I beg to move,
That this House calls on the Home Secretary to introduce legislative proposals in this Session of Parliament, in line with the recommendation in paragraph 45 of the Second Report of the Exiting the European Union Committee of Session 2016-17, The Government's negotiating objectives: the rights of UK and EU citizens, HC 1071, that the Government should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.
It is the responsibility of each of us—every parliamentarian—to represent all citizens, regardless of who they voted for. We must also all be aware that our actions in this place have consequences, just as our lack of action has consequences. It is now 525 days— 75 weeks on Thursday—since the EU referendum, which delivered crushing uncertainty to our fellow citizens who happen to come from elsewhere in the European Union. We can change that: we can take away the uncertainty that has been so damaging for the past 75 weeks.
Our motion contains a direct quotation from a report from the cross-party Select Committee on Exiting the European Union in stating that we
“should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.”
That is something that this Government should have done months ago, but once again it is up to the Opposition to give them an opportunity to take away the uncertainty and to do the right thing by our fellow citizens. That should apply to EU citizens and to core family members.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman in advance on winning the vote at 7 pm, given that the Government appear to be absenting themselves from democracy in the Chamber. Does he agree that the uncertainty must be cleared up once and for all? Many organisations in my constituency, including the world-class Edinburgh University, require EU nationals in order to remain world-class, and that is why we need to clear this up as soon as possible.
The hon. Gentleman has made a valuable point. I shall say something about universities shortly. The excellence of Edinburgh University is, of course, dwarfed only by that of the University of St Andrews.
I hope that tonight the House will back the ability of EU citizens to remain, and that we will take away that uncertainty. Just as we should be delivering fairness for WASPI women, we should be delivering fairness for EU citizens.
Let us consider the contribution that EU nationals make. Our proposal would benefit not just those in our communities with EU passports, but our entire community. A lot of statistics are bandied about when it comes to our relationship with Europe, so let me give a few examples. There is the £40 billion just to leave the EU—just to keep us standing still—that we will not be able to spend on public services. There are the 80,000 jobs that the Fraser of Allander Institute reckons leaving will cost us in Scotland alone. There is also the £350 million a week that we were promised for the NHS, which we are yet to see. That statistic came from senior Government members who are now in a position to deliver on the promise.
I have two universities in my constituency, and they often rely on the expertise of EU nationals for some of their courses and technology. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that that is very important?
I absolutely agree, and I will come on that shortly. In fact, it is important, not just for universities but across a range of industries.
To add to the statistics I have just given, I will give some statistics applicable to Scotland. Each EU citizen working in my country contributes £34,500 to GDP, which comes to about £4.5 billion overall. Each EU citizen working in Scotland contributes £10,500 in Government revenue—the taxes we spend on our public services. Frankly, EU citizens are better for the economy than Brexit.
The following is a critical point, which I hope the Minister will touch on when he sums up. Will the Government keep the promise made by Vote Leave—made by senior members of the Government—that
“there will be no change for EU citizens…resident in the UK”
and that they
“will be treated no less favourably than they are at present”?
Vote Leave did not tell us much, but it did make promises, and these promises were made by senior members of the Government, who have a responsibility to keep them.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that an EU citizen who came here back in, let us say, 1968, and who had “ILR”—indefinite leave to remain—stamped in their passport but might since have lost their passport, will apparently be required to prove that they have not left the UK for two years since arriving in 1968?
The right hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point about that uncertainty. I have had such cases in my constituency. There are people who have lived here since the 1960s and 1970s and, as far as I am concerned, they have as much right to live here as I do, or as other Members do, but that right has been taken away from them. That is a disgrace to each and every one of us.
I want to make some progress.
There is one way to get rid of scaremongering: to vote with us tonight and give EU citizens certainty. This Parliament has the power to put an end to that uncertainty.
Let me talk about some of the key industries. On the NHS, the Conservatives should be ashamed. Anyone who has spent time in hospital recently or had relatives who have done so, will tell of the outstanding care from all staff in the NHS, including EU nationals. Very few of us will not have been treated by an EU national at some point. Yet the British Medical Association reports that 45% of doctors are considering leaving and 19% have already made arrangements to do so. That is damaging for us all—each and every one of us.
Seasonal workers make an absolutely crucial contribution on our farms. Just a couple of weeks ago I was speaking to a farmer in my constituency who plants broccoli. He told me that it has to be harvested by hand, and that if the number of seasonal workers continues to go down, the harvest cannot be taken in. That uncertainty is being created for industries in my constituency and, I suspect, in rural constituencies across the UK.
There are not many rural elements to my constituency, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that the same principle applies to construction, where we could also face a lack of skilled workers, holding up the building of more affordable homes, which are urgently needed, including in my constituency?
The hon. Lady makes an excellent point about the construction industry.
The University of St Andrews is a big employer in my constituency, with 22% of its academic staff and 31% of its research staff coming from other EU countries. That is absolutely critical.
I want to touch on the human angle now. It is all very well to talk about statistics and the big impact; that is something that we are all aware of. I have asked colleagues across the House about EU nationals in their constituencies, and I want to give hon. Members some examples. In Glasgow North, for example, Michèle Gordon, a Scot who is originally from Germany, runs the Language Hub, which helps young and old people to learn new language skills. In Rosyth, in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife (Douglas Chapman), Dace Stutane, a Scot who is originally from Latvia, volunteers in the community garden to cultivate vegetables to give to local children. In St Andrews, Silvia Paracchini, a Scot originally from Italy, works with a team of five other EU nationals on ground-breaking neurogenetics, including vital work on dyslexia. That work will benefit us all. Nanodent in Glenrothes and Edinburgh has Spanish and Greek dentists who are plugging a gap in that vital service. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford) is married to a German Scot who has worked in the NHS in Scotland for 32 years. The former Member of the Scottish Parliament, Christian Allard, is a Scot who was originally from France. He set up a fishing business and is now in Aberdeen.
The hon. Gentleman, with his knowledge of the Scottish Parliament, will know that the final wood-finishing work in that building was done by craftsmen from eastern Europe. When I was in another place, in another incarnation, Bovis told me that that work could not have been carried out, but for those craftsmen, because we no longer have those skills in this country.
The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, drawing on his own experience in the Scottish Parliament. That Parliament reflects the modern Scotland, drawing as it does on so many people from across the EU.
I want to take an intervention from the other side of the House now.
Is the hon. Gentleman really insinuating that there is a threat in his mind—I believe that it exists only in his mind—that we are somehow going to remove these valuable members of our society from our nation? That is a preposterous suggestion. It is simply fear-mongering.
This is outrageous. If this was scaremongering, the Government would be quite happy to remove the uncertainty from EU citizens, but they have not done so. And what about the 100 EU nationals who received Home Office letters telling them that there had been an unfortunate error? Those letters should have told them, “We are sorry. You are welcome to stay here.”
I want to finish making my points now.
The UK is at a crossroads in relation to the kind of country that we want to see. The first mark of that must be the way in which we treat our fellow citizens. Is the message that is coming out that they are bargaining chips? Or is the message that we should be welcoming them? This is a question of fairness, just as it is for the WASPI women. If the UK Government will not keep the promises that were made by Vote Leave and by senior members of this Administration who are in a position to do something about this, they should devolve this power to the Scottish Parliament and the other devolved Administrations.
I want to finish now, and I am sorry that some Members have not been able to get in.
The day after the EU referendum, the First Minister of Scotland said:
“I want to take the opportunity this morning to speak directly to citizens of other EU countries living here in Scotland—you remain welcome here, Scotland is your home and your contribution is valued.”
Today, we are asking Parliament to use the powers that we have and, as the Brexit Committee has requested, to remove the uncertainty for EU citizens. We can do this today, right now.
It is good to have the chance to correct some of the inaccurate things that were stated just a few moments ago, and it was interesting to listen to the Scottish National party spokesman make a speech in which he simply decided not to recognise democracy. There was a referendum in this country, a decision was made and this Government will deliver what the people of the United Kingdom voted for, and we will deliver that in a way that gets a good deal for the United Kingdom.
Will the Minister give way?
Not just yet; I want to make some progress.
We are listening to the SNP trying to play catch-up, and I will explain why they are yet again behind the curve on where we are. It is slightly odd and, I suspect, somewhat disconcerting for many people in Scotland today to listen to their representatives fail to represent the very people in Scotland who elected them, because there was not a single mention of any British citizen or Scottish individual who is living and working in the European Union. It is proper to ensure that we do right by them.
I am going to make some progress before taking interventions.
More than 3 million EU citizens currently live in the UK, and the Government have been clear that we value their contribution to our national life, to our economy and to our rich and diverse society. We want them to stay, and there is agreement on that. We want them to stay and we want to deliver that for them.
I thank the Minister for giving way. On the contribution of EU nationals, does it not concern him that there is an 89% drop in nurses and midwives coming from Europe and that 11% of UK-born nurses have fallen off the register? If we cannot recruit nurses and midwives, what will that mean for this country’s health service?
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will have done his homework and will have taken the time to look at the work we are doing on what we do as we leave the EU. The independent experts at the Migration Advisory Committee are doing work to look at what we do post Brexit, but let me be clear that we are still in the EU and still have freedom of movement, which will continue until we leave the EU.
I will just finish answering the first intervention before taking any more.
At the last calculation, this country’s net migration figure was some 246,000, and roughly half of them were EU nationals, who continue to come to this country. People see the UK as a country to come to, and rightly so. We should continue to be a country that welcomes people and plays that role.
Will the Minister give way on that?
I am going to make some progress, and I will then take some interventions. I am conscious of the limited time available for Back-Bench Members.
The future rights of EU citizens living here is an issue that has an impact on the lives of millions of hard-working people across the country, and it has been the Prime Minister’s first priority in the negotiations to ensure that they can carry on living their lives here as before. I therefore welcome the opportunity to outline that further today. The Government have been making it clear at every opportunity that we want to offer EU citizens living in the UK certainty about their future status as early as possible. We have been clear that no EU citizen currently lawfully in the UK will have to leave when we exit the EU, and hon. Members can play their part by reassuring their constituents of that fact—I am sure that they would not want to mislead anyone any further.
In June, we published a fair and comprehensive offer in respect of the position of EU citizens and their family members in the UK, giving residents who were here before a specified date the opportunity to take UK settled status after completing their qualifying residence period and enabling them to carry on with their lives as before. Family dependants who join a qualifying EU citizen in the UK before the exit date will also be able to apply for UK settled status after five years’ continuous residence—irrespective of the specified date. We have committed to provide an application system that is streamlined and user-friendly. Our intention is to develop a system that draws on existing Government data, such as the employment records held by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which will for the majority verify their residence as a worker. Our priority is to minimise the burden of documentary evidence required to prove eligibility under the withdrawal agreement.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Does he agree that every day that passes means another day that EU citizens are living in limbo? I assure him that they are coming to my surgery in big numbers. Every day that passes is important, and the Government need to get on with setting out exactly what settled status means and to design a programme tomorrow.
The hon. Lady should look at what has already been said and at what we have outlined. She should read the Government’s offer, which clearly answers her very point. She has a part to play in reassuring her residents, rather than leaving them wondering about things on which they can have fixed answers.
We have already said that there will be a two-year period after exit for people to make an application, and our caseworkers will be exercising discretion in favour of the applicant, where appropriate, to avoid any unnecessary administrative burdens. For those who already hold an EU permanent residence document, there will be a very simple process to exchange it for a settled status document.
I can tell the Minister what EU citizens think of his proposals because one in six of my constituents is an EU citizen. They think the proposals are bureaucratic and expensive, and that they will deliver second-class citizen status. He should withdraw the proposals and give EU citizens equal status, as they have now. He should do it unilaterally and he should do it now.
I am sure the hon. Gentleman will want to go back, check the details of what we have already outlined on how the process will work and update his residents. They do not have to have those concerns, because what he has just outlined is simply inaccurate.
We have also been very clear that we fully expect the EU and its member states to ensure that the rights of UK nationals living across the EU before the specified date are safeguarded in a reciprocal way. Despite not mentioning it so far this afternoon, I would like to think that Members on both sides of the House will want to do the right thing and ensure that British citizens have their rights protected, too. This issue must therefore be resolved as part of the negotiations on our exit from the EU to ensure the fair treatment of UK nationals living in other EU countries.
We are not convinced of the Government’s integrity on this point. Earlier this year, I took a petition to the European Parliament arguing for equal rights for EU citizens living here and for British citizens living in the EU. The petition, which also asks for several other things, has gone through three committees of the European Parliament. I remind the Minister that, ultimately, the European Parliament has the power of veto over the negotiations, which he should bear in mind. Many Members of this House have signed these petitions, which are now going through the EU process.
The right hon. Lady makes an interesting contribution, and I therefore hope she will support us in ensuring that all EU citizens here in the UK are aware of exactly what the Government are doing to ensure that they have confidence in being able to stay here.
One million UK nationals have built their lives elsewhere in Europe, and we want to make sure that we get a fair deal both for EU citizens in the UK and for UK nationals in the EU. That is a sensible approach, and it is one we will continue to take in the coming weeks. As I have said, it is notable that we are the party making that point, which I have not heard from Opposition Members in debates on this issue.
We have had detailed and constructive negotiations with the EU on citizens’ rights and, as the Prime Minister outlined, we are within touching distance of an agreement. Around two thirds of the issues identified have now been resolved, and we have isolated the key remaining issues to agree. We will be working hard in the coming days and weeks to finalise this chapter of the withdrawal agreement and to deliver our shared objective of providing swift reassurance to EU citizens in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU. For the UK to take unilateral positions at this stage of the negotiations would not be appropriate or responsible.
The Minister has sought to criticise my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) for not mentioning UK nationals living in Europe. I know the Minister has met British in Europe, which represents that group, but can he tell us why, if the Government care so much about UK nationals living in Europe, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has refused to meet British in Europe despite countless requests to do so?
The hon. and learned Lady will appreciate that, as the Minister responsible for this portfolio, I have met and will continue to meet representatives from that group. The fact remains that there needs to be an agreement between us and the EU, and that agreement must include protecting the status of UK nationals living, working and studying elsewhere in the EU.
The motion calls for the introduction of legislative proposals in this Session to unilaterally safeguard the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. I have just explained why we should not be taking unilateral action on this issue, as it would be wrong for British citizens. The motion is a little late, as the Government have already announced a new Bill to enshrine the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU in our domestic law.
What consideration has the Minister or his team given to the case of the3million campaign group, which is seeking to examine the fact that when EU nationals arrived under a different treaty they had nothing to do with the Home Office? One of the group’s fears is that the Home Office and its procedures may lead to a complicated procedure, whereas a light touch approach, perhaps from a local authority, may be more appropriate for those who arrived under free movement and with a different set of rights.
The hon. Lady makes a fair point. As she may appreciate, I have met the3million and my team continues to meet it, as it is one of the user groups involved in designing the system we will use. As I have said, this system will be streamlined and simple, and it will be designed through working with the very user groups that will be accessing it, to make sure we can grant settled status swiftly, efficiently and effectively.
The withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill will directly implement the contents of the withdrawal agreement, including the agreement on citizens’ rights, in UK law by primary legislation. As I say, this is why the SNP is somewhat behind the curve. This approach will allow Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight of the process, and it will mean that the agreement on citizens’ rights will have direct enforcement and effect in UK law. Ahead of any primary legislation, we are planning to set up a voluntary application process in 2018, so that EU citizens and their family members who want to get their new UK immigration status at their earliest convenience will be able to do so efficiently, swiftly and effectively.
EU citizens worried about their status here have the Government’s complete assurance that we want them to stay, that we value their presence here, both in our communities and in our economy, and that they continue to be welcome here in the UK. Given that it is in the interests of all parties to protect the rights of their citizens once the UK exits the EU, we are confident that both EU citizens and UK nationals will be protected through a reciprocal arrangement. As I have said, we are now very close to reaching an agreement that will protect EU citizens and UK nationals alike, so any attempt to take unilateral positions would risk undermining our ability to secure protection for the rights of UK nationals living in the EU. When we reach this agreement with the EU, the Government will then enshrine it in primary legislation, providing certainty to the millions of EU citizens who have made the UK their home.
Order. Before I call the shadow Minister, let me say that there are still a lot of Members wishing to speak and so after the shadow Minister I am going to impose a time limit of three minutes.
The International Trade Secretary told the Tory party conference last year that the Government
“would like to be able to give a reassurance to EU nationals in the UK, but that depends on reciprocation by other countries”.
He said any other strategy
“would be to hand over one of our main cards in the negotiations and doesn’t necessarily make sense at this point”.
That is using the EU nationals here as bargaining chips—that is the Government’s approach. This could have all been resolved quickly if the Government had made a unilateral guarantee of rights, as Labour Members were pushing for, and it would certainly have been reciprocated by the EU. At the start of the negotiations, the EU tabled an offer that opened the doors to a reciprocal arrangement. Had the UK accepted it and worked with the EU on the details, we may have settled the issue by now. But the UK did not take that course and instead has created a climate of uncertainty and confusion. That uncertainty has already led to discrimination against EU citizens.
I am going to make some progress, as we have limited time. Labour and the EU citizens’ rights group the3million found more than two dozen examples of job, housing and other adverts that illegally prevented applications from EU nationals. Those adverts have been reviewed by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has written to a number of the advertisers. How can EU nationals who have been here for decades continue to feel welcome if we allow discrimination of that kind?
Even the Home Office is finding it hard to deal with the confusion. Over the summer, it sent hundreds of letters to EU nationals living in the UK, ordering them to leave the country or face deportation. The letters were intimidating and unsettling, especially given the fact that the recipients were in the UK perfectly legally. Instead of providing assurances from day one, the Government made their own offer on EU citizens’ rights. Their so-called settled status offer has been extensively criticised by the3million. The Government must urgently improve their offer and stop acting as if this settled status is a settled matter.
The problem with settled status is that the Government seem to think that assimilating EU nationals into our existing immigration system is sufficient. That was the vision set out in the leaked Home Office White Paper, but it is not sufficient. The Government will have to realise quickly that both our non-EEA and EEA immigration systems need a total overhaul. Moreover, although this debate focuses on EU nationals in the UK, let us not forget British citizens living in EU27 countries. Despite the pensioner stereotype, some 80% of them are working, often on a cross-border basis. What are the Government doing to secure their right to freedom of movement and the recognition of their professional qualifications? What assurances can the Minister give today that those rights will be guaranteed before we proceed to phase 2 of the negotiations?
Another problem is the attitude of some Government Members, who seem to imply that EU nationals are lucky to be in this country, rather than acknowledging the value they bring and the contribution they make to our economy and communities, particularly our public services and not least the NHS. There are 58,000 EU nationals working in NHS hospitals and community health services in England alone.
The Prime Minister has said clearly,
“we want you to stay”
and that we value their commitment. What part of that does the hon. Gentleman not understand?
It is clear that things are still confusing for everyone. What part of this does the hon. Lady not understand—that we need to give a simple offer so that we can move on?
In total, there are 2.4 million EU migrants working in the UK, and a far greater proportion of them are in work than of the population as a whole. They make a huge contribution. What they desperately need now is certainty before the conclusion of phase 1 of the talks. This is what the hon. Lady needs to understand: we need certainty for EU citizens in the UK, for UK citizens in the EU and for the businesses and communities in which they have built their lives. The Government have provided none, as they are still busy negotiating with themselves.
It seems to be an alien concept to the Government, but citizens have rights. EU nationals came here in good faith when their rights were guaranteed under freedom of movement rules. Rather than guaranteeing those rights, the Government are offering them the opportunity to reapply for them, charging them for the privilege, and then pretending that nothing much has changed. That is transparently false. No wonder the EU negotiators seem to believe that the Government are incompetent. The Opposition value EU nationals; it is high time that the Government did, too, and followed up their warm words with action.
My constituency of Banff and Buchan voted to leave the EU—
That is according to University of East Anglia analysis; look it up. The constituency voted to leave, but it was not because the local people are hostile to immigrants. Indeed, immigrants from inside and outside the European Union are welcome and valued contributors to our community. There is no doubt that EU citizens make a great contribution to the economy of Banff and Buchan. One of our key local industries, food manufacturing and processing, has the highest proportion of workers from the EU of any UK sector, with 33% of its labour consisting of EU nationals. Throughout the UK, the industry employs 120,000 people.
Although many EU nationals choose to make their permanent home in Banff and Buchan, many choose to stay for a time to work and then move on. That creates a constant demand for more workers, especially when factors such as poor infrastructure, particularly poor broadband infrastructure, sadly drive many local young people out of the area.
I am sure that it will come as no surprise to the House that one of the chief reasons why my constituents decided to vote leave was the impact of the EU common fisheries policy on our local fishing industry. Leaving the European Union and the common fisheries policy will mean leaving the single market and putting an end to the free movement of labour.
I cannot give way, I am sorry.
The prospect of needing more immigration in the area because we have more fish than we can catch and process is a welcome one. However, it is clear that there is a real need to develop our local workforce in the long term. That includes not only our own home-grown workforce, but the EU citizens and their children who have made their home here. That can be done outside the EU, as taking back control over immigration does not mean an end to immigration, nor should it. Bearing in mind the great contribution of EU nationals, and as someone who has an international family of my own—my wife is from Azerbaijan—I am, like the Prime Minister and the UK Government, in favour of guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens already living in the UK. It is right that we provide protection and reassurance to families and businesses as quickly as we can. However, that must work both ways, and what we are debating today is the idea of unilaterally granting rights without securing those same rights for British citizens abroad. I agree with SNP Members that Europeans who have made their home in Scotland are indeed very welcome, but the same must be true for Scots who have made their homes in Europe.
What we are doing in leaving the EU is not a game, and the question of rights after Brexit affects millions of people—not just EU citizens in the UK, but UK citizens in the EU. It is very disappointing to see the Scottish National party—a party that claims to stand up for Scotland—willing to put Scots living outside the UK last. Neither EU nor UK citizens should be used as bargaining chips—
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) that it is an absolute disgrace that, 18 months after the referendum, our highly valued EU nationals still do not know with any certainty what lies in store for them. Those well respected, hard-working, tax-paying members of our society have been treated appallingly by this Government who, despite numerous opportunities to do so, have ignored all opportunities to make a unilateral guarantee to our EU nationals that their current status will remain unaltered when the UK leaves the European Union. I repeat the appeal today: regardless of what others do, please will the Government do the right thing and guarantee to those EU citizens, who are living, working and contributing economically and socially to the wellbeing of this country, that their status will not change with Brexit and that they are welcome here?
Like other Members who have spoken, my mailbox has been full with letters from worried people, and my surgeries have a steady stream of people looking for some certainty. Let me give the Minister one example—that of Katarzyna Zalewska, a Polish EU citizen who has lived in my home town of Helensburgh for the past 12 years with her young son.
Katarzyna is a highly qualified, respected and experienced multilingual social worker, working in the area of domestic violence reduction among communities in which English is not the first language. She recently applied for UK citizenship, so keen is she to stay in Scotland after Brexit. On 9 October, she received a letter from the Home Office informing her that her application had been refused on the minor technicality that she had not provided her blue residence card. UK Visas and Immigration could not be satisfied that she was a permanent resident on the date of her application for naturalisation. It said to her:
“The fact that that you have been refused is not because you do not qualify for Permanent Residence, it is because you have not provided a Permanent Residence Blue Card.”
That is patently absurd. Her blue card may have expired, it may have been lost, but she has provided references from her employers and a host of other documentary evidence. The irony is that, very shortly afterwards, we all received the updated Home Office guidelines on settled status which said that EU citizens
“will not have their applications refused on minor technicalities.”
I ask the Minister to look again at Katarzyna’s case.
Looking at the wider picture, I have to ask why we are putting people through this emotional wringer. Why are we deliberately making it so difficult for people who simply want to get on with their lives?
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife that Scotland needs a bespoke immigration policy. If the Government here cannot provide what Scotland needs, then they must devolve immigration policy to the Scottish Government. We want a policy of thanking and appreciating those from abroad who have chosen to make their home in Scotland.
It is with some sadness that I rise to speak in this debate, because my constituency has received proportionally more migrants from eastern Europe than anywhere else in the country. Of all places, Boston and Skegness knows the value that people from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere bring to our local economy. Today we have heard a great deal about surgeries being flooded with people worried about their livelihoods. If I may be blunt, surgeries may be flooded if Members scaremonger and tell people that they might not be welcome here. Being prepared to weaponise the lives and livelihoods of people who have come to this country in good faith, and who the Prime Minister has said are welcome to stay, is not good politics or good democracy. Frankly, it is shameful conduct over a genuinely important matter for constituents on the part of people with other political motives.
Government Members have a responsibility, which we are prepared to take up, to reassure people who are genuinely concerned about their future in this country. We have already heard from the Government Front Bench—from not only the Prime Minister but a number of members of the Government—a solid and sensible pitch that we want people to stay. People who have asked for EU nationals to leave do not represent the mainstream of Brexit voters, and they do not represent a large number of people. In my constituency, the only people who ask for “foreigners to go home”, as it is often put, are either those who seek to misrepresent the views of Brexit voters or those who have their own nakedly racist proposition. Neither position represents the views of the Conservative party. We in politics have a duty to reassure our constituents. I know that the small number of people—I mean less than 10—who have come to my surgery seeking reassurance have received just that. They have gone away knowing that this Government seek to provide them with what they need.
I will end by asking, what can Members of this House do? Well, we can do things such as invite the Polish ambassador to our constituency, as I have done. We can stand on a platform with him and say, “This Government welcome the contribution of EU nationals. We want you to stay, and we will deliver that deal as best we can.”
Do not the unintended consequences of the decision to leave the EU seem to be appearing thick and fast? The implications of restrictions on EU nationals seem to be among the most unexpected, for some folks at least.
There has been some talk of scaremongering today, so let us hear the case of my constituent, Francoise Milne. She is French and has lived in the UK—mainly in Scotland—for 24 years. She has been married to a Scot for those 24 years and they have three children together. She has been refused a residency card for not exercising her treaty rights. She maintained the family home and reared three children while her husband served in the Marines, including on tours of duty in Bosnia and in Northern Ireland. He spent more than two decades in service and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. He is a member of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, which is perhaps more commonly known as the Queen’s Bodyguard. The Home Office says that his wife cannot prove that she can support herself. Her husband’s income and her smaller income together provide for the matrimonial home and family life. The love and support she has provided for her husband helped him in his service. The idea that she not been exercising her treaty rights is ludicrous. I have written to Ministers and await an answer, but hers is not the only case that I have been asked to help with.
Marco Truffelli moved from Italy to London as a young man nearly 30 years ago. He built a career in the tourism industry, including as chief executive of VisitScotland for five years. His international management company has prestigious clients and he brings wealth into the UK, but his application for citizenship was refused on the grounds that he could not prove that he was resident in the UK. That was despite providing the receipts from HMRC that the Home Office asked for as proof of residence.
Mr Truffelli is married to a Scotswoman and has three children here. He never thought he would need to prove he had a right to live here. He applied for citizenship following the referendum. If Mr Truffelli does not match the profile of EU citizens this Government will accept, who can? I have also written to Ministers about Mr Truffelli’s case.
Those are just two examples. There are many people with different stories to tell, but a common thread among the constituents coming to see me—and, I imagine, a whole lot of other Members—is the fear that people have: fear that they will no longer be welcome in their home, and that a bureaucratic decision will see them sent away from their family or left without a secure right to stay here. I have constituents who are living in fear of the state. Members should consider that: a modern state—a supposed democracy—where people live in fear of its actions.
All these people, who are making our communities better places to live, are swinging in the wind because this Government are in thrall to a xenophobic wing of the Conservative party and a right-wing, anti-foreigner media. That is ironic for a party stuffed with people who are proud of their ancestry—the Angles, the Saxons and the Normans, that is.
And also the Dutch, in my case, but I will move swiftly on.
I welcome this debate and the chance to highlight the Government’s commitment to this issue. I welcome the Minister’s statement that we are close to an agreement, and I agree with him that the Prime Minister has worked hard to make sure we are in the right place on this issue. However, I mostly welcome the chance to thank people for the contribution they make when they come to this country and work. They work in industries of which we can be proud. They lead on science in our universities, and in our building industry and our NHS. Why on earth would we not want to encourage and promote their security? What we have been shown is the complete lack of understanding of what a negotiation is by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins).
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I have three minutes; the hon. Gentleman had considerably more.
One of the points the hon. Gentleman made was that the husband of the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire (Dr Whitford)—he is a German—has worked long and hard in the NHS. However, the hon. Gentleman showed no care for those British people who might be working abroad, and that is what the negotiation is about.
On the progress that has been made to date, of the 60 aspects we have been discussing, we are on target with 37. The UK has done more than the EU27 countries to bring the process to where it currently is, as is widely recognised. We have reached a crucial moment in the negotiations, and it is important that the processes the Minister spoke about are seamless and that they happen. HMRC will certainly have a part to play, although I would like to understand a little more whether it is the right body to take things forward, because it is not always as fluid an operation as we would like.
There is still progress to be made on this deal—on citizens, the direction of talks, the structure of negotiations and the UK’s future more broadly. Jobs have a crucial part to play in that, and we do not want to destroy the brilliant economy we have, which encourages people into this country.
We need to look after not only the 3 million EU citizens we have, but the 1.2 million of our citizens abroad. That is what we will do, because it is right. It is clear that the negotiations are at a crucial stage, and we must ensure not only that we unstick them and get the best deal for everybody involved, but that we in this House do not behave impatiently with arrogance, or in a way that would critically endanger those people.
Living with uncertainty in our life brings a lot of stress, and we have seen a stunning lack of empathy, exemplified by the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), about what people are going through.
As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) pointed out, we have all been helped by, treated by, served by and supported by EU nationals, and we all probably have good reasons to be grateful to them. To us in the highlands, they are our friends, our neighbours and our colleagues. They happen to come from other parts of Europe. This uncertainty visited upon them is no way to treat our friends, without whom businesses in the highlands face the danger of scaling down and even having difficulties functioning. From cradle to grave, they make a positive impact on Scotland, especially in the highlands, where population growth is essential.
Without inward migration, there will be more older people—incidentally, Mr Deputy Speaker, there is nothing wrong with older people; I have harboured a lifelong ambition to become one and I am making good progress—and a greater need for pensions and healthcare than can be met by their own contributions. We must not forget that older people did their bit when they were younger.
Free of Brexit, it was projected that 90% of Scotland’s population growth over the next 10 years would come from migration, especially in the highlands. It is a cold fact that without migrants, we have more deaths than births. Some 30% of the highlands and islands population live in very remote areas. We need people to help them. The fact that young people are leaving means that we need EU nationals and their families in the highlands.
EU nationals support our health service. Six per cent. of NHS clinicians in Scotland are EU citizens and the figure is higher in the rest of the UK. We have already estimated that we cannot recruit all the regulated staff—doctors and nurses—for hospitals and surgeries to fulfil our future need. As was pointed out earlier, the Royal College of Nursing has seen applications from EU nationals collapse by 96%. Coping with an ageing population is looking incredibly difficult. In the care sector, a survey of Camphill communities pointed out that 170 out of their 251 staff working with people with learning difficulties were EU nationals, with only five UK citizens.
The same is true of the food and drink, tourism and construction industries. As we heard just this morning, an unprecedented alliance of seven of the construction industry’s major bodies has come together to talk about the industry facing a cliff edge over EU workers and an inability to deliver infrastructure. The National Federation of Builders and others have said that this is a disaster.
We need EU nationals across the UK, but especially in Scotland and absolutely desperately in the highlands.
EU nationals living in the United Kingdom form an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of this country. I should declare an interest, as I am married to one. My wife hails from Stockholm. Therefore, it is no surprise that I am very supportive of the principle that it should be business as usual for EU nationals, even if only to have a quiet home life. That is the right thing to do.
We have always been an open, attractive and welcoming country. As Ruth Davidson said at the Conservative party conference in 2016:
“for those who have already chosen to build a life, open a business, make a contribution, I say this is your home, and you are welcome here.”
I associate myself fully and unreservedly with those comments. The Conservative party has ever stood with those who, as John Major said, have the “guts and drive” to travel to another country thousands of miles away to work to better themselves and improve the lot of their families. After all, those are innately Conservative instincts.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will not, given the time.
The Prime Minister has explicitly confirmed that the United Kingdom does not want anyone who is living legally in the UK to be asked to leave because of our exit from the European Union. It is every bit our desired outcome that it will be possible for EU citizens who are already here to be treated just the same as if they were British subjects. No EU national will be treated as a second-class citizen.
The SNP’s scaremongering on this issue is utterly shameful. Putting fear into the hearts of EU nationals by making false claims about their future in this country is an utter disgrace, and SNP Members should be ashamed. They know full well that negotiations on the bilateral agreement have been going on from the very start of the Brexit process. It was one of the first issues that our negotiators sought to resolve. The Government have made it explicit that they do not want to use EU citizens’ future rights as a bargaining chip, but they cannot risk allowing the future of UK citizens in the EU to become a bargaining chip either.
We are making progress. As recently as October, the Prime Minister wrote in an open letter that the UK Government and our partners in Brussels were “in touching distance” of a deal on citizens’ rights. Nothing from any other European leader has contradicted that, and Michel Barnier has agreed that an agreement is close. The SNP wants somehow to unilaterally grant rights to one side, just at the point when we are so close to agreeing an arrangement that guarantees the rights of everyone. That is total madness.
EU nationals are welcome and will always be welcome in the United Kingdom, but I urge SNP Members to think very carefully about how seriously their motion would jeopardise the chances of their Scottish constituents enjoying similar rights in the rest of the European Union.
I rise to represent East Lothian, an agricultural constituency that relies heavily on EU workers at certain times of the year. The constituency relies on EU workers for our care services, and it houses a great many EU citizens who work in the university sector, in our own Queen Margaret University.
We have historically had very close relationships with Europe, especially with Italy. I am thinking about the families, who still live in our community, who moved to my constituency in the 19th century from Barga, in Tuscany, when there was an economic problem. Sixty per cent. of the people who live in Barga, a town with 10,000 residents, can say that they have Scottish relatives, many of whom live in Musselburgh, Tranent, Port Seton and Cockenzie.
There is a lack of confidence among EU citizens about the Government’s intentions, and I hear a lot of cries across the Chamber. Perhaps it is for the Government to clarify their position more succinctly and definitely. I raise the example that I have set out because the connections that exist are deep. Is it too much to ask that our neighbours, friends and workers have their rights secured and understand what those rights will be?
Britain is undoubtedly one of the most open, tolerant and welcoming countries on earth. EU citizens have benefited our economy and our society hugely over the last few years, and they have brought a great diversity to our towns, cities and rural communities. Despite the fall in value of the pound and the negative headlines that have appeared since almost the day after the Brexit vote, the net migration figure of close to a quarter of a million is testament to what a great country this still is, not just to visit, but in which to work and make one’s home. People really value that, as I hear from my constituents and EU nationals who come to talk to me about the matter.
That is probably why even before article 50 was triggered, the Prime Minister said that we wanted to deal with the rights of EU nationals at the very earliest opportunity. I remind the House that the EU stated that that would not be dealt with until after we had triggered article 50. The EU left people in a state of limbo during the months in which we waited to commence negotiations. I welcome the fact that we are “in touching distance” of reaching an agreement on the matter, but, as someone who supported remain in the referendum, I was deeply disappointed with the EU’s initial approach.
To do as the motion suggests now—when we are, as my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie) pointed out a moment ago, within touching distance of reaching agreement in the negotiations—would be a gross error for the 1.2 million people from this country who are making their lives overseas. If anyone thinks that we can do that and everything will be all right, they need to think about some of the negotiating positions that the EU and its member states have taken.
Let me just talk about one EU member state, Spain. Right from the start, Spain linked this issue to sovereignty over Gibraltar. I remind the House that we have just witnessed an event in Catalonia that shows a great deal of bad grace and bad faith on Spain’s part. What are we supposed to do? On this point, are we supposed to hand over absolutely everything, effectively allowing the EU and its member states to take unilateral action or to threaten and say whatever they want? That would be a grave negotiating error.
We have heard a lot from Government Members about EU citizens being valued and welcome, but words are cheap in that regard. I go out and speak to EU citizens every weekend. More often than not, when I knock on doors I will meet an EU citizen, because they are fully integrated into the community and so they are often the partners, husbands, wives or flatmates of British citizens. I am talking not about what I say to them, but about what they say to me. They are genuinely distressed and upset, and they feel as though they are being treated as second-class citizens. That is not just because of the failure to grant or promise them rights, but because of what they are being offered.
The most recent document is the so-called technical note. That is a disingenuous phrase, because the document is a policy statement that gives EU citizens rights that are less than they would otherwise have. We do not know yet whether that will be the final version. The fact remains that there will have to be an application process, and there will be a fee. That applies even to those who have permanent residence already. There will be requirements on such citizens that are more onerous than the ones they currently have to meet. All of that sends out the signal that they will not have a status equal to what they have at the moment, but will have second-class status.
The Government should accept—I cannot better what the3million group has said in response to the technical note—that such people want the same rights as now, and they should be granted that without having to pay a fee and without having to go through a long and bureaucratic process. If the Government do not accept that, the signal they are sending out to EU nationals in this country is they are not as welcome as they should be.
People are already voting with their feet. They are not going to make decisions in a year’s time; they are making them now. These are often talented people who could work elsewhere, and if the Government wish them to leave the country and work elsewhere, they should at least be up front about that. They are suggesting, through the backdoor, that EU citizens currently resident in this country are not going to have the same rights and will not be treated on the same basis, but will have to go through identity checks and residence checks in order to stay in this country. Why should they put up with such a change of attitude and such a change of status?
The Minister should be able to say in response to the motion, first, that there will a unilateral decision, and secondly, that that decision will be for a status that is exactly equal to what residents have now. If she cannot do that, all the words that Ministers have said will carry no weight, and we will see that they are placing less value on EU citizens than they have now.
I am proud to live in a country where fundamental decency and neighbourliness lead us to welcome newcomers and embrace them as our own. There is something inspiring about our warm embrace of citizens from all over the world. It is often said that tolerance is one of the British virtues, but I believe it goes beyond that: it goes beyond tolerance to a warm acceptance and a sense of celebration about our diversity.
We should be gratified that so many people from around the world chose to make the United Kingdom their home, and they make a full contribution to the society they live in. They are an economic positive; indeed, an economic necessity—students, entrepreneurs, skilled workers and valued employees. Before my election to this place, I had the privilege to work alongside and lead teams of wonderful colleagues from across the EU—talented, motivated and inspiring people—who had chosen to come to the United Kingdom and build their future lives here. Every one of those wonderful people, my former colleagues, should, in common with all other EU nationals living and working in our country, be assured of their position in our society, which is as much theirs as it is mine.
That is why the priority, first and foremost, of Her Majesty’s Government in our negotiations with the EU was, from the very outset, to secure the status of EU citizens living in the United Kingdom and that of British nationals living in the EU. This debate is somewhat redundant because we have received assurances, as we did again from the Minister today, that we are “within touching distance” of an agreement to safeguard these rights.
SNP Members have brought forward this issue for debate—they do so with alarming frequency—because every time they do they try to tell people, despite a thousand assurances to the contrary, that their right to stay in this country is somehow at risk. No EU national currently living in the UK lawfully should have any fear, whatever the scaremongers on the SNP Benches may say, about having to leave the United Kingdom when our country leaves the EU.
SNP Members spread fear and panic because they think there is some party political advantage in doing so, but fear and panic are entirely unjustified. Their implication that Conservative Members are somehow plotting to ship back our friends, our neighbours, our work colleagues, our partners and our families to the country they came from is absurd, but it is an absurd narrative that they delight in because absurdity is their speciality.
Whatever spin SNP Members try to put on this situation, the fact is that the people of Britain—the family of nations and regions that make up our United Kingdom—voted to leave the European Union. EU nationals are welcome in this country, and will continue to be welcome here. Frankly, I do not think that the British people who have EU nationals as friends, family, neighbours, colleagues and partners would stand for any other policy, and it is disreputable of SNP Members to suggest that they would. I am happy that this House should take a lead from our neighbours and our friends, as well as from our EU nationals, who are under no threat whatsoever from this Government.
I am prepared to accept the Government’s stated position that they will ensure that many EU citizens living here will stay after this negotiation. I am sure that that is the case. However, I hope that the Minister will have the frankness and honesty to accept the facts and figures that show that many EU nationals have already left since the referendum, which is damaging many aspects of our society and economy.
That is wrong.
It is not wrong. I have shown the figures to the Minister. I have talked to businesses and to the local hospital in Kingston, and they are all worried about recruitment and people having gone home.
The simple fact is that net migration was 246,000 last year. The figures are up for EU nationals coming to this country.
I am afraid that those figures show what has happened in the past. If the Minister talked to businesses and to people working in the health service, he would know that the position is changing significantly and quickly. He is in a completely ridiculous world if he thinks that that is not the case.
I want to challenge the Minister. If he is going to welcome EU nationals, he and his colleagues need to do various things. Italian and German nationals, and other friends and colleagues, have shown some of us job adverts saying that only British passport holders can apply. Will he ensure that the full weight of the law will go against those putting out those adverts, because they are illegal? We need to make sure that that discrimination, which is appearing in our society, is clamped down on. I hope he will give that reassurance from the Dispatch Box and tell us what measures he and his colleagues will take to prevent that discrimination, which is affecting EU nationals here and making them feel unwelcome.
Will the Minister say more—the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) talked about this—about whether the systems that will be put in place will be easy and welcoming, not difficult and expensive? I have a concrete case for him. An EU national with permanent residency in the UK applied and paid for it. The Government—wrongly, in my view—are asking them to apply again for settled status. Given that they have already paid for permanent residency, will the Minister commit from the Dispatch Box that they will not be charged for having to apply again for settled status?
If an EU national who has not been able to provide proof of residency is given temporary status for two years—a new Government proposal for which the EU national will have to pay—will they have to pay again when they apply for settled status after five years? I hope that the Minister will make it clear that they will not have to do so.
I hope that the Minister will also make it clear that the whole registration process will be simple. He said that in his speech, but will he take up the idea suggested by the3million group that, in order to register, people should just have to prove that they have lived here for the past five years and have proof of identity? That would make it simple, quick and unbureaucratic. I hope that he will commit to that from the Dispatch Box tonight.
I hope that the Minister will reassure people about how the negotiations on family reunion are going. This is one of the sticking points about which the3million group is most worried, because its members see the UK Government taking away rights that they thought they had in the past and preventing them from bringing their relatives here. The group has set out its views in detail. It believes that the UK’s settled status proposal is not fit for purpose and should be rejected. It has set out in detail why that is the case and has suggested an alternative. The group is worried about it because it does not trust the Home Office. Many of its members have worked with the Home Office in the past and they feel that it is slow and bureaucratic and that it makes mistakes and is unreliable. They do not want to have to go through that process in the same way as other people who have suffered in the past.
The UK Government absolutely recognise the necessity to address uncertainties. To that effect, the Prime Minister has already committed to maintaining EU citizens’ rights. Many Government Members, including the Minister, have risen—I will not repeat everything they have said—to make that clear.
I declare an interest as a farmer and a food processor. I do not grow broccoli, but the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) has mentioned how important foreign and EU workers are in that regard. Opposition Members do not have a monopoly on this issue. Foreign and EU nationals are important to all hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid) and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman). Foreign nationals are monumentally important to the oil industry in constituencies such as Gordon, Aberdeen North, Aberdeen South and that of my hon. Friend the Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie). The businesses I speak to are relatively positive, in contrast to what the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey) described. Members of Parliament should do their utmost to reassure those constituents who are still anxious about their status that they are absolutely entitled to stay in this country.
With that in mind, we should now do everything in our power to ensure that what is enshrined in UK law regarding the rights of EU citizens living and working in this country is also integrated into EU law with regard to the 1 million UK citizens living and working in other EU countries. Those UK nationals based abroad deserve just as much certainty as EU citizens residing here. I look forward to a reciprocal agreement as soon as possible.
I am pleased to be able to sum up the debate. I hope that the House will forgive me if I do not mention everyone’s contributions, but I do not think I have enough time even to read out the names of all their constituencies—it does give the lie to the myth that the SNP is never interested in talking about anything important, given that both our debates today have been so oversubscribed that they could easily have run for four or five hours each. Instead, I want to pick up on the main themes that have come out on both sides of the debate.
Let me draw the House’s attention to this document, “The Contribution of EEA Citizens to Scotland”, which was produced by the Scottish Government a few days ago. It is only 49 pages long, so it is an extremely brief summary of that contribution. The foreword states:
“The Scottish Government believes fundamentally that continuing free movement of people is in the best interests of Scotland and the UK as a whole.”
What a shame, and what a disgrace, that the United Kingdom Government refuse point black to accept that, because although we have been told that there was a referendum in this country on leaving the European Union, there has been no referendum on the free movement of people or on the single market, and in one country in this Union—this is also true of the local authority that includes Banff and Buchan—62% of people voted to remain.
Many specific cases have been raised by the Opposition, and no doubt we could have heard many more, had there been more time, and of course there are a great many more such individuals who, for various reasons, do not want to be identified. One Member asked in an intervention what part of the reassurances we do not understand, missing the point completely; it is the 3 million people outside this Chamber who also need to understand, and they are simply not reassured. We have heard Conservative Members say that the SNP is scaremongering. Scottish Conservative Members of Parliament are accusing Scottish National party Members of Parliament of scaremongering about the results and consequences of a referendum. You could not make it up, Mr Deputy Speaker—they could, and indeed they did.
Another major theme that we have heard from Conservative Members is that the Government genuinely care about the rights of EU nationals living in the United Kingdom. Why then did it take nine months after the referendum, and a full-scale Select Committee inquiry and report, before the Government realised that their system for allowing EU nationals to stay here permanently was utterly unfit for purpose and, in the view of those 1.5 million people, clearly designed to deter them from applying? Are those the actions of a Government who care as much—[Interruption.] It is not rubbish; it is in the Select Committee’s report. If I had time, I would offer to give way to anyone who could tell me that they had read the Select Committee’s report; clearly, Government Members have not.
We have heard it said that we cannot give unilateral guarantees because that would prejudice the position of the 3 million UK citizens living in the other EU countries. If they had bothered to read the report—certainly if the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), who described the recommendation as “total madness”, had bothered to read it—they would have seen that the recommendation was unanimous and that the Committee, before the last general election, contained a majority of Conservative MPs. Madness! They might even have recognised the names of some of those responsible for that unanimous act of madness, because one is now the Environment Secretary and one is the Justice Secretary. If he wants to tell them they are mad, I think that he can say “bye bye” to his political career, almost before it has started.
British citizens living abroad want the House to agree the motion tonight, because they believe that it is in their best interest that the UK make the first move, but I will finish with one final point. When the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Afzal Khan) used the phrase “bargaining chips”, which came from Ministers initially, not from us, there were howls of protest. What do we call it when Ministers say, “We cannot do A, although we’d like to, because if we do A, it makes it less likely that these people will do B, which we want them to do.”? That is called a negotiating tactic. And what do we call A and B in the standard parlance of negotiation? We call them “negotiating capital” or “bargaining chips”. They might not like it, but that is the language of their own International Trade Secretary.
If the Government refuse to accept the motion, or to act on it when it is passed, because they want to use the uncertainty they are creating in the minds of EU nationals here to try to get certainty in the minds of UK nationals living abroad, not only are they going against the unanimous views of a group that included a lot of their own MPs, including two Ministers, and not only are they undermining the wish of the 3 million people living on mainland Europe, but they are continuing to use all 4.5 million as bargaining chips. They do not like to hear that, but the only way they can stop the phrase being true is to stop treating them as bargaining chips and give the unilateral guarantees that the 1.5 million here and the 3 million over there so desperately want to hear.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members across the House who have participated in this debate on the very important issue of safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living here in the UK and those of UK citizens living in the EU after our withdrawal. I am glad that Parliament has had the chance to debate this issue again, and I hope we can reach some clarity at the end of it. I have heard many SNP Members describe the worries and concerns of their constituents and the alleged uncertainty people feel they are living under. May I please take this opportunity to clarify the situation? I hope then that SNP Members, who are clearly concerned about their constituents, will do the responsible thing and, the next time a constituent comes into one of their surgeries with these concerns, reiterate the Government’s position.
The Government’s position is as follows. [Interruption.] I would be grateful if SNP Members gave me a moment to say this so that they—and their constituents, should they be watching—might understand the Government’s position. Those EU citizens and their family members who are worried about their status here have the Government’s complete assurance that we want them to stay and that they continue to be welcome in the United Kingdom. I ask that that position be clarified when constituents go to hon. Members’ surgeries, because I fear that that misunderstanding, which some of them are labouring under, might be contributing to their concerns.
I will take just one intervention, because I am conscious of time.
I think the Minister needs to understand that those points were raised in response to letters that constituents had received from the Government.
I know that individual cases were raised, and I hope very much that those letters are being chased up if no replies have as yet been received. I also hope that, now that Members have heard the assurances given from the Dispatch Box today, they will communicate those assurances to their constituents while they await responses from the Home Office.
I have another clarification for the right hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Sir Edward Davey). The discrimination in job advertisements that he described is wrong, and I can reassure him that the Government will continue to crack down on any such discrimination.
We heard today from my hon. Friends the Members for Banff and Buchan (David Duguid), for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Andrew Bowie), for Bury St Edmunds (Jo Churchill), for Solihull (Julian Knight), for Stirling (Stephen Kerr) and for Gordon (Colin Clark), all of whom represented the views of their constituents, and some of whose constituencies voted to leave. However, I must make a special mention of my hon. Friend, and Lincolnshire neighbour, the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman), who has the honour of representing a constituency with one of the largest eastern European populations in the country. He set out very robustly the views of his constituents, not only those who are “yellowbellies” born and bred, but those who have had the good sense to move to his constituency from the European Union.
Since the result of the referendum last summer, the Government have made absolutely clear how important it is for us to secure the status of EU citizens here as soon as possible. As the Prime Minister said in her open letter to them, that is her first priority in the negotiations. The right to settled status will be defined in the withdrawal agreement, which will be implemented in United Kingdom legislation.
In respect of the negotiations, the Government wish to offer an assurance that we are close to reaching an agreement on citizens’ rights. There remain only a small number of outstanding issues to be agreed with our European partners. In the coming weeks, the focus will be on delivering an agreement that works for EU citizens living here and for UK nationals living in the EU. The fact remains, however, that there must be an agreement with the EU on this matter. We cannot just wish it away. Taking unilateral positions at this vital stage in the negotiations would risk the position of UK nationals who have also chosen to build their lives with their families in other countries. It would not be responsible for the Government to ignore them and enter into the unilateral agreements that have been urged on us by the Scottish nationalists.
The Government wish to reassure EU citizens throughout the United Kingdom that we are confident of reaching a deal that will enable them to carry on with their lives as before. As the Prime Minister has made clear, no EU citizen living lawfully in the UK will be required to leave when the UK withdraws from the EU. We recognise and value the huge contribution that EU citizens make to our economy, our health service, our schools, our care sector and our communities. We will act fairly towards them, just as we expect other EU countries to act fairly towards UK nationals living there. Safeguarding the rights of citizens is a shared priority for both sides in these negotiations, and a reciprocal agreement that works for all our citizens is now within touching distance.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House calls on the Home Secretary to introduce legislative proposals in this Session of Parliament, in line with the recommendation in paragraph 45 of the Second Report of the Exiting the European Union Committee of Session 2016-17, The Government's negotiating objectives: the rights of UK and EU citizens, HC 1071, that the Government should now make a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals living in the UK.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. May I seek your guidance? This House has now agreed that there should be a unilateral decision to safeguard the rights of EU nationals. How can we instruct the Home Secretary, and when she will come before the House to deliver this?
The instruction has been given earlier, but I will repeat it for the record, to make sure that we are all aware. The Leader of the House of Commons made it clear that
“the Government are determined to listen and take account of views from all sides of the House. Where there is opportunity for the Government to listen and better enable the effective work of Parliament, we will do so.
To that end, I am today updating the House on the Government’s approach to Opposition day debates. Where a motion tabled by an Opposition party has been approved by the House, the relevant Minister will respond to the resolution of the House by making a statement no more than 12 weeks after the debate. This is to allow thoughtful consideration of the points that have been raised, facilitate collective discussion across Government, especially on cross-cutting issues, and to outline any actions that have been taken.
This is in line with suggestions made by Members across the House and I hope colleagues will welcome the new initiative and the opportunity for accountability this provides.”—[Official Report, 26 October 2017; Vol. 630, c. 12WS.]
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Given that sensible explanation from the Leader of the House, will that now be known as the “Leadsom principle”?
I think the hon. Gentleman has just named it.