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House of Commons Hansard
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02 November 2017
Volume 630
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15. What progress has been made on the matter of citizens’ rights since withdrawal negotiations began with the EU. [901567]

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We have made great progress through five rounds of constructive negotiations, and we are now within touching distance of an agreement on citizens’ rights. Right hon. and hon. Members can track the progress of the negotiations through the joint table published by the United Kingdom and the European Union. Over two thirds of the most recent table is green, signalling areas of significant convergence. That progress has been built on further in the latest round of negotiations, where we reached agreement on the majority of key issues, including a broad framework for residents, all aspects of reciprocal healthcare arrangements, the vast majority of social security co-ordination, protection for frontier workers, and a commitment to incorporate anything agreed in the withdrawal agreement fully in UK law to enable citizens to rely directly on the terms of that agreement in the UK courts. With flexibility and creativity on both sides, we are confident that we will be able to reach a final agreement shortly.

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I thank my right hon. Friend for that extremely comprehensive response. EU citizens living in Colchester are an important part of our local community. What assurances can my right hon. Friend give me and them that reaching an agreement on their rights before our departure from the EU will continue to be the utmost priority in our negotiations?

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I reassure my hon. Friend and his constituents that protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU, is our first priority in these negotiations. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear repeatedly at the Dispatch Box, and again in her recent open letter to all EU citizens in the UK, we want people to stay and we want families to stay together. We continue to seek a reciprocal arrangement that will work in the interests of EU citizens in the UK, and of UK nationals in the EU. As I said before, we are confident that with flexibility and creativity we will be able to conclude the discussions on citizens’ rights swiftly.

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Will the Secretary of State outline the discussions he has had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and the Home Secretary about EU citizens’ rights in relation to the visa system for seasonal workers, who are desperately needed to ensure that farmers’ crops are brought in at the right time of the year.

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We have had a number of conversations about the labour market generally and about Northern Ireland in particular, because it is an important area with unique characteristics. We have commissioned the Migration Advisory Committee to produce a report that will cover this issue. However, if the hon. Gentleman has specific issues he wants to raise with me directly, I would be very happy to hear from him.

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16. What assessment his Department has made of the effect on the rights of UK citizens living in the EU and of EU citizens living in the UK of no deal being reached with the EU. [901568]

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As I touched on earlier, reaching a reciprocal agreement to safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU is our first priority for the negotiations. It is clear that it is a shared priority for both sides and that there is a lot of common ground between us. We are confident that we will reach a deal and we have held five rounds of constructive negotiations so far.

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There are lots of words, but despite the Foreign Secretary telling EU nationals that their rights would be protected “whatever”, they remain unsure and their morale remains challenged. Why do the Government not just accept Labour’s suggestion of a unilateral recognition of EU citizens’ rights, which would transform the tone of the negotiations and be a giant step forward for this country and the people we serve?

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I repeat from the Dispatch Box what the Prime Minister has said: we want them to stay and we want to protect those rights. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the detail of the negotiation on citizens’ rights, he will see that it is about making sure that this works and making sure that people have their rights properly protected. He will see that we have reached agreement on a large number of areas and that on the remaining areas, the UK offer goes beyond that of the EU in many respects. What we want to do now is seal the deal and make sure that we end up with a deal that provides certainty to citizens both in the EU and in the UK.