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EU Citizens in the UK

Volume 626: debated on Monday 3 July 2017

12. What steps she is taking to reassure non-UK EU citizens resident in the UK about their legal status after the UK leaves the EU. (900127)

On 26 June, we published and laid in Parliament, and the Prime Minister outlined, a paper that outlines our offer for EU citizens. We want to ensure that they have certainty about the future. We have a fair and serious offer that we are confident will lead to a good agreement with our colleagues and partners across the EU.

As someone who is married to an EU national, I can assure the Minister that right now EU nationals do not feel any certainty from this Government. Does he agree with the organisations British in Europe and the3million that the Prime Minister’s offer will severely reduce the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU? Can he also explain why the Prime Minister made no reference to the far superior, detailed and comprehensive offer set out by the EU on 12 June?

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me and colleagues in making it very clear that anyone from the EU who is working and living here at the moment can have confidence about the future. The offer we have made about settled status gives them that certainty. I hope that he will encourage not just his other half but all others on the matter. We ask him to bear it in mind that the offer we have made will mean that anyone from the EU who is settled here will have the same rights as any UK citizen. That is a fair and serious proposal.

Does the Minister agree that the Prime Minister has made a very sensible offer and that this matter could be settled tomorrow if it were not for the EU’s intransigence?

My hon. Friend, as ever, makes a very good point. The Prime Minister has made a fair, full and serious offer that gives European citizens, once they have settled status, the same rights as a UK citizen. I am hopeful that we and our partners across the EU will be able to reach an early agreement on that.

The Minister talked about giving confidence to EU citizens. Given that just under 30% of applications currently being made for EU permanent residence cards are being turned down, what assurance can he give the House that the new application process set out in the White Paper will not lead to the same outcome? Will those EU citizens who are refused under that new process be required then to leave the UK?

What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we outlined just last week in laying the paper that we want to ensure that, when we announce the system next year, it will be a simple, clear system, probably making use of digital technology, so that the 3 million Europeans who are living and working here, contributing fantastically well to our culture and economy, are able to go through that process as swiftly as possible.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) has highlighted, it is bizarre that the Prime Minister expects the EU to reciprocate an offer that falls short of the offer that the EU made on 12 June. Can the Minister confirm that the Prime Minister expects the EU to water down its offer? If so, how does he think that will reassure British nationals living abroad, never mind EU nationals living in the UK?

I will say two things to the hon. and learned Lady. First, just last week, I met one of the Ministers from the Department for Exiting the European Union and representatives of British citizens living abroad to go through with them the position we have taken. Secondly, the Prime Minister is right to ensure that the people who are living in the UK who gain settled status have the same rights as a UK citizen. I do not think any UK citizen would expect any more or less from the British Government.

The point is that the EU offer would give EU nationals living in the UK and British nationals living abroad more rights than the Prime Minister’s offer. One thing the Minister could do to reassure EU nationals living in the UK is to state that access to the national health service will be considered sufficient by the Home Office to fulfil the requirements for comprehensive sickness insurance. That was the cross-party recommendation of the Exiting the European Union Committee in the previous Parliament. What or who is stopping the Home Office from implementing that recommendation now?

It is the EU that is stopping that, and if the hon. and learned Lady has a proper read through of our proposals, she will see that that is an issue we are looking forward to dealing with as we leave the European Union. It is right that we as the UK Government are saying that people have the same rights as UK citizens.

The Prime Minister’s recent remarks on the status of EU nationals were too little, too late. The Government have failed to reassure long-standing EU nationals living here and have failed to prevent the brain drain of much needed staff in high-value industries and academia, and of students. Will the Minister clarify the position of EU students studying in the UK who will be part-way through their courses when we leave the EU?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new position.

This offer applies to all EU residents. If they are in this country and want to take settled status, they will be able to do that. That is an offer that will be open to everybody across the European Union, so in that sense it makes no change to the position of students.