are being bullied or teased at school and told that they might have to go home. Their parents cannot say to them, their teachers cannot say to them, and we as their MPs cannot say to them, “No. We can guarantee that you are not going to have to go home”, because the Immigration Minister will not say it and the Home Secretary will not say it. Unless both of them and the whole House say it, how can their teachers and parents reassure those kids in school right now? That is why the Minister should do it. It is not a big step for him to give that reassurance now.
I agree with the Minister that he should also advocate for the rights of British expats. There are pensioners who have invested their life savings in homes in Spain or Italy. We should be standing up for them and for people who are working in France and Germany.
Will the right hon. Lady give way?
I will not, because of the shortage of time. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will have time to contribute.
By getting into what looks like a trading game of people’s rights, the Minister is encouraging other Governments across Europe to get into the same trading game, and allowing them to think that this is something to be negotiated or a game to be played. Surely it would be simple just to say, “These are the rights that we are going to guarantee”, and then other Governments will follow suit. Doing so would make the negotiation easier, not harder.
I know that the Minister has said very firmly that he objects to the race hatred, the repatriation campaigns and the vile things that extremists have been saying, exploiting the current uncertainty. He is right to condemn those things and I know that he believes that strongly. However, he is giving extremists succour by not resolving this and not providing certainty. He knows that the vast majority of leave voters and remain voters are appalled by this kind of extremism and believe that EU citizens who are here, as well as British ex-pats in other parts of Europe, should have their existing rights respected, so why not just sort it out now?
Let us all say together to the extremists, the bullies in the playground, those trying to attack people in the street or on the bus, and those spraying slogans on community centres: “We will not stand for this. Of course nobody is expected to go home as a result of this vote. Of course we value those who have made a contribution here.” However, if we are all really to say that together, we need the Minister to say it, we need the Home Secretary to say it and we need the Prime Minister to say it. I really urge them to listen to the strong views on both sides of the House, to take a lead and to exercise the sovereignty of this House, which we have debated for so long. Let us all just say that these people should be able to stay.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. The speech limit is being reduced to four minutes.
Like other Members of the House, I very much regret the increased reports of abuse and racism over the last two weeks. I represent a diverse and vibrant community in Portsmouth, which, as a port city, has always looked out to the wider world and welcomed people from everywhere.
As well as the traditional arrival of people as a result of trade and the Navy, we have a university with one of the fastest growing reputations in Europe. It takes in students from Europe and elsewhere, and I know how important universities’ global reach is for their academic and financial wellbeing. We already hear concerns from the higher education sector that the immigration restrictions on students and academics are onerous, and that has been debated before—often in this House. Whatever happens as we negotiate our way out of the EU, we must make sure that the world-leading position of our universities is not threatened in any way.
Everyone in Portsmouth was horrified at the racist abuse against the Polish community that was daubed on a wall next to our civic war memorial last week. I hardly need to point out the contribution the Poles have made as our allies in the most tragic circumstances for their country. Anyone who listened to the Polish Member of the European Parliament who was speaking following the result of the referendum will have seen his anguish and anger at how we have been treating Poles.
Whether someone comes to the UK from Poland or any other part of the EU to learn or work, they have the right to fair treatment and to be secure against racism and hatred. I disagree that this extremism is happening because of the status of these people at the moment; immigration came up frequently during the referendum, including in that most disgraceful poster, and that is what is causing the racism at the moment—it is not people’s status.
Does the hon. Lady agree that a climate in which racism can thrive has actually been building up for years, largely thanks to the shamefully xenophobic headlines we have seen almost every day on the front pages of newspapers such as the Daily Express and the Daily Mail?
Yes, I totally agree, and that is also one of the reasons for the rise of UKIP because people saw it as being able to control immigration. It is something I completely abhor.
Those who come to the UK under a set of laws and immigration rules should be free to remain here under them for the duration of their stay. What happens in the future to people who want to come here after we have left the EU is a matter for the Government to look at, and that will be a discussion we have with the other 27 members in the coming years. However, basic notions of British fairness compel us to give the people who are already here a guarantee.
Most people in the UK who are from elsewhere in the EU are here for a limited time. One of the benefits of EU membership for people from recent joiners has been that it has helped their home countries to develop, and those people want to return to them. They are not coming here to escape permanent poverty, but to earn money to take home with them.
As we move on from the referendum decision, I hope we will be able to debate and decide these issues calmly and through consensus, rather than conflict. We have to set an example to the rest of the country, and if we fail we will just encourage the preachers of hatred and racism.
I am aware that this is complex and that it should be the first area of negotiation. In the meantime, however, we need to reassure our valuable EU taxpayers that we welcome them here.
I think this House has to show leadership. People watching us today, from the United Kingdom and from mainland Europe, who have an interest in the decisions we make have a right to expect a clear statement from us. Some Members have mentioned the referendum campaign. There was an official referendum campaign, Vote Leave, which I was part of. The poster that has been mentioned was not part of our campaign, and we condemned it. There were other players who behaved in a way for which they have to be answerable. We were absolutely clear that we expected this Government to ensure, and to say clearly, that any immigration policy would have democratic consent, including respecting the rights of UK citizens abroad and EU citizens here up until the point that the country had made a decision.
I have to say to the Immigration Minister—with whom I too have a lot of sympathy, because he has been sent out to bat on a pretty sticky wicket—that he cannot pretend that people are not being treated as a bargaining chip and then say that we have to await the outcome of negotiations, which may be quite a long way off. In the interests of brevity and not repeating what others have said, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) made it absolutely clear what the Minister needs to do. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) reminded him that as this is a question of British parliamentary sovereignty, he is perfectly capable of doing what my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) asked him to do—just to get up and say that anybody in this country who had residency rights acquired before 23 June will continue to have them. That would set the tone for the negotiations and send a signal to everybody in the rest of Europe as to how we expect them to treat UK citizens living abroad. May I invite him to do that?
The Government’s refusal to guarantee the status of our EU residents is, quite frankly, an utter disgrace. Last weekend, I spoke to an Italian woman who has lived and worked in Britain for 30 years. She has made Britain her home. She has raised her family here. Her children were born here and they are working here. She was in tears when she told me of her worry that she and her family were about to be deported. It absolutely broke my heart.
There are 3 million EU nationals living in the UK. Just like my constituent, they have jobs and homes, and are concerned about the future for their families. These are families who have entered the UK legally, made their homes here, paid their taxes, and have made a wonderful contribution to our country. The very least these families deserve is to have certainty about their future.
In this time of uncertainty post-Brexit, this is surely one area where the Government could act to give certainty immediately. Saying that EU citizens are not in any “immediate” danger of having their status changed is frankly not good enough. The Government have the power to act now and should do so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
The Home Secretary has said that these people’s lives will be a “factor” in the forthcoming negotiations over our exit from the EU. She has implied that the rights of EU citizens living here cannot be guaranteed because the Government need to seek guarantees about the rights of UK citizens living on the continent. It is appalling; people’s lives should not be treated as a bargaining chip. The Government’s strategy is not only heartless—it is inept. We do not want the other 27 member states to threaten the rights of the 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent, so why are we starting negotiations by threatening the rights of EU nationals living here?
I can only presume that the Home Secretary’s focus is not really on negotiations with the EU. Her tub-thumping, I presume, is designed to court the votes of the right-wing Tory membership—an olive branch after, and I say this gently, her low-profile support for the remain campaign. Using people as bargaining chips in EU negotiations is one level of insult; using them as pawns in a Tory “Game of Thrones” is quite another. A Prime Minister with any sense of responsibility could have stopped this happening. By resigning from office before settling the most basic questions about leaving the EU, this Prime Minister has left our exit strategy to the vagaries of a Tory leadership contest. The rights of EU nationals, the speed of our exit, and our future relationship with the EU are all factors in the Tory leadership campaign. This leaves 150,000 Tory party members in a position of disproportionate influence.
The failure to make a commitment to EU nationals comes with grave consequences. Racists and xenophobes are feeling emboldened and are spreading poison within our constituencies. I am ashamed to say that, in my constituency, a residential block was sprayed with a swastika and the word “out” in large, bold letters. I know that Members across the country have had to deal with similarly vile incidents. There has been a 57% increase in hate crime since the referendum. A straightforward and clear message that EU residents are valued and welcome to stay for as long as they like would put racists back in their place. The destructive idea that there may be forced deportations would be rubbished in an instant.
If the Home Secretary is too busy to act, the Prime Minister should do so. I know he wants to run away from the responsibility for our leaving the European Union, but it was his referendum. He should have made sure that plans were in place for the immediate aftermath, no matter what the result. By abdicating his responsibility, the Prime Minister has left us all at the mercy of a Tory leadership campaign that is making us lurch to the right. It is our neighbours and friends from elsewhere in the EU who are suffering the most. It is a national disgrace.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who spoke with enormous passion about these issues. I am sorry that I was not able to be here for other speakers. The Select Committee is hosting a seminar on female genital mutilation, which is ongoing, but I wanted to contribute to this debate because it is of huge importance.
I was very pleased with the urgent question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) on Monday. We disagreed with each other in respect of the referendum campaign but on this we are at one, as I think every other speaker so far has been, apart from the Minister. [Interruption.] Perhaps I am wrong, but I took it that the hon. Member for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) also supported the view that EU citizens ought to be given the rights that we have talked about.
There are three issues here. The first is certainty. Immigration law has to be certain. To avoid legal proceedings being taken against the Government, breaches of the Vienna convention and any other uncertainties, it is absolutely vital that there is a strict adherence to the law of the land. That is why it is in the Government’s interest to allow for this certainty and to say that, from 23 June, anyone resident in this country who has come from any EU country ought to be allowed to remain here if they choose to do so. Some will and some will not, but that certainty is vital. It is extremely regrettable that, at the moment, different members of the Government are saying different things on immigration law. That cannot be right for our country and it cannot be right in respect of others who will come to this country.
Let me play devil’s advocate. The Minister and the Home Secretary might be fearful that now, after 23 June, people will suddenly arrive in the United Kingdom and then decide to remain here permanently. However, they can deal with that by giving a cut-off date now. They do not need to wait for the negotiations to begin. In fact, it would strengthen the hand of the future Prime Minister, whoever he or she may be—I do not have a vote in this leadership campaign, despite the wishes of some Members on this side—to be able to go to that first meeting, as they will have to do, and say that the United Kingdom has guaranteed the rights of EU citizens to live in this country. That would be a huge boost for whoever is the Prime Minister, and a huge amount of good will would flow from that decision.
I think it will be automatically accepted that the 1.3 million British citizens living in the EU will be allowed to stay. If the Minister needs a justification for that certainty, he just needs to read the brilliant speech made last night in this Chamber by his ministerial colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), about what happens when social attitudes change as a result of a Government decision. We have all had examples of this. I heard it for myself when I went to a Polish church on Sunday, with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing Central and Acton (Dr Huq). This is what will happen if we are not certain about our law.
The Minister has six days to change his mind before he appears in front of the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday. I hope he will use those six days carefully to reflect on what the House has said and to do the right and decent thing. We are a good country and we are a decent country. Let us show what we are really made of.
As I have done in previous debates on this issue, I declare an interest in that my husband is a German national who has lived here for 30 years and works in the NHS.
He can stay.
That is awfully good of the Minister. I will phone my husband and tell him.
We have already heard of very high-calibre people who are not coming to the UK because of this issue. I was at the graduation ceremony of the University of the West of Scotland last Friday. One of its senior lecturers was almost at the point of getting on the boat to come here, but because in less than two years he might have to move his family and children, sell the house and go back, he has decided that it is not worth it. However, we are focused not on what will happen to the people who are due to come—that will have to be looked at—but on the people who are already here. They are totally integral to our communities and our public services.
Obviously, my background is in the NHS. As we heard on Tuesday, 110,000 people from the EU work in our health and social care systems. About half of them are doctors and nurses, and half of them are careworkers. Although people, such as my husband, who have been here longer than five years and earn more than £35,000 will be able to stay, will that income limit apply to others? If it does, most nurses will not qualify and no careworkers will qualify. They will all have to go back, as will most ordinary teachers.
The Government need to think about that insecurity. The Government say, “Don’t worry about it. It might happen in two years.” Does the Minister really think that families sit there and say, “Don’t worry; I know we’re going towards a cliff edge, but we won’t fret about the house, the kids and the job until a month or so before it happens.” There is no reason to be so combative about this. The Minister talked about fighting for the rights of UK nationals, but it should not be a fight. If we set the example by treating EU nationals here properly and immediately giving them absolute right to remain, there will be a much greater likelihood of civilised talks and of UK nationals being well treated in the EU. If we go in saying, “You do that and we will do this,” we will set completely the wrong tone.
The Minister talked about the fact that people who have been here for more than five years can stay, but we have to look at their rights and benefits. Will this undermine the right to be treated in the NHS, the right to claim benefits if they cannot work and the pension rights of people who have, like my husband, been here for 30 years, even though they may be approaching pension age and can do nothing about the situation? Some EU nationals have been here for years and years, contributing to the country, and to undermine what they have done for us is absolutely despicable. The Minister says that he hopes to be able to reassure them and give them certainty. He could do so now. Just do it.
Several hon. Members rose—
Order. I am going to have to reduce the time limit to three minutes.
That is challenging, Madam Deputy Speaker. In 2013, Glasgow adopted the slogan “People Make Glasgow”. That could not be more apt at present, because EU citizens—in my constituency and in those of my hon. Friends who represent parts of the city—make it the vibrant and wonderful city that it is. According to the 2011 census, 5.2% of residents in my constituency were born in EU countries; that is double the figure for the Scottish population as a whole.
In the academic year 2014-15 alone, more than 4,000 EU students enrolled at academic institutions across Glasgow. I heard during the week from Professor Philip Cooke, who is professor of Italian history and culture at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. He says:
“Since I started teaching here I have seen a radical shift in the composition of the student body—at last week’s graduation ceremony there were students from Latvia and Bulgaria receiving degrees in Italian, as well as many young Scots. The free movement of students facilitated by the Erasmus program has meant that I have taught, for example, Italian to English translation to mixed groups of students who have all greatly benefited from the different linguistic backgrounds of their peers... All of this—and I am not even going to mention European funding for research—is at risk following the referendum.”
He speaks of his own young children, who want to have the opportunity that I and others have had of going to Europe to travel and work.
We must not lose sight of the fact that politics is about people. Among the messages I have received this week is one from Courtney, a Greek national living in Queen’s Park in the south side of Glasgow, who sums up the anxiety and bewilderment that many people face:
“I, like all the other EU immigrants that are here, have broken no laws by settling here. I have been here for five years and am proud to call Scotland my home, meanwhile others have been here for decades. Since settling here I have started a long term relationship, taken work, paid tax, and done volunteer work. Like so many others I am happy to contribute to the local community and overall economy.”
I received a message just this morning from a ward sister at Glasgow royal infirmary who says that nurses there who have come from Poland are deeply concerned about their future in the country. They are here, working and contributing, and they deserve to be able to stay.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it would not take much for the Minister to reassure the citizens she has just mentioned? A caseworker in my office is from Finland. She is extremely uncertain at the moment about her future. As her employer, I, like many other employers, would like to know whether these citizens will continue to have rights. It would be easy for the Minister to stand up and say that they will continue to have the rights that they have at the moment.
Absolutely. It would be a very easy thing for this Government to do.
This issue is not simply about EU citizens who have come here; it is about people in Scotland who want to have future opportunities. I had an email from Jemma Brown, who says:
“I am a classical musician with a fledgling international career living…in your constituency and I can see everything I’ve painstakingly worked for caving in upon me if my right to live and work in the EU is no longer straightforward.”
I met the owner of a coffee shop across the road from my son’s school who came from Portugal originally. He lived through fascism. He has travelled the world and come to live in Glasgow. I spoke to him on the Friday after the referendum result. He was heartbroken. Nothing I could say could console him or give him confidence that his future in Scotland was assured. I would like Ministers to reflect on that and come up with a strong message that I can give to people I know in Glasgow who do not know what their future holds.
The testimony I have received underscores the reality of the feelings of isolation that Brexit has caused. It is shameful that the Government have not done enough to tackle that or reassure those people about their future. My Home Office casework tells me that the dignity and respect that the Minister spoke of earlier is not a feature of the immigration system. Constituents from all over the world cannot get a fair break even to get into the UK. I have no confidence that the Home Office could even cope with dealing with the immigration status of EU nationals from all round Europe.
In stark contrast is First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s message to EU citizens living in Scotland following the referendum result. She made it perfectly clear that they are welcome in Scotland and that their contribution is valued. I unequivocally reject the notion that EU citizens could be considered as bargaining chips in any future negotiations. The Church of Scotland rejects that, too, and its representatives have been in touch to put that forward. I beg the Government to change their stance.
One of the most depressing conversations I have had in my eight weeks and four days as a Member of Parliament was a phone call on the day after the referendum from a Polish national who has lived not just in Wales but in my constituency for the past 35 years. She is 75 years of age, disabled and living in a care home. She wanted to speak to her MP. She was in tears because she thought she was about to be deported. Speaking to her care home again this week, I found out that she is now even more confused and worried, and sadly some residents have taken to making comments such as, “When are you going home?” That cannot be right in modern Britain.
On the morning following the referendum, the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK woke up to the news that their entire future had been cast into doubt. People who have built their lives, families and careers in our country suddenly, and without a voice in the matter, found themselves in fear of having to leave the UK. Those men, women and children, many of whom feel as British and you and I, found that they could no longer carry on as usual. In the weeks that followed, instead of offering solace to those 3 million people, some in the Government have treated them as bargaining chips.
Far too often, political debate descends into nothing more than talk of statistics and figures. Today, we should allow ourselves to think of EU nationals in our country not as simple numbers on paper, but as the people they are—the 3 million people who now fear for the future, due to the callous remarks of Government Members, are mums and dads, neighbours and friends, teachers and police officers.
The referendum is over, the people have spoken and the UK is set to leave the European Union. Whatever my personal views on that decision, it has been made and we must respect it. However, in the months and years that now follow, we cannot allow ourselves to treat EU citizens living in Britain as political pawns. Today, we are here to debate whether those people should have the right to remain, and in doing so I ask the House to think of the EU nationals in our lives—our friends, neighbours and colleagues—and to consider how their absence would worsen each of our communities.
Across the United Kingdom, particularly in Wales, there have been reports of many who now feel unwelcome in Britain, whether a councillor in Cardiff who was told to get out of the country, or a campaigner in Caerphilly who was told to pack her bags and go home. Let us make no mistake: there is a correlation between the way that some in the Government speak of EU nationals and the hate crimes we have seen on our streets. If the Government continue to treat EU nationals as they have done, we will see those despicable consequences time and again. I hope that the House comes together to send a strong, clear message to say, “You are welcome” to every person born in the EU who has since built their life in the United Kingdom, and that it votes in favour of the motion.
I wish to compliment the shadow Home Secretary on the way he opened this debate. He set the matter out in exactly the right tone, with precision, and suggested how it could be resolved, and I am extremely grateful. I wish I could say that the Minister approached the issue with some degree of certainty, but he was able to offer only a convoluted and equivocal speech that will have generated not certainty but uncertainty in the minds of many EU nationals living in this country.
For me, this started not after the referendum but before it, when during Prime Minister’s questions I mentioned two of my constituents of German nationality who were so upset at the nature of the debate on immigration that they left Scotland and said that they did not want to live in the United Kingdom while the referendum was going on, such were their feelings about the way they were characterised. That issue went even deeper for them, because they had lived in Scotland at the time of the independence referendum when they were allowed a vote. For the EU referendum, however, they were denied the vote that this House should have given them and that would have helped to relieve some of their pre-vote anxieties.
Many Members have constituents who are caught in many different situations. Not only have those two constituents of mine already left—I am trying to persuade them to return to Scotland—but I heard yesterday from a local friend who is a mortgage broker and said that a couple who were due to buy their first home in Scotland withdrew at the last minute saying, “We’re EU citizens. We cannot take the risk of investing here when such uncertainty lies over us today.”
Does that put to bed the lie that the Government have a long-term economic plan?
I always thought that it was rather fanciful thinking on the Government’s part that they knew what a long-term economic plan might look like. We need not a long-term economic plan, but short-term and immediate action for every EU national who lives in this country.
One lady wrote to me in concern because her husband is from Denmark and is anxious about what will happen to them. She asked, “Will our family be split up?” These are anxieties and the Minister might say, “Well, some of those anxieties are ill-founded.” But the anxieties are not ill-founded if the Government lack clarity. If the Government decline to give the clarity and certainty they need, people’s uncertainty and their worries are perfectly legitimate. Minister, it is time to act. It is not too late: do the right thing, and do it now.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I seek your reassurance. Resignations can come at a bewildering pace these days in Westminster, so can you tell the House whether we still have a Government Whips Office? For the bulk of the debate there has been only one Government Back Bencher in the Chamber. That used to be the job of the Government Whips Office. Have they given up?
That is not a point of order and we are running very short of time.
As always, it is a pleasure to follow my old friend the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin). [Hon. Members: “Young friend!”] He is young at heart.
The motion states that men, women and children should not be used as bargaining chips in negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU. I want to associate myself with that statement. Many of us will have had conversations with worried citizens living in the UK who come from Europe. Last Friday in my constituency, I arranged to meet a French national, a teacher in a secondary school, who, like so many of those who have come to live in our country, is making a valuable contribution within our communities. She wants to stay here, but now feels deeply unsettled and frightened that she may not be in a position to remain in the longer term. The conversation I had, with my constituent explaining her fears and anxieties, will be replicated by many of the 173,000 EU citizens living in Scotland.
Where is our humanity to those living among us—our friends, neighbours and colleagues who are fearful as to whether they will have the right to remain here? That is why my colleague, Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, is right to call on the UK Government to guarantee the rights of all those who are living here who are EU citizens. We have a moral and ethical right to enshrine the rights of those who are here legitimately. The Government could do this today. They should have the courage to extend the hand of friendship to those who are here and call this place home. Why would any Government want to cause unnecessary fear and alarm to those who are here legitimately? We should be saying, “You are welcome to stay on a permanent basis.” To do anything less is unacceptable.
The Home Secretary, a future potential Prime Minister of the UK, must make it clear that we recognise the right to remain for all EU citizens who are here. She could have participated in this debate today, put the record straight and allayed the fears of many EU citizens in our midst. Where is the Home Secretary?
The hon. Member for Colchester (Will Quince) tweeted that the Home Secretary is at a food-tasting event somewhere else in the Palace of Westminster.
The Home Secretary may be at a food-tasting event, but she has certainly left a bad taste in the mouth of many of us. Her comments on television last Sunday fell way short of the moral leadership she should be taking. The Home Secretary said:
“We’re still a member of the EU and the arrangements still continue, so there is no change to their position currently. But of course as part of the negotiation we will need to look at the question of people who are here in the UK from the EU”.
If that is not a bargaining chip, I do not know what is. That is precisely what the Home Secretary put across last Sunday. That was an alarming statement: EU citizens by definition being used as a bargaining chip in negotiation. Home Secretary, we are talking about people living among us who do not want to be used as pawns in a negotiation. What a shameful position to take! That is not the position of a leader; it is an abrogation of responsibility from someone who aspires to leadership. In contrast to Nicola Sturgeon, who is providing leadership to EU citizens, the Home Secretary sees them as bargaining chips: leadership from our First Minister in Scotland, failure from Westminster.
Migrants make a valuable contribution to our country and are an important part of Scotland’s future, both in terms of contributing to sustainable economic growth and mitigating the effects of demographic change. I call on the Government to do the right thing today and give certainty to all our EU citizens. Fundamentally, from those of us from Scotland, there is a very strong message: we voted to remain and the best way to protect the rights of our EU citizens is for Scotland to remain in the European Union.
We have had a full debate, albeit in a short period of time. We have heard a huge amount of passion, and the opinion of the House is quite clear.
We heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Chris Elmore) about a Polish care home worker being asked regularly by residents when they are going home. We heard from the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) about EU citizens being afraid to invest in his constituency. We learned during the speech of the hon. Member for Ross, Skye and Lochaber (Ian Blackford) that the Home Secretary is not in her place for this debate because, as was tweeted, she was busy enjoying a taste of Colchester.
I think the technical term is a “stonking speech”, and we heard it from my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown), who talked about a swastika with the word “Out” being daubed on tower blocks in her constituency. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) that if the Home Secretary will not provide a guarantee, my right hon. Friend cannot reassure kids in the playground who are being told to “go home”.
We heard an important speech from my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who said that the Vote Leave campaign was clear on this issue—that no one would be sent back—and asked why the Government had not honoured that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Westminster North (Ms Buck) said that 36,000 EU migrants live in Westminster and that it was hard to overstate those people’s concern. The hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) explained the contribution of EU migrants to the NHS, while the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) mentioned Glasgow’s slogan, “People make Glasgow”, and told us that a high proportion of her constituents are from the EU.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) said that 46% of his constituents were born outside the UK. If the Home Secretary could say what she did about EU migrants, my hon. Friend wondered what might be said next about anyone else. My right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) made it absolutely clear what we are calling for. He said that those here before 23 June must have certainty and he insisted that we cannot have different members of the Government saying different things.
We heard something from Conservative Members. I know that the hon. Members for South Cambridgeshire (Heidi Allen) and for Portsmouth South (Mrs Drummond) are both strong characters who are quite capable of making themselves clearly understood. It would be only fair to say, however, that while they made a contribution to the debate, they rather pulled their punches. They do not normally do so.
Great disappointment has been expressed about the Home Secretary’s rhetoric and the fact that she has not bothered to turn up yet again. She has effectively reduced 3 million of our friends and neighbours to little more than pawns in the negotiations. The Minister for Immigration has been called upon once again to deliver his services and to act as a shield for the Home Secretary. He has come here and done his best. He has provided a lot of rhetoric, claiming that the Government will work to guarantee the rights of EU citizens and that they are confident that the negotiations will be successful. However, he cannot say when these negotiations will happen or when people will be able to have their rights guaranteed. He says that he will guarantee those rights, but he wants to link them to the rights of British citizens living across the rest of Europe. That means that they are being used as bargaining chips. That is what it means.
Frankly, it is all very well for the Immigration Minister to say that these people can fully expect their legal status to be properly protected and that he is confident that it will be, but the problem is that he says this will happen only through reciprocal arrangements and that the Government could not support any attempt to pre-empt it. That is not enough for people to build their lives on. That is not enough for people to know that they can remain in the UK and be able to invest in our country, fall in love, work and continue to contribute to our country. That is not enough. We are ashamed, and the Minister should be ashamed. Three million people should not be treated in this way. They have come to this country in good faith.
It is quite simple. The Minister is able to get up today and clarify the position for those who have been here since before the referendum. It is wrong for the Government to say different things to all these people. We can see and we all know that there has been a rise in racism and attacks, so that people are feeling profoundly insecure. It is in the Minister’s hands to do something about it. He has a responsibility not only to fight back against the thuggish behaviour that we can see happening right now in our communities, but to provide more than just rhetoric. He can do something about this.
Like me, my hon. Friend is both a British and an Irish citizen, and I think she understands the difficulty very acutely. Will she urge the Government to respect the reciprocal rights enjoyed by Irish citizens in the UK and British citizens in Ireland, and to make it clear that they, as well as the rights of all the other EU citizens who currently reside in the UK, will be absolutely guaranteed and protected?
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point—and yes, I should declare an interest. I come from generations of EU nationals. Indeed, the Thornberry brothers built much of Camden. We have made a great contribution to this country, and of course we want the security of knowing that we can come into this country and remain here. We need that reassurance. The Irish need it, but the other EU citizens need it too. It is in the Minister’s hands to give us that reassurance, and he should do so.
This is not just an outrage in moral terms; it is also, in my view, a completely cack-handed negotiating strategy. Ministers suggest that they should not guarantee the rights of EU nationals in Britain until similar guarantees have been provided by the rest of the EU. It shows poor judgment, to say the least, for a would-be Prime Minister to embark on negotiating an exit deal with such an apparent lack of trust in the good faith of our partners, or former partners. If, as has been promised, the UK can expect the best possible deal in the Brexit negotiations, we really must do better than that.
As has been said throughout the debate, it is fundamentally wrong to treat valued members of our society and our communities as mere bargaining chips. We must never forget the human faces behind the numbers. [Interruption.] The Minister says that they are not being treated as bargaining chips, but they are. By linking EU migrants in the UK with British citizens in the EU, he is putting them on the table and behaving just as he does when he negotiates agriculture subsidies and export regulations. That sends completely the wrong message.
These are people. They are people with real faces, whose children are in our playgrounds. They work all over our country, they invest in our country, and we need them. We have some of the best. They have come to our country, and they deserve to have some form of security, because they cannot build their lives without it. They should not be holding their breath until such time—the Minister is unable to tell us exactly when—as their future may or may not be secured.
After all, 3 million of our doctors, nurses, teachers and small business owners come from elsewhere in the EU. They are our neighbours and our friends, and many of them who are, like me—as was pointed out by my hon. Friend the Member for St Helens North (Conor McGinn)—second-generation EU migrants, are our kith and kin. They have the same inherent value as any one of us in the Chamber today, and it is incumbent on us to make that principle clear.
The Government have cast a shadow over the futures of millions, and that is a matter of huge regret. Why was it not considered in advance of Brexit? If the Government had decided to have a referendum, why was there no plan B? Why are they scrambling into a position at this stage? Why have the futures of so many people been made so insecure? How is it possible that a Government can go into a referendum without even thinking that the public might reach a different conclusion, and having a plan B as a result? This is the Government’s fault, but they can do something about it, and they should do something about it today.
If the Conservatives do not vote against the motion, Parliament’s position will be clear: we wish the 3 million people from the EU who are living here to stay, and we want their position to be clarified. Will that be of assistance to them? It is all that we can do to give them some security. However, with a click of his fingers, the Minister could make their futures properly secure by standing up now and saying that the futures of those who were here before the referendum are secure, that they are welcome, and that they will be able to live here.
I was not expecting to see you in the Chair now, Mr Speaker; it is a treat, and a great honour for me.
We have debated an extremely important issue today: the legal status of EU nationals following the EU referendum just under a fortnight ago and the decision by the British people to leave the EU. The people we are talking about—the 3 million EU nationals—are our friends. They are our colleagues, the people we work with, the people whose children are at school with our children, and we recognise that they are people and they have lives and they do need to have certainty as soon as possible. But it is also clear that once we leave the EU there is a whole range of issues that will need to be addressed, one of which is the status of British nationals elsewhere in the EU and the status of EU nationals here.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I am afraid I will not give way as I have very limited time and I do want to make sure there is time for the next debate. I apologise to my hon. Friend.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said, those are the consequences of the decision to leave the EU. It is not something we have shied away from; we were clear in advance of the referendum that it was an issue. The Prime Minister has also made it clear that decisions on issues relating to the UK’s exit from the EU will need to be made by a new Prime Minister.
Having listened to this debate today, there are three key points I want to make and on which we can all strongly agree. First, there is absolutely no question of EU nationals’ status or circumstances changing while the UK remains a member of the EU. I have heard Members’ contributions and the concerns of EU nationals about their status, including EU nationals in my constituency.
Will my hon. Friend give way?
My hon. Friend has not been in the debate and I need to make sure there is time for the next debate.
Let me be clear: EU nationals can live, work and study here in the UK under the existing arrangements. They are able to be accompanied, or joined by, family members, and after five years’ lawful residence they automatically acquire and benefit from a permanent right of residence in the UK. Once they have resided here for six years, they are also eligible to apply for citizenship. I know all will agree that it is vital that we make this clear and provide reassurance in our constituency surgeries and wherever else we are asked this question. May I also ask that we do not use this for party political point scoring? We should not be frightening people. They have a right to remain, and after five years’ lawful residence they automatically acquire and benefit from a permanent right of residence in the UK.
We are an open and welcoming nation and we do not want to create an air of uncertainty, but this is complicated and wider than just the right to live here, and as the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) said, it is about the rights acquired under the EU treaties. This is a complicated point and it will take time to address.
This brings me to my second point. Hate crime of any kind must be confronted and tackled. It has absolutely no place in our society. I have been appalled to hear about some of the incidents that have taken place in the last couple of weeks, and I am clear that nobody should be made to feel unwelcome in the country they call their home. I encourage all victims of hate crime to report it to the police, either at a police station, by phoning the 101 hotline or online through the True Vision website.
As I made clear in my statement to the House last week, we are taking steps to boost the reporting of hate crime and support victims, and we are providing a new fund for protective security measures at potentially vulnerable institutions and also offering additional funding to community organisations so they can tackle hate crime.
Our country is a strong multicultural and diverse nation. The rich coexistence of people of different backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities makes it the thriving and successful country it is. This is something we must treasure and strive to protect, and we must not allow those who seek to promote hatred and division in our communities to succeed.
Finally, I am pleased to note that we all agree that steps must be taken to guarantee the legal status of EU nationals, as the motion says, “with urgency”. This House feels strongly about this issue and that is testament to the invaluable contribution made by EU nationals to the UK economy and our communities. This is welcome and to be embraced now and in the future.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. My hon. Friend is making some strong points about the rise of racist incidents over the last few weeks, but it is important to emphasise that there is absolutely no prospect at all of any Government of any party repatriating European migrants who are living and working in this country. I beg the Government to provide the reassurance that millions of people are looking for—if not today, then soon. It really is a very simple point.
That is not a point of order, but the hon. Gentleman has put his point on the record and the Minister is welcome to reply if she wishes and not if she does not.
I will just say that if my hon. Friend had heard the opening statement from my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, he would have heard that point at that stage.
We fully expect that the legal status of EU nationals living in the UK and of UK nationals in EU member states will be properly protected, but we must not forget our duty to UK citizens who have chosen to build a life in an EU member state. Addressing that issue is a priority that we intend to deal with as soon as possible. As my right hon. Friend and I have said, it is a complicated matter with a range of considerations and detailed work is needed to examine the full range of circumstances of EU nationals and to ensure that any decisions taken have no unforeseen or unintended consequences.
I want to give some examples from today’s debate. What I heard from the Opposition Front Bench was that anybody who was here on 23 June has automatic rights and that that will be the cut-off date. If someone arrived on 24 June, however, would the points-based system of the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart) apply to them? Would they be repatriated? Is it the case that somebody who arrived on 24 June is no longer attracted to staying in the UK? This is a really complicated matter, and we must ensure that we get it right.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I am sorry, but I want to make some progress. I did not intervene on the hon. Lady.
In conclusion, EU nationals can have our full and unreserved reassurance that, whether they arrived on 22 June, 23 June or 24 June, there has been no immediate change to their right to enter, work, study and live in the UK as a result of the EU referendum. I would like to reassure EU citizens up and down the country that we recognise the huge contribution that they make to our economy, our health service, our schools, our care sector, our communities and in so many other ways. We will act fairly towards them just as we expect other EU countries to act fairly towards our citizens living there.
However, as has been set out today, any decision to pre-empt our future negotiations would risk undermining our ability to protect the interests of EU and British nationals alike and to get the best outcomes for both. We will look to secure the best deal for EU citizens just as we will seek to secure the best deal for British citizens in the EU. That is the responsible approach and that is what we will do.
6 July 2016
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
That this House notes that there are approximately three million nationals of other EU member states living in the UK; further notes that many more UK nationals are related to nationals of other EU member states; rejects the view that these men, women and children should be used as bargaining chips in negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU; and calls on the Government to commit with urgency to giving EU nationals currently living in the UK the right to remain.
Just before we proceed to the second of the Opposition day debates, I move to say to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), that it was typically gracious and kind of her to say that she was pleased to see me in the Chair. Perhaps I could say that the sentiment is reciprocated—I was highly delighted to see her at the Dispatch Box. I would of course be so in any circumstances, but especially now as I come to the Chamber having just celebrated with some enthusiasm the truly stunning comeback victory at Wimbledon of my all-time tennis hero, Roger Federer, who saved three match points before getting through to the semi-final for the 11th time. The hon. Lady will understand why I am in such good spirits.