I beg to move,
That this House supports the maintenance of European Union citizenship rights for Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and English citizens; notes that the range of rights and protections afforded to individuals as European Union citizens are integral to a person’s European identity; further notes that many of those rights are closely linked to the UK’s membership of the Single Market; and calls on the UK Government to ensure that the UK’s membership of the Single Market and UK citizens’ right to European Union citizenship are retained in the event that the UK leaves the EU.
Before I begin, may I apologise to the House? I have a very bad head cold that has rendered me slightly deaf, although that is perhaps no great disadvantage in this place. I caution any Member who intervenes that I might have some difficulty hearing them.
Our motion calls for UK nationals to retain European citizenship after we leave the European Union. The key word here is “retain”: we wish to retain what we already have. It is supported by a wide range of organisations and individuals: the Scottish National party, the Liberal Democrats, the Green party, Open Britain, Best for Britain, the European Movement, The New European, Cymru Dros Ewrop—Wales for Europe, New Europeans, Our Future Our Choice, Brand EU, UKtoStay.EU and Another Europe is Possible, as well as Jo Maugham, QC, of the Good Law Project, and Professor Volker Roeben and Dr Pedro Telles, two of the authors of a report on EU citizenship commissioned by my good friend Jill Evans, the Plaid Cymru MEP. Since the referendum, they have been arguing consistently for the retention of EU citizenship, and I recommend the report to anyone who wishes to pursue this argument. To the relief of hard-pressed Members, I can say that the executive summary is very good.
The crux of our argument is that although we are leaving the EU, the European citizenship rights conferred on UK citizens are not extinguished. Although we are leaving, those rights persist. Continuing Union citizenship is the more convincing interpretation of European and international law. Indeed, the principle that although a treaty might be bought to an end, the rights conferred by it are not extinguished, is enshrined strongly in international law. I refer Members to the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties, which will be binding on member states, the UK and the EU itself post Brexit. Article 70(1)(b) of that convention provides that “legal situations” created during the currency of the treaties continue after withdrawal.
As Professor Roeben et al say on page five of the report:
“This interpretation of the Convention, that ongoing situations and rights continue, is supported by the overriding objective of ensuring legal certainty and preventing withdrawals from treaties having any retroactive effect. It is also supported by state practice.”
That is a crucial aspect of international law. Governments withdrawing from treaties cannot just abandon the rights their citizens already have. Professor Roeben tells me, by the way, that this article, as with much international law, was drawn up with the prominent participation of British legal experts.
There is an alternative reading that article 50 extinguishes all rights of the individual created by the founding treaties. In that case, both EU and international law would demand that a treaty be negotiated on associate Union citizenship, bringing with it a bundle of rights that might be little different from those that come with full citizenship. One way or other, we believe that EU citizenship of a sort is required.
The EU could legislate on citizenship post Brexit. That legislation would protect UK nationals in the EU, but would have no binding effect on the UK—by definition, because we would have left. We therefore urge the Government to look to achieving continuity and associate citizenship through the withdrawal agreement. That is why today’s debate is particularly timely.
The report concludes that neither continuity nor associate citizenship would require any revision of the founding treaties. There is a great deal more detail in the report that I will not go into today, but it will become pertinent if the Government recognise the force of our argument and proceed as we recommend. For now, I wish to set the context for our party’s position and say plainly from the start that Plaid Cymru campaigned to stay in the European Union. This was consistent with our long-term pro-European policy—indeed, that has been our policy since our establishment in 1925.
We have always been aware of our European history and our nation’s European heritage and have set great store by it. That has influenced our party profoundly. Our long-time president, Gwynfor Evans, who was the Member for Carmarthen, would rarely miss the opportunity to remind the people of Wales of our European heritage and our 1,500-year history as a people with our own language and culture, from our immediate post-Roman beginnings onwards to the present day. In fact, his conference speeches would often consist of retelling our history. I am reminded of a small joke made by two valleys members during one of Gwynfor’s speeches. One said to the other, “Good God, this is 20 minutes in and we are only in the 9th century!”
My hon. Friend is making his usual excellent case when he leads these debates. We could go even further back to Saunders Lewis, who was the president before Gwynfor Evans. Saunders saw our European heritage as vital to his vision for Wales for the future, partly driven by his time in the trenches in the first world war and his desire not to see another generation of Welshmen die in the fields of foreign lands.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I was going to refer later to the fact that the European Union has helped largely to prevent war on the European continents, although there are obvious exceptions, such as in the former Yugoslavia, which was not a member of the EU. He makes a pertinent point about Saunders Lewis, who had that profound experience in the trenches. It was one reason why he and his friends set up Plaid Cymru in August 1925 in my home town of Preseli, at a meeting of the Eisteddfod. While I am on my feet, I might as well also say that our profound lack of political realism at that time meant that in a country that was almost exclusively non-conformist, teetotal and in favour of the British empire, we had as our president a Francophile, wine-drinking Catholic—I think Machiavelli is still rotating in his grave after that one, but there we are. The roots of our pro-European stance are very deep indeed.
Given that the hon. Gentleman’s party exists for the fundamental purpose of trying to remove British citizenship from the people of Wales—something that is of significantly more importance to them than their European identity—is his argument not a bit inconsistent?
I can only say, frankly, that my ambition and that of my hon. Friends is to ensure that Wales has an independent future. That may mean that we are reconciled to a British identity as a multiple identity for now, and hon. Members will know all about this—one can allegedly be Welsh and British, which is an argument that I hear from Members on both sides of the House, or Welsh and European, which is our argument. I certainly feel Welsh and European.
This goes to the crux of the argument. We are talking about our rights as individuals and the identity of individuals. I speak as a Londoner born and bred. I live in Wales and I claim Welsh nationality, and I am also proud of being European, but our rights as individuals are under threat. That is the point we have brought to the Chamber.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I was going to go on to say that this is more than just a matter of self-ascribed identity. It is about the real practical matters of the rights to travel and work—the European rights that have benefited people in Wales and throughout the UK. There is an argument about identity, and I will talk about that in a moment, but I do not think that it has the force that the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton) seemed to imply.
I was talking about Gwynfor Evans, who would often remind us of three pillars of Owain Glyndŵr’s policy during the 15th-century war of independence, as related to the King of France in the Pennal letter, which some people will have seen when it was on a visit to Aberystwyth some years ago. He said to the King of France that one of the central pillars was the need for a direct relationship with Rome for the Church in Wales—it was a very long time ago, and that was important then. It was about a direct relationship with the overarching European institution, rather than an indirect link mediated through Canterbury—some people will hear the echoes of the current situation in that policy.
By the way, the other two pillars of Glyndŵr’s policy were for Welsh to be the state language and for two universities to be established at a time when they were first being established across Europe by ambitious leaders. Some 600 years later, we have excellent universities in Wales. We are nearly there on the language issue, but on the European issue we are taking a serious step back.
From the start, my party took inspiration from continental developments of economic and social co-operation, as exemplified in the writings of D. J. Davies. We found European multilingualism far more congenial than the stifling monolingualism of so much of the UK’s public life. I say in passing that right hon. and hon. Members may not know that the most recent meeting of the Welsh Grand Committee was held here in Westminster with simultaneous translation. Half those who spoke did so partly or wholly in Welsh. No one was hurt. Revolution did not break out. Hansard published what I think is its very first wholly bilingual record—I should mention that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew) spoke in Welsh, and I congratulate him sincerely on his efforts—but that reflection of the actual linguistic condition common in these islands is still very much the remarked-upon exception, rather than the rule. That is not so over much of the rest of our continent.
Turning to present times, given our radical political stance, Plaid Cymru has always supported the growth and development of European policies beyond the narrow confines of the common market, which we initially joined. Ordinary people across the UK have derived so much benefit from those social, workforce and environmental policies, and EU citizenship is, for me, in that category. Importantly for our country, the EU has an overt regional economic cohesion policy, from which Wales has derived substantial additional funding. Of course, it is a cruel irony that we benefit thus only because of our poverty and our economy performing so badly, on a par with regions of the former Soviet bloc at the eastern end of the European Union.
In passing, I must also refer to other EU measures such as Interreg Europe, which promotes inter-regional contact between Wales and Ireland. Wales faces west as well as east, although many people, including Government Ministers, sometimes do not realise that. My colleague, the hon. Member for Ynys Môn (Albert Owen), used to say occasionally that Holyhead was east Dublin rather than north-west Anglesey. We have also benefited from the Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Erasmus programme on student exchange, to name just three from which Wales along with other parts of the UK has benefited, and in respect of which, I say to the Minister, there is much concern, not least at our universities, and I mention my own, Bangor University.
While the hon. Gentleman is on that subject, does he agree that it would be useful if the Government made an estimate of the amount of money that would have come to Wales from the European regional development fund and the European social fund in the 2021-27 tranche and promised that Wales will still receive the same amount of money or more?
I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. As with so many things Welsh, we lack the basic statistical information and the basic projections. I know that the Government do not believe in experts, projections and forecasts, but I sometimes wonder on what they do depend. In Rome, they depended on examining the entrails of sacrificed animals—I do not know whether that is what they get up to—but he makes a serious point: if we knew what we were dealing with, we could make the argument more effectively.
I am glad that my hon. Friend mentions Erasmus and Horizon, two schemes whereby the Welsh Government could act bilaterally with the EU. Does he share my concern, arising from my discussions with colleagues in Brussels, that the Scottish Government seem far in advance of the Welsh Government in negotiating with the EU how those schemes could be continued in our respective nations?
That is a very good point. We have examined the bilateral agreements that other countries have with the EU. The Brexit Select Committee, of which I am a member, recently had the Swiss ambassador to the EU and Swiss experts before it discussing these bilateral agreements, and they are extremely useful for Switzerland; they are less useful, apparently, in the eyes of the EU, but my hon. Friend’s point is that other devolved Governments and Administrations have taken these matters further. I sincerely wish that our own Government would do the same.
I am drifting a little from the central question, which is the matter of European citizenship, to which I will now return. Many people listening will be thinking, “Didn’t Wales vote to leave the EU—if by a narrow margin?” Like many hon. Members, I continue to receive angry messages from Brexit supporters. The only one repeatable here is: “We’re leaving—get on with it.” I have a vast collection of others that are slightly less polite. We are indeed leaving—unless, of course, there is a sudden outbreak of common sense on the Government Benches—but it is not as simple as that. We are learning—even the Secretary of State for International Trade, who famously said that negotiating new trade deals with the EU would be the simplest thing in the world, is learning—to our cost that it is not that simple, and today’s motion is just one part of our efforts to salvage something from the wreckage of this slow-motion disaster.
For the benefit of my Brexiteering interlocutors, and as a Back-Bench MP responsible to my Arfon constituents, I want to note that all four Plaid Cymru constituencies voted to remain. This is in marked contrast to other Welsh constituencies that share our socioeconomic characteristics—marginalisation, poverty, powerlessness and low wages—but which are represented in this place by parties whose policies on the EU are, at best, a little less clear. Being broadly in favour of the EU, even in our present poor economic condition, is my Arfon constituents’ consistent view, as I will illustrate with a couple of points. First, in the 2015 general election, at the peak of UKIP support, 39 of Wales’ 40 constituencies swung to UKIP—the exception was Arfon, which swung to Plaid Cymru; and secondly, Arfon, I am proud to say, voted in the referendum to remain in the EU by a margin of 60:40.
We have valued our membership of the EU, including the economic support it has given us, and one aspect of this is valuing our European citizenship. The Welsh philosopher J. R. Jones, writing in the early 1960s and commenting on the then apparent terminal decline of the Welsh language, said something like this—I paraphrase in English for the benefit of the House:
“Leaving your country is a common and sometimes sad experience. But I know of something which is much more heart rending, for you could always return to your native land. And that is, not that you are leaving your country, but rather that your country is leaving you, being finally drawn away into the hands of another people, of another culture.”
J. R. Jones and many others inspired the next generation, including me, to campaign for the language, and as a result it is not threatened with extinction, for now at least. His insight is particularly telling today, in that for many, particularly of the younger generation, leaving the EU is just such a heart-rending experience.
I found that quote particularly moving, having found in my constituency and, indeed, my own family, young people who know nothing more than being part of the EU. We are taking their identity away from them and, indeed, from ourselves, because for 40 years we have known nothing else than being proud Europeans.
That is exactly the point I intend to make.
Many young people told me after the referendum that the result had been a profound emotional shock, an assault on the very foundations of their personal identities as Europeans, one telling me that she had been in floods of tears. They told me how they regretted losing key practical rights—this is not just an emotional identity matter—such as the right to travel without hindrance within the EU and the unqualified right to work and to study in other European countries. Today the UK Government have an opportunity to heal some of these divisions—intergenerational divisions and divisions between all peoples of these islands, particularly, as we have heard, in Ireland.
My hon. Friend makes a telling point to which I will return in a moment and which is covered by the two aspects of citizenship that we are proposing. The first concerns continuing citizenship for those of us who are citizens of the EU now by means of a bilateral treaty. The second concerns those who, being unborn, cannot access that citizenship—this is a matter for our children and our children’s children. Particularly acute, however, for me at least, is the position of those aged 14, 15 and 16 who understood the issues in the referendum but were unable to vote. I should say in passing that my party has always been in favour of reducing the voting age to 16, which would have made a considerable difference to the result.
As I said, today the UK Government have an opportunity to heal some of these divisions. This is a positive point from the Plaid Cymru Benches, and I hope that the Government see it in that light. We are calling on them to secure and retain our right to European citizenship and not to take away what is already rightfully ours, so that we might leave the EU with just a little less self-inflicted injury.
We are European citizens, although I have to confess that I am biased: I am married to a European citizen—she is from Llanelli. She likewise is married to a European citizen—I am from Pwllheli. I do not want to labour the point, but we are both Welsh and European. I am therefore biased, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) said, so are our many friends and colleagues who have chosen to live and work in Wales and become Welsh, but not by rejecting their European citizenship or identity. To quote Gwynfor Evans again:
“Anyone can be Welsh, so long as you are prepared to take the consequences.”
That is our definition of citizenship. The citizens of Wales are those who are committed. I would commend that as a general definition of civic identity—I suppose I should say “civic nationalism”, but perhaps I should let that pass.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman and his Plaid Cymru colleagues on securing this debate and I am very much looking forward to giving the Scottish National party’s fraternal address to their conference in a couple of weeks. Does he agree that the Welsh nationalism that he and his colleagues espouse is very much like Scottish nationalism, in that it is outward looking and internationalist, and that all that our parties want is for our countries to be nation states with a seat at the top table in the EU, wielding the kind of power that the Republic of Ireland is currently wielding?
I agree entirely. As I said, my definition of identity, be it Welsh, English, Scottish, Northern Irish or whatever, is that it is self-ascribed—it is something that someone claims. That is why my party has such members as my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, who comes from London—born in Eltham, I think—but is entirely Welsh and Welsh speaking. That is probably a consequence of marrying someone from Blaenau Ffestiniog, where no quarter is given or expected, but the point is that we have people in our party who come from all over the world, and long may that remain the case—we have no exclusive definition.
As I have said, Gwynfor said, a very long time ago:
“Anyone can be Welsh, so long as you are prepared to take the consequences.”
Those consequences, for us as European citizens, are that we have wide rights to travel, live work and study anywhere in the EU. European citizenship also gives us rights under EU law in respect of health, education, work, and social security, as well as the right to be free of discrimination based on nationality—which, I think, is relevant to what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd. The assumption so far on both sides, the EU and the Government, is that EU citizenship will lapse at the point of our exit from the European Union. However, EU citizenship did not replace UK citizenship when it came into force. It is additional: the two continue to co-exist, and leaving the EU does not entail the end of EU citizenship for UK citizens.
Unfortunately, the Government, by default, are intent on taking away something that is of significant value to the people of these islands. They should not do so. In fact, they should make the retention of EU citizenship an important central plank of future negotiations. It is something that we can ask—demand—of the European Union; it is something that it is in its power to give, and something that would be valued by our citizens. It would benefit us all, not least by establishing a common status for all EU citizens who live here, including those with Irish heritage and the 3 million or so people who have moved here from EU member states. It would establish a level playing field.
There was a glimmer of hope last year when, on 2 November, Bloomberg reported the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union as saying that the UK was—in the words of its headline—
“Open to Talking About Associate Citizenship After Brexit”
—which came as a surprise to some people—
and that that would allow “visa-free working rights” to UK nationals. The Secretary of State said:
“We’ll listen to anything of this nature. The aim of this exercise is to be good for Europe, good for Britain, and that means good for the citizens of Europe and Britain.”
I also note that the Prime Minister said in her statement on Monday that
“UK and EU citizens will still want to work and study in each other’s countries, and we are open to discussions about how to maintain the links between our people.”—[Official Report, 5 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 26.]
Perhaps I am over-interpreting, but that seems to me to be potentially code for associated citizenship. We shall see how things develop, but for me it had the flavour of a “get out of jail free” card.
Today I am arguing for maintaining the status quo. We are European citizens and will continue to be so, but obviously I urge the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister even now to pursue their less ambitious line further. For those who ask for a precedent for EU citizenship—and some have asked me for one—I point to the situation when Ireland became a free state. The UK allowed Irish citizens to retain their UK citizenship then, and indeed, as Brexit problems and contradictions have closed in, the Government—from the Prime Minister down—have been lavish in their praise for the arrangements between the Irish Republic and the UK. That is a model of which they approve.
Earlier, I mentioned people of Irish heritage. It is little remarked upon, but those with a qualifying link with any part of the entire island of Ireland through either family or residence—even a short residence in Northern Ireland—can apply for an Irish passport. That applies to millions of British people, including my neighbour Miss Norah Davies, whose passport application I was happy to sign some weeks ago. Her passport has now arrived, much to her satisfaction. I caution Ministers not to tangle with angry older citizens; they do so at their peril. Norah Davies’s link with Ireland through her mother reaches back to the first part of the last century. My link, alas, petered out two generations before hers, and I therefore do not qualify.
There is a little-known anomaly which I and others have been trying to address, and to which the hon. Gentleman alluded inadvertently a moment ago. When the Irish Republic, or the Irish free state as it was then, left the Commonwealth in 1949, the British Government of the time allowed those who had been born in the Republic and had moved to Northern Ireland or elsewhere in the UK to retain their British citizenship. Nowadays, those who were born in the Republic and live in Northern Ireland cannot obtain British passports, although people who have never been to the Republic can obtain Irish passports. In terms of UK citizenship, those people are still somewhat disadvantaged. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is talking about EU citizenship, but given his allusion, does he agree that that needs to be addressed?
I must confess that I was entirely unaware of the issue that the hon. Gentleman has raised. If that is indeed the case, I think that it bears more examination, and I should be interested to discuss it with him further.
I was talking about Irish citizens and those of Irish extraction. There is a certain serendipity in the fact that UK-Irish citizens have those rights on the basis of one grandparent while the rest of us do not. There will be people like me with British citizenship, people of Irish extraction with Irish citizenship, Irish people with Irish citizenship who live, work and vote here, and EU citizens with a certain status, whatever that may be. There is a certain randomness about the whole arrangement, which would in some respects be addressed by an overarching European citizenship. I fear that that serendipity will inevitably become more pressing when those with the favoured passports join the short queue at holiday airports while their less fortunate neighbours wait in the “others” line. It will have hit us a bit harder by then.
The Government say that they want a close relationship with our EU partners. That is their ambition, cited over and over again. They now have a practical opportunity to support that relationship through continuation citizenship for current British EU citizens, and, for all those who will not be EU citizens at the point of our leaving—that is, the unborn—a future status through associate EU citizenship.
So far the debate has been dominated by trade issues, the divorce bill and the Irish border—those are the issues with which we have been grappling for many months—but many Brexit promises before the referendum had an individualistic quality. People felt that they were being promised something individually. We would be richer and have better services, not least through having an extra £350 million every week to spend on the NHS. Promises such as that persuaded people, along with, of course, the immigration issue.
The paradox has not escaped me.
Here is a chance for the Government to redeem themselves partially by securing for all UK individuals in the future that which they already have: UK and European citizenship. That would be popular. According to research findings published last year by the LSE and Opinium, six out of 10 people want to keep their EU citizenship. Support for retaining rights is particularly strong among 18 to 24-year-olds, 85% of whom want to retain their EU citizenship. They are the generation, more than any other, that will have to deal with the long-term fallout from Brexit over the coming decades, and to deal practically and emotionally with the loss of their firm expectation of continuing EU citizenship. Many members of that generation did not have a vote in the referendum, although they will be profoundly affected by its consequences—unless, of course, the Government take heed of our argument today. Thankfully, it is not my responsibility to drum up support for the Conservatives, but were the Government just to look to their own enlightened self-interest, they would see that at least one path is clear from the debate. If they will not do so, can we at least expect the Labour party to see where its interest lies, to support the motion, and to protect our people’s rights?
I am advised by wiser heads that there would be no new treaty requirements, so now is the time for the Government to give a clear and practical sign that they are taking UK citizens’ rights seriously—not by withdrawing our rights without our explicit consent, but by securing European Union citizenship for all, not just the random few. What is needed now, and what is currently lacking, is vision and clear political leadership to mend some of the divisions that Brexit has opened up. In the Prime Minister’s own words last Monday,
“let us get on with it.”—[Official Report, 5 March 2018; Vol. 637, c. 28.]
I thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for his typically thoughtful comments, and also congratulate him on having managed to get through his entire speech with a very difficult throat—which I thought improved as time went on.
I welcome this opportunity to debate the Government’s policy on EU citizenship after the UK leaves the European Union. EU citizens in the UK make a significant contribution to our national life and we want them and their families to stay.
From the very beginning, the Prime Minister has been clear that safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU was her first priority for our negotiations. We have now delivered on that commitment and have reached an agreement with our EU partners on citizens’ rights. The agreement was set out as part of a joint report issued on 8 December; it provides the millions of EU and UK citizens living in the UK and the EU respectively with certainty about their future rights, and, most importantly, allows them and their families to carry on their lives broadly as they do now.
The agreement will protect citizens who have been exercising free movement rights at the time of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. All family members living lawfully with a qualifying citizen at this point are also protected, and close family members can continue to join qualifying citizens on EU law terms after exit. We have agreed with the EU that we will introduce a new settled status scheme under UK law for EU citizens and their family members covered by the agreement. Those who have already had five years of continuous residence in the UK will be eligible to apply for settled status. Others will be able to remain in the UK to build up their five years’ residence.
The scheme, which will open for applications by the end of 2018, is being designed and built from scratch. The application system will be streamlined and user-friendly, and will draw on existing Government data to minimise the burden on applicants to provide evidence. We are engaging with stakeholders who represent EU citizens in the UK, as well as separate diaspora groups in the UK, to discuss and understand their needs for the settlement scheme. I thank those who have already participated and shown willingness to engage, particularly the EU ambassadors who have beaten a path to my door to explain how they can assist. Our next priority is to turn the December agreement into binding legal text for the withdrawal agreement.
I thank the Minister for what she said on EU nationals. However, in common with many other Members, I have had a large number of EU nationals approach me who are worried about certainty. I have the military base of Leuchars in my constituency and those who have German wives, for instance, still do not have certainty. I know the Minister might not be able to answer this today, but please will she look into that, particularly for military families?
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, particularly for military families, who move around a great deal and for whom it might be harder to demonstrate living in one particular place. We are determined to make sure this scheme has a default position of accepting that people are EU citizens living here, and we want there to be a default “Yes” for settled status, and certainly not a default “No.”
We have been clear that we will seek to agree an implementation period beyond March 2019 of around two years. The purpose of such a period is to give people, business and indeed our own public services in the UK and across the EU the time they need to put in place the new arrangements that will be required to adjust to our future partnership. It will take time to implement a new immigration framework.
I am going to move on to the points the hon. Member for Arfon made, and perhaps the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) will indulge me by allowing me to get there.
As I was about to say, during the implementation period, which will be time-limited, people will be able to come to the UK to live and work as they do now, and this will be reciprocal, meaning UK nationals will also be able to travel to live and work in the EU.
Last week, the Home Secretary published a position paper setting out that EU citizens arriving during the implementation period should be able to work towards settlement in the UK. People arriving during this period should not have the same expectations as those who arrived during our membership of the EU, but it is right that we set out the rules that will apply to these individuals when this period ends, to provide them with the certainty they need. These rights will be enforceable in UK law, and we will not seek to include them in the withdrawal agreement; however, we will discuss this with the Commission in the coming weeks.
Turning more broadly to the question of EU citizenship, the Government have been clear that our membership of the EU will end on 29 March 2019. We are content to listen to proposals from the EU on associate citizenship for UK nationals. However, to date this has not been formally proposed to the UK in the negotiations. EU treaty provisions state that only citizens of EU member states are able to hold EU citizenship. Therefore, when the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, UK nationals will no longer hold EU citizenship unless they hold dual nationality with another member state.
Does the right hon. Lady not agree that we are talking about an interpretation of the law as it stands and a matter of political will? We would be begging the Government to bring this matter, as the right of individual citizens of the United Kingdom, into negotiations as we move forward with Brexit?
As I said just a moment ago, the Government position is that we are very happy to discuss this specific issue, but we must do so reflecting on the law as it currently stands, and the position in law is very clear: once we have left the EU, citizens living here will no longer be resident in an EU member state.
The Prime Minister has been clear, and she reinforced this message in her speech on Friday, that we are seeking the broadest and deepest possible future partnership with the EU, and that a key part of that is maintaining the links between our people. We are clear that, as we leave the EU, free movement of people will come to an end and we will control the number of people who come to live in our country, but UK citizens will still want to work and study in EU countries, just as EU citizens will want to do the same here, which is why the Prime Minister is putting the interests of EU and UK citizens at the heart of her approach, and we are open to discussing how to facilitate these valuable links.
First, may I put on record my thanks to the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for the considered way in which he opened the debate? I also wish him a speedy recovery from the heavy cold he has been suffering from, and congratulate him on getting to the end of his speech.
I listened carefully to what the Minister said, but I am afraid that the weakness at the heart of the Government’s position—whether on EU citizenship in the future, the rights of EU citizens in this country, or indeed immigration more generally—is the failure of the Government to bring proposed legislation before this House. I start with the immigration Bill which was originally scheduled to be published last summer. The Home Secretary said last October to the House and the Home Affairs Committee that there would be an immigration White Paper by the end of last year and a Bill early this year. The then immigration Minister—not the right hon. Lady, but her predecessor the right hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis)—told the Committee in November that a White Paper would be produced soon. The right hon. Lady told this House on 5 February that there would be a White Paper
“when the time is right”.—[Official Report, 5 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1211.]
She then said on 26 February that there would be a White Paper in due course. That is simply not good enough to deal with an issue of this seriousness.
Words are very important, not just the various contorted phrases the Government have used to justify their inaction, but also remarks made about the status of our existing EU citizens, and the reported comments of the International Trade Secretary that the
“uncertain status of EU nationals living in the UK is ‘one of our main cards’ in the Brexit negotiations.”
That is a matter of great regret.
Does my hon. Friend agree that many companies rely on their employees travelling, often at very short notice? I am thinking of Airbus—a certain number of people from this country will just hop on a plane to Toulouse or Bremen to finish the work if a wing is not finished. Things like that need to be considered owing to the potential effect on future investment choices that such companies will make.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It comes as no surprise that the deputy director general of the CBI, no less, has said of this Tory Government that he is “hugely frustrated” by their lack of progress on an immigration Bill.
EU citizens are our friends, our colleagues and our neighbours. They are people on whose doors we knocked in the general election last year. When people are making a positive contribution to our economy, our national health service, which already has issues with recruitment, social care, our universities and other sectors, the Government’s continuing failure to legislate only highlights the fact that they could have done so much unilaterally a long time ago. The Minister referred to the phase 1 agreement, which I have in front of me, and the continuing uncertainty mentioned by the hon. Member for Arfon remains an issue. Paragraph 34 of the agreement is clear:
“Both Parties agree that the Withdrawal Agreement should provide for the legal effects of the citizens’ rights Part both in the UK and in the Union. UK domestic legislation should also be enacted to this effect.”
Where is the legislation? It should be brought forward as soon as possible.
We now know that nothing will be agreed in the negotiations until everything is agreed. We also know, because the Immigration Minister told the House a few weeks ago, that the Migration Advisory Committee has been asked
“to advise on the economic aspects of the UK’s exit”
by September, and I see that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), is nodding. The Immigration Minister then said that there was
“plenty of time to take account of the MAC’s recommendations in designing the longer-term immigration system for the UK.”—[Official Report, 5 February 2018; Vol. 635, c. 1212.]
She says “plenty of time” but this is a two-year Parliament, and she has until March 2019 to get legislation on the statute book. Time is of the essence. If I take the Minister at her word that we will have the legislation when the time is right, may I gently suggest that that time might be now? She attends the Cabinet in her role as Immigration Minister, and she needs to persuade the Cabinet to give her the time to bring the legislation before this House. While it is my view and that of the Opposition that the status of EU nationals in this country should have been dealt with unilaterally a long time ago, not left subject to negotiation in this way—nor should there ever have been the reported comments of the International Trade Secretary that people be used as bargaining chips—the Minister could act now, and act she should.
I welcome the contribution from the hon. Member for Arfon, and the Minister said that it would be considered, and we must be careful about not excluding options from the table as we go forward. None the less, I suggest to the Minister, as she tries to put together the whole gamut of immigration policy for this country post-Brexit, that in order to achieve a fair, managed and efficient policy she must look at this country’s economic needs and work with business and the trade unions.
I have just said that we should not take any options off the table. I always welcome contributions from the hon. Gentleman, and I look forward to the Government’s response—[Interruption.] I will certainly give the hon. Member for Horsham (Jeremy Quin) my position on a number of matters in a moment, but let me make another point first.
Perhaps the Tory party could repair its relationship with the CBI if it properly consulted business and the unions about our future immigration system. It could end the years of exploitation of migrant workers, which it has done so little about, increase the number of prosecutions for breaches of the National Minimum Wage Act 1998, which have been going on for far too long, reinstate the migrant impact fund, remove international students from the statistics and, perhaps above all, move away from this obsession with bogus immigration targets. The Tories have never achieved their numerical target, despite having promised it over three general elections.
I have much sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has to say, but it does not relate to the motion, which is about the future rights of UK citizens. There is an interesting discussion to be had about the rights of EU citizens coming into the UK, but that is for another debate.
I have responded to the point made from the hon. Member for Arfon about that. I appreciate the narrow point about UK citizens going forward, but this is a broad debate and I am sure that the hon. Lady would not want to lose the opportunity to put such matters to the Minister, as I am seeking to do.
I conclude by saying that an unconditional commitment on the rights of EU citizens in this country could have been made already. It can still be offered, and the Government should move away from their obsession with numbers and restore confidence in our immigration system.
It is a pleasure to be called so early in this debate and to be given a window into the world of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke). It is a privilege, and I am enjoying it very much. The hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) opened this debate by saying that his party has been shaped by the issue of Europe, and I say to him that it takes one to know one. The Conservative party has also been shaped by Europe, and my constituency has perhaps been shaped to a greater extent by Europe than almost any other.
I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman focus not on EU citizens’ rights in this country, but on the reciprocal rights for UK citizens. However, I am afraid that I will disappoint him to some extent, as others have, by focusing on the rights of EU citizens, although not entirely, because it is only fair to rebut some of what has been said recently. The Government brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to combat some of the issues that have just been talked about, and we brought in the controlling migration fund at triple the level of the migration impact fund that was praised by the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds). We should therefore not be ashamed of what we have achieved for the rights of migrant workers.
I should acknowledge the thoughtful issues of identity that the hon. Member for Arfon opened the debate with, because although my constituency may indeed have voted to leave the European Union more resoundingly than any other, it has to some extent been shaped by citizens of the European Union perhaps more than anywhere else. We have streets in Boston that are populated with shops that would otherwise be empty and are entirely focused on our new eastern European communities. That means that we are uniquely attuned to the issues of identity that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.
Let us think about why a constituency like mine voted so strongly. It was not a rejection of those EU rights nor of EU citizens as individuals. I do not wish to re-run the referendum again—not least because I was on a different side from my constituents—but it was not a rejection of those individuals. It was a rejection of a migration policy that had not worked for a constituency such as mine and of an approach that had been taken, in the minds of many of my constituents, by Brussels over many years that did not reflect the best interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.
When the hon. Gentleman talks about identity, I hope he bears it in mind that far more of my constituents have married into the communities that have arrived than is the case elsewhere. They have often formed relationships and have children in school—schools where pupils have one parent from England and one from a European Union country. That sense of identity is uniquely altered by the migration policy he talks about, and it means that my constituents have, if not a unique, perhaps a greater desire than others to be able to visit Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and all those countries with which we benefit from reciprocal rights.
None of my voters voted for British driving licences to no longer be valid on the continent or for us no longer to have the reciprocal rights we have enjoyed for so long. We, as a country, have had a full and blossoming relationship with Europe, and we would all acknowledge it is in the interests of both Europe and the UK to secure many of those things for the future. We should pay tribute to the negotiating position the Prime Minister set out last week in a pragmatic, sensible bid to try to secure some of the rights that the hon. Gentleman talked about.
We should also acknowledge that people voted in the referendum for a different set of circumstances after we leave, which inevitably means that we have to consider what those differences might look like. The Minister is right to say that the starting point has to be that we will no longer have precisely those rights in law when we leave. It is in tune with the Prime Minister’s pragmatic approach to say that we have to acknowledge that that is the case, and we have to ensure that we get the best possible outcome at the end of these negotiations.
The hon. Gentleman talks about people’s view that there would be changed circumstances. Given the votes in a plethora of nation states within the EU, not least in Italy at the weekend, who knows what changes will come in the very institution we are talking about? Does he agree that in future the EU might not be as people envisage it at the moment?
The hon. Gentleman raises a point made by the Minister, on whom I wished to intervene. He will be aware of the Vienna convention on the law of treaties and that, under that legal ruling, citizens’ rights may not be lost. Surely that is the legal precedent we should be following.
The hon. Gentleman uses the word “may,” and we should be looking at what the options are and at what the precedents may be. The Minister is right to say that we will no longer be members when we leave, and therefore we will no longer have the rights we currently have. The hon. Gentleman may pray in aid precedents that suggest something else, and we may be able to rely on some of those precedents in due course. We should not prejudge any of that, and we have to be pragmatic in where we start.
It is also worth bearing it in mind that people across my constituency and across the country voted for precisely those kinds of differences. They voted for the Government to negotiate a new relationship with Europe, which is precisely what we are doing.
One aspect of the motion on which the hon. Member for Arfon did not particularly dwell is single market access, which defines a huge part of our relationship with the EU. This is not a fault that he committed, but it is a frustrating and patronising element of some aspects of this debate to say that people did not know what they were voting for when they voted in the referendum. My constituents were very clear that they were voting to leave the single market because they were voting to strike our own trade deals with other countries across the world and to open up new opportunities. We should not allow ourselves to pretend there was not a full and frank debate about what leaving the European Union might mean before people went into the polling booths.
A crucial part of the motion implies there are not the opportunities outside the EU that people voted for. The hon. Gentleman frames it as though all we will be doing is losing rights when we leave the European Union. We should, of course, bear it in mind that there will be a different relationship, but there are opportunities out there, too. Part of the Prime Minister’s positive approach is to say that there are opportunities that we must seize and that there is another side to the coin—that not everyone can have every single thing they might wish for.
The hon. Gentleman proposed that we could stay in the single market and retain all our rights as they are today. My response to him is that he should not be wilfully blind to the opportunities. I think we will get a good deal with the European Union that allows us to retain many of the benefits we see today, but we will also have access to a wider world out there in a very different way. That is not to say that it will all be a bed of roses and that it will be the easiest thing we could ever do, but he should acknowledge the other side of the coin.
I do not want to say that we can have our cake and eat it, but we can have a three-course meal and a bag of crisps. It is always tempting for one side of the argument to say it will all be brilliant and for the other side of the argument to say it will all be terrible. The reality is that, neither at this time of day nor at any other, I do not much fancy a three-course meal and a bag of crisps at the same moment, but there is a compromise somewhere in the middle, which is what we will be seeking.
Whether we represent constituencies such as mine or constituencies with far lower levels of migration, we have all heard the huge concern among EU citizens living in this country about what their status might be. We should accept it is the genuine and proven intention of the Prime Minister to seek to provide reassurance as soon as possible in the debate, but we should also bear it in mind—I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for not doing this at he opened the debate—that the more we talk about those concerns, the more we fall into the trap of whipping up those concerns and the more we worry people who should not be worried. It is not only unfair on them, but it is irresponsible of us if we do that.
A number of constituents have come to tell me they are concerned both that they might not be able to travel as easily to the home country of their boyfriend or girlfriend, or that they may not be able to stay in this country. I have been pleased to be able to provide them with some reassurance, but I have not had tens of thousands of people coming to me to make that point because I have not stirred up such feelings. I am pleased the hon. Gentleman did not do so in his speech, although not so pleased that I will be supporting the motion today.
This has been a uniquely thoughtful debate, notwithstanding my own contribution, and it is a pleasure to be part of a debate on Brexit that is not as high octane and unhelpful as some we have seen, and that has not produced more heat than light. Perhaps this sets a precedent for how we might continue the negotiations.
I, too, thank the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for opening the debate. The hon. Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) and I may not agree on everything, but he makes a good point about trying to have a thoughtful debate, which is what we are having today. I thank him for his contribution, and I particularly thank Plaid Cymru for giving us the opportunity to discuss this subject.
As a number of Members have argued, the importance of EU nationals to the UK should not and cannot be overestimated in terms of their financial contribution and, more important, how they enrich our society by being here. I want to live in a society that is made more diverse and enriched by their presence, as is the case in my constituency and others.
Today’s debate is particularly helpful because it gives us the opportunity to discuss our own EU citizenship, which we continue to enjoy for the time being. I hope that the Government will give consideration to the idea of associate citizenship suggested by the hon. Member for Arfon, because the benefits of EU membership work both ways—a point that was often lost during the referendum campaign. We look set to lose the huge range of benefits we receive as EU citizens, and nothing the UK Government have said in this debate or others reassures me that they are on top of plugging the gap that will necessarily appear if we are taken out of the European Union.
I have benefited personally from freedom of movement. I was able to work elsewhere in the European Union and receive the benefits of healthcare. I studied there and took part in the Erasmus scheme because of my European citizenship. If I felt ill when I was living in Belgium, I could use the hospitals—there was absolutely no question about or problem with that—and anybody who visited me had exactly the same rights. I feel every inch a European in my identity. I know that identity is not the main driver of this debate, but we should think about it. Even more than that, however, I value my European citizenship.
As I reflect on my own personal experience, one thing that depresses me about where we are going is that by the end of this Parliament, perhaps uniquely, young people will have fewer opportunities and fewer rights than those of us who sit in this Parliament have enjoyed. We should all reflect on that. Regardless of who is in government and which parties make up this place, it should be—indeed, I think it is—the aspiration of all of us that at the end of any Parliament, young people should have more and better opportunities than those who went before them. That should always be our goal, but through the removal of EU citizenship, we will be taking a backward step. Young people will have fewer opportunities. Retaining citizenship would help. I do not think it would plug the gap entirely, but it would help.
The Minister said that she was waiting for the European Union to come up with some ideas about associate EU citizenship, but the European Union did not get us into this mess in the first place; the UK Government did. The fact that, almost two years on, they are still waiting for the EU to come up with solutions tells us a great deal about the state of affairs in the UK Government. It is incumbent on them to look at our problems and meet the challenges. Members are suggesting plenty of ideas—I do not agree with all of them, and neither will everyone else—and the Government should do more than adopt a wait-and-see policy almost two years on from the referendum.
Gently and in a comradely spirit, I urge the Labour party to do the same, especially on issues such as associate membership. I agreed with much of what the shadow spokesperson, the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds), said, but I encourage him to look a little more deeply into that issue, because we should be addressing it in this Parliament.
There are a lot of gaps to be filled. It strikes me—I have made this point before—that it is not entirely the Government’s fault. Vote Leave campaigned on a blank piece of paper, as has been said a number of times in this Chamber. That is why we still have so many gaps. It is the responsibility of this place to fill some of those gaps, working with our colleagues in the devolved Administrations and local authorities and with other stakeholders. It was an act of gross irresponsibility by Vote Leave not even to bother having a manifesto or a White Paper, which means that we have to fill in the gaps.
In his thoughtful speech, the hon. Member for Boston and Skegness referenced the single market. Vote Leave and the leavers should have been very clear that we would be leaving the single market. They were not. It is possible—I direct this as much to those on the Labour Front Bench as to those on the Government Front Bench—to leave the European Union and remain in the single market. That is a fact—end of story. That is something that we can do. It is quite depressing that many of us have to keep on saying that. I cannot believe that we have to use up time in the House of Commons to reiterate that fact.
The hon. Gentleman is factually correct, but the tenor of the campaign that was fought—and I was on the other side of it—was that there would be a clean break with the European Union. In that spirit, does he not think that that means being able to do our own trade deals and leaving the single market?
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to learn that I disagree with him. No, that is not what it means. He mentions the Government implementing policy in the spirit of how the campaign was conducted, but we have a very different Government with very different policies after the 2017 general election, which was, in the Prime Minister’s own words, a Brexit general election.
It is generous of the hon. Gentleman to give way. Is he aware that in the past few hours Donald Tusk has made it absolutely clear that the choice that this Government now face is whether to stay in the single market and customs union or to have a free trade arrangement? Just 52% voted to leave and I can assure Members that nobody who voted leave in my constituency voted for that, especially given the Government’s own assessment. This must be the first Government ever in the history of our country to admit that, even if we got what the Prime Minister wants, a free trade agreement will make this country less prosperous. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this is the stuff of madness?
The right hon. Lady makes an excellent point.
The Scottish Government have published their analysis of what will happen if we leave the single market for a free trade deal, and it is striking that reports show that it would have a devastating impact on our economy. It looks like the same is true of the UK Government’s analysis. They must acknowledge that and publish the analysis. At least the Scottish Government have published theirs. If GDP declines, that will be devastating for our public services. I am glad that the Scottish Government have raised taxes very slightly for a minority of the population protect public services, but that is a drop in the ocean compared with what a hit to GDP will mean for our economy, the NHS, education and other public services.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gives way, I appreciate that he is illustrating his points, but I hope he will soon return to the point of EU citizens, because this motion is fairly narrow. It is important to bear that in mind. He may now give way.
I note your comments, Madam Deputy Speaker. Key in the motion is the issue of the single market, and the hon. Gentleman knows that I fully support our remaining in it. He will recall that the Brexit Secretary said that we would get the “exact same benefits”, but that is patently not going to be the case. I totally agree with what the hon. Gentleman was saying, as I too have been to see those Treasury papers, and they are clear that we will be worse off in every scenario. That is not the “same benefits”, be they for citizens, for our businesses or for our country.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, and it is why today’s debate on associate citizenship is so important and why I am so glad it has been brought forward.
I will talk a little about Scotland’s own experiences—you will be well aware of this, Madam Deputy Speaker. This idea of European citizenship is not a new concept that arose in the 1970s; it is a historical one. It is said that in 1295 Scots looked at the idea of dual citizenship with the French as part of the auld alliance. If we go down the Corridors through to the House of Lords, we see the English Tudor monarchs on the wall, along with the Scots Tudor monarchs, some of whom were French—the Dauphin of France at that time is up on the wall there. If we look at the rights of Scots traders as citizens in places such as Veere in the Netherlands, we see that a former Member of this House, Winnie Ewing, was the honorary conservator of the privileges of the Scottish staple of Veere back in the day. Going back even further, to the letter of Lubeck, we see that the first thing that William Wallace did after the battle of Stirling bridge and Scottish independence was to get back in touch with our European partners, because this idea of citizenship—this idea of working together and that Scotland is a European nation—does not go back just to the 1970s; it goes back many hundreds of years. I will move on from that point, but I encourage Members to read and listen to the works of my constituent Billy Kay, who has been excellent on the impact of the Scottish diaspora elsewhere in Europe.
The hon. Gentleman is making a fascinating speech, but he is illustrating the point beautifully that our European identities, whether we are English, Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish, relate to our relations in Europe, not with the European Union.
As usual, the Minister leads me nicely on to my next point: this is about more than history and identity. I hope that at some point he will be able to tell us how we will replicate these ideas of citizenship and the benefits we have as citizens—our right to study, to work and to travel, our right to healthcare and our human rights that derive from our European citizenship. One Member made the good point about people who work here being able to work elsewhere at short notice. That goes to the heart of European citizenship, and it is why I am so grateful to the Minister, as usual, for intervening on that point.
The value to our economy of European citizenship is crucial. I think of the academics at the University of St Andrews, who can go to work and collaborate with their partners elsewhere in Europe, but it works in both directions: I think of farmers such as the one next door to me, James Orr, who relies on seasonal workers to pick his broccoli, which must still be picked by hand. The Minister for Immigration talked about certainty. I have heard other Ministers say that EU nationals should now feel a sense of certainty in their citizenship, but my postbag tells a different story, as, I suspect, do the postbags of other Members. That is why I raised the point about military families, but we must also keep in mind other EU nationals, who contribute so much, just as UK citizens in other EU countries do.
My hon. Friend is making a very good speech. I visited one of the largest private sector employers in my constituency on Monday, when I heard about its troubles in accessing labour and the problems that have been exacerbated because of this uncertainty, which has led to many EU nationals who previously worked with it to leave the country.
My hon. Friend makes a good point about his constituency experiences, and it has been interesting to hear those from a number of Members.
I noted that Plaid Cymru Members talked about the decline of UKIP. Scotland was always ahead of the game on UKIP, because it never had any success there—I do not believe it ever saved a deposit in a parliamentary election in Scotland. That is why Scotland voted so overwhelmingly to remain part of the EU; it is about our EU citizenship, but it is about so much more than that. I urge the Government to look at these proposals. Interestingly, Greenland, as a part of a European Union member state, left the EU and the other part of the member state remains. I note that when Greenland left, the withdrawal agreement ensured the rights of EU citizens. EU citizenship is built on these links, and it is crucial not only to our economy but to the future of young people. I urge the Government to reconsider, and I thank Plaid Cymru again for bringing this debate to the House.
Being a citizen of the EU brings tangible benefits, and I want to return the debate to focusing a little on the impact of European citizenship on UK citizens. It allows people from the UK to move easily to mainland Europe and between European countries, be it for work, study or pleasure. Furthermore, when we are in Europe it enables us to enjoy a range of rights on healthcare, education, work and social security. Young people I meet feel particularly strongly about this issue. Given the insecurity clouding the horizons of so many across the UK, it is not surprising that the material freedoms afforded by EU citizenship are held to be so important.
I should mention in passing that it is important to remember that EU citizenship has always been additional to UK citizenship. Never have they been mutually exclusive. For many, EU citizenship and the rights that it entails have become synonymous with opportunity, offering them a chance to broaden their horizons. As has been mentioned, there is no legal reason why a limit must be placed on such opportunity—no reason why UK citizens must be stripped of their rights and freedoms.
On the topic of reasons, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the free movement of labour was a key concern of not only those who voted leave but those who voted remain, like me? Does he not believe that, as elected representatives, it is important for us to represent their views?
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention, although I fear that perhaps she mistakes the point I was making. Perhaps I was not clear enough: I am discussing the rights of UK citizens and their ability to travel to Europe to work and to live. The issue is not freedom of movement; I am talking about a system that people would be able to opt into, but that they could also opt out of.
It is entirely possible to pursue associate EU citizenship for UK citizens, and there are ample precedents from which such a scheme could draw. The hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) has just mentioned Greenland, and my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) mentioned the experience in Ireland. Perhaps Members would like to look into the interesting situation of the citizens of some of the Crown dependencies in the Channel Islands, where there is a bespoke and unique relationship. I suppose the point I am making is that it is a matter of political will. When it comes to negotiations, there is a way to ensure that benefits are afforded to everybody equally.
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case. Currently, young people—indeed, everybody—in the UK can go without a permit to work in 30 other countries: the 27 other EU countries and three of the European economic area countries. After we come out the EU, the number will be zero. A French person of the same age will still be able to go to 29 different countries. What a difference in rights and opportunities that is.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes an important point about unnecessarily limiting the horizons of UK citizens. That is the point I am trying to make, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.
As I mentioned, this is perhaps not a legal issue but more a question of political will. The will of the public—in particular, their support for such a measure—is quite clear. As my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon mentioned in his opening remarks, according to research led by the London School of Economics and Opinium in July 2017, of those Britons asked, six out of 10 wanted to keep their EU citizenship after Brexit, and they particularly wanted to keep the rights to live, work, study and travel within the EU. Support for the retention of those rights is particularly strong among 18 to 24-year-olds, of whom 85% want to retain their EU citizenship in addition to their British citizenship.
In October 2017, a further report was published by the LSE on youth perspectives and priorities for the Brexit negotiations. Focus groups revealed widespread fear and frustration. Prime among young people’s concerns were questions regarding the loss of their EU benefits, including their ability to gain access to educational programmes, opportunities to work and travel in Europe, and rights that they have once they are there.
Ceredigion, the constituency that I have the honour of serving, was one of the handful of Welsh areas that voted to remain. Indeed, prior to the referendum, Ceredigion was widely reported to be one of the most Europhile counties in the whole United Kingdom. To put it bluntly, my constituency did not support leaving the EU and most certainly did not give any Government a mandate to deny its citizens the rights and freedoms that membership of the EU ensures, or, as the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy) said, a mandate to limit their horizons and opportunities in comparison with citizens of other European states.
As has been mentioned, the question of the future status of the rights bestowed on UK citizens by EU membership will not disappear; rather, it will grow in both prominence and importance as negotiations progress. A lot has been made of the clarity, or lack thereof, of EU law on the status of the rights of UK citizens after we have left, but I wish to draw attention to international law. European law and its founding treaties may offer a clear interpretation one way, but the reverse is equally clear in international law. If anything, the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties means that it is incumbent on both the UK and the EU to address this matter of future status urgently, for even if article 70(1)(b) of the convention is interpreted in such a way that the withdrawal of a member state from the EU extinguishes the rights of individuals created by the founding treaties, international law would still require that a treaty is agreed on the future status of such rights.
Associate European citizenship is a model that the UK Government could adopt and pursue. As well as affording UK citizens the ability to continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms they currently do, it would safeguard the dormant rights of younger generations, and, perhaps most importantly of all, grant generations yet to be born the same opportunities from which those of us present here today have been able to benefit.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for making such a passionate and eloquent case, which I wholeheartedly support. Like him, I represent a constituency—Cardiff South and Penarth—in which people voted to remain. Does he share the real horror that I have of speaking to young people? We are still relatively young ourselves, but we had those opportunities to go abroad. I lived in Denmark and Belgium and enjoyed all my opportunities, but we now have to go around our constituencies and tell young people that they will have fewer opportunities, fewer rights and fewer prospects than we did even just a few years ago.
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Is he seriously suggesting that the European Union is likely to ban young people from Britain from travelling in other EU countries? If it was trying to do that, would we not be quite right to walk away from an organisation that was willing to contemplate such an outrageous thing?
I respectfully thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I suggest that what the EU may or may not do is not a matter for this House. I do not think that I have cast any aspersions on what the EU might want to do. What I am saying is that it is in the gift of the Government, and this place, to pursue associate European citizenship to ensure that our young people—in fact not just young people but citizens of the UK old and young—can still enjoy the rights that we currently have.
The hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Does he share my concern that a fourth-year student at Lochend High School in Easterhouse should be able to go on to the Erasmus programme in the next year or two, but because of the vague promises that the Prime Minister has made, that opportunity will not be there? It is therefore the UK Government who are taking such opportunities away from the young people in the east of Glasgow.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I agree that the uncertainty is certainly not helpful to anybody. When I speak to a lot of young people, those are precisely the concerns that they raise with me. They do not know what the future holds. At one time, they did know—they were able to plan ahead to do the things that their elder siblings or family members had been able to enjoy. Now they find themselves in the daunting situation of not being able to do so.
My point is that Brexit need not rid UK nationals—young or old—of those rights, and international law is quite clear on that. How UK nationals retain their European citizenship after Brexit is therefore a matter of political will. It is for the Government to propose a model to achieve that, and to negotiate so that it is included in the withdrawal agreement.
Associate citizenship not only presents a possible solution but offers much-needed compromise for an embattled Government and a way to heal the deep divisions that have emerged across the UK. Let me reiterate a point that I made earlier to the hon. Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan): this will be a model in which someone could opt in or refuse to opt in—the choice will be theirs. It will be a way to heal divisions. The former Education Secretary, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), said that
“if Brexit does not work for young people in our country, in the end it will not be sustainable”.—[Official Report, 17 January 2018; Vol. 634, c. 918.]
Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Dirprwy Lefarydd. It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) for his introduction to the debate.
I start by stating the obvious. We are not subjects; we are citizens, and as such we are individuals who consent to the rule of Government. The Government rule in accordance with the will of the citizens. We are citizens and we are individuals, and Brexit has consequences for our lives as individuals whether we voted to leave or to remain. I echo exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion said: surely this debate offers an opportunity to heal divisions within our society and to respect both sides of the referendum vote divide, by respecting individuals and permitting them to choose.
As individuals, we stand to lose our heritage as European citizens—a heritage we might not even have been aware was in our possession, a family treasure forgotten at the back of the display cabinet and about to be discarded in the bitter acrimony of divorce. It is to my surprise that it has taken an Opposition day debate initiated by Plaid Cymru to focus in depth on the wide-reaching implication of the loss we face, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Professor Volker Roeben and my colleague Jill Evans MEP, who have highlighted both the desirability and the legality of our rights as European citizens, and to thank the thousands who have signed Plaid Cymru’s petition in the past two days.
However—this needs to be emphasised, and we need to use the language of Brexit—Brexit must not mean treating individual citizens as vassals, under obligation to our political masters, who might strip us of our citizenship at their whim. It is worth all of us who are speaking in favour of this proposal emphasising that it is clearly permissible in international law. Citizens’ rights are not the Government’s gift to trade, according to the 1969 Vienna convention on treaties. While an EU member state is democratically free to terminate its EU membership, it cannot extinguish the individual status of citizenship, nor its associated rights, without the consent of the individual.
Is there a precedent for this? We have heard a number of precedents already, and I should like to focus on one. We have lived with it for so long that we possibly do not really appreciate or see its value. Following the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State—now, of course, the Republic of Ireland—politicians debated the implications of how where people lived affected their rights as citizens. Irish citizens who reside in the UK while still remaining Irish citizens enjoy all the benefits of UK citizenship, including the freedom to take up residence and employment in the UK. Irish citizens can play a full part in UK political life, including voting in parliamentary elections and seeking membership of this House. The Republic of Ireland also offers citizenship to all residents of the island of Ireland, and people who are citizens of the UK are entitled to residency in Ireland without any conditions or restrictions. Unlike citizens of other countries, UK citizens are not subject to Ireland’s Aliens Act 1935. That means that a UK citizen does not need a visa or any form of residence permit or employment permit in Ireland. We are entitled to move to Ireland from any country, and we may move to Ireland to work or to retire.
I am grateful for that intervention, and I wonder whether the way this operates in Ireland might be a model for an opt-in pattern for us to think about if we take this issue through to the next stage of making practical considerations.
Unlike other EU citizens, UK citizens may retire to Ireland without having to establish whether we have sufficient resources or are in possession of health insurance. In fact, if we are visiting Ireland we do not even need a European health insurance card to get healthcare services—only a passport or some form of identification to prove UK citizenship.
Interestingly, that did not happen without parliamentary debate and intervention 96 years ago, much of it initiated, interestingly, by the Conservatives and Unionists of that time. I quote from Hansard of 26 June 1922, when Colonel John Gretton—Conservative, Burton—asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies
“whether acceptance of the status of a citizen of the Irish Free State, under…Clause 3 of the suggested Constitution for Southern Ireland,”
“the person so accepting of his rights as a British subject in Ireland”.
To which Mr Winston Churchill—for it was he—replied:
“The answer is in the negative.”
Mr Gideon Oliphant-Murray, a Unionist MP from Glasgow, pressed the question:
“Is it not a fact that a citizen of a British Dominion is, ipso facto, a British subject?”
To which Mr Churchill replied:
“So will he be in the Irish Free State.”
“That is not the case.”
But Mr Churchill was having nothing of it:
“It is the case.”—[Official Report, 26 June 1922; Vol. 155, c. 1663.]
If Winston Churchill felt the need to ensure that individuals should not be stripped of their wished-for citizenship in 1922, surely Conservative Members are honour-bound and loyalty-bound to respect the citizens of 2018 in a similar fashion. All it took was an expression of will on the part of the Conservatives and Unionists of the time and the rights to vote for the Westminster Parliament, as well as the rights of abode and work, were safeguarded. Political will was also brought to bear in relation to Hong Kong, with the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 and the subsequent 1997 Act, which allowed non-Chinese ethnic minorities to acquire full British citizenship.
I raise these as examples of political need but also flexibility, initiative and a respect for the individual caught up in the crossfire of state game-playing. This is a matter of political will, indicative of what the Government respect—the simplistic legal interpretation of Brexit zealots, which just so happens to bolster an ideological adherence, or the quiet right of citizens to express their will in accordance with international law. I wonder whether the Government took the opportunity to raise this matter with Guy Verhofstadt when he visited yesterday, and who I note also supports our proposal.
This is not an abstract concept or a nicety of legalese. My daughter Lowri has been able to action her right to live and work in France and Spain without constraint, just as I, somewhat longer ago, was able to action my right to study alongside Irish students in Ireland. I speak for many, many of my constituents when I say that we are proud to exercise our rights as citizens of Wales and citizens of Europe. The state may present its citizens with a referendum and then seek to interpret the frankly uninterpretable result, but it may not strip us of our rights. How our laws are made may change, but that does not give this place the legitimacy to interfere with my children’s rights as autonomous individual citizens. What of those young people who were not of an age to vote in 2016? Who are we to say that they may not have the choice that was tacitly agreed in the newly forged relationship with Ireland back in 1922—the choice to opt into a layered citizenship that reflects their individual choice of identity, as Welsh, Scottish, English, and European?
Anyone with a grasp of the history of Wales will know that our country’s very name in English deliberately implies two things: first, that we are different—foreign. But the root of the word was used by the Anglo-Saxons not only to imply foreign, but to imply Roman associations. Wales’s links with Europe are indivisible from the name imposed on us. Not all of us will recall that we were citizens of Rome 1,600 years ago, but many of us would remain European citizens in the 21st century.
It is a huge pleasure to speak in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on his speech, which opened the debate. He set out the case in his usual forensic style, providing great clarity and detail about what is being proposed. I also thoroughly enjoyed the speeches from the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), who once again proved why he is one of the superstar performers of this Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), who again showed why he is one of the rising stars of Welsh politics, and my parliamentary leader, my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts), who spoke with her usual great authority, concentrating on the example following the independence of Ireland at the beginning of the last century. She gave us a fantastic history lesson in her contribution.
On the morning after the referendum, on 24 June 2016, I had been given the honour of being the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony of the local further education college in my county, Coleg Sir Gâr. The ceremony was held at the fabulous Ffos Las racecourse in Carwe, in my constituency. Somewhat bleary-eyed and shellshocked after watching the referendum results in the early hours of the morning, I vividly remember standing up at the podium and looking out at the hundreds of young graduates and their families before me. I dropped my speaking notes and went completely off script. Instead of diving into my speech, to talk about how proud they should be of their achievements and how they should look forward to their future, I apologised to those young people.
My apology was based on being part of the political class that had allowed a set of circumstances that would reduce their life chances and opportunities compared with those that had been available to me and the generations before me—primarily the right to travel, live, work, receive healthcare and reside in any other part of the European Union, among other rights. We have had powerful contributions from several Members, and that is the crux of what we are trying to grapple with today.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, and I apologise to his colleagues that I missed the start of the debate. The reason was that, like the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy), who spoke a few minutes ago, I am a member of the Select Committee on Exiting the European Union, and some of us had the privilege of meeting a delegation from the Parliament of Slovakia who are in Westminster.
It is highly relevant, Mr Deputy Speaker, because most of the people we met were born in the shadow of the iron curtain. They now have the right to travel all over western Europe and a great deal of central and eastern Europe. Does the hon. Gentleman share my bafflement that while those people are celebrating their fairly recently won right to travel everywhere, we have a Government here that seem determined to take measures that might endanger the right of future generations of UK citizens to travel as freely as our Slovakian friends can travel now?
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. As always, he makes a very valid point. I congratulate him on the excellent work he is doing on the Select Committee. I was privileged to serve on that Committee with him in the last Parliament, and his contributions are always extremely valuable.
Much of the debate following the referendum has surrounded the economic impact of Brexit. There is little doubt in my mind that the best way to protect the Welsh economy is to stay inside the single market and the customs union, and that has been my position from day one. The issue of European Union citizenship rights of UK subjects, however, has not had the level of consideration it deserves.
At this point, I should pay tribute to Jill Evans, the Plaid Cymru MEP representing the whole of Wales who commissioned a report on that issue in the immediate aftermath of the referendum. Her work has gathered considerable support in the European Parliament—including, critically, from Guy Verhofstadt, the lead Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament. Indeed, I understand that the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker), has had discussions with Mr Verhofstadt on that issue. I would be grateful to learn from the Minister in his response whether that issue was discussed yesterday with Mr Verhofstadt during his visit to London. The idea has also gained the support of the European Parliament’s Committee on Constitutional Affairs.
I sense, perhaps wrongly, that the British Government have an open mind to what we are proposing today. I am being kind, because it has been a very good-natured debate so far. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, in response to the hon. Member for Stafford (Jeremy Lefroy)—who I am delighted to see in his place and thank for his contribution, which hit the nail on the head—said:
“The aim of this exercise is to be good for Europe and good for Britain, which means good for the citizens of Europe and Britain. That is what we intend to do.”—[Official Report, 2 November 2017; Vol. 630, c. 947.]
In her speech last Friday at Mansion House, the Prime Minister failed to provide any great clarity on some of the main issues that have concerned Members in relation to the British Government’s Brexit policy. However, a part of her speech did catch my attention, when she conceded that, despite her hard Brexit policy, she would seek to negotiate UK associate membership status with several EU agencies.
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman about the benefits of our remaining in the single market and the customs union. However, I disagree with him when he says that the Prime Minister’s policy is to have a hard Brexit. If one thing absolutely came out of the Mansion House, it was a firm rejection of a hard Brexit. Does he at least agree with me on that?
I am always delighted to hear from the right hon. Lady, with whom I work very closely on these matters. However, I fear that the Prime Minister in her speech managed to continue the strategy of trying to placate both sides of the Conservative party. Ultimately, she is going to have to make a call one way or the other. The fact that the right hon. Lady welcomed the speech and the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg) welcomed the speech—
The hon. Gentleman also did so. The fact that they both welcomed the speech leaves me concerned that the Prime Minister is not exactly making a definitive decision on those major issues, on which the right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) and I actually agree.
As I was saying, the Prime Minister conceded in her speech that she would seek associate membership of several EU agencies. If that is the case, why not apply the same principle to citizenship? Since Plaid Cymru launched our campaign on this issue at the weekend, my Twitter feed has become the location for a lively debate. Indeed, earlier this afternoon I was called a traitor by some people, which indicates the strength of feeling that the debate has generated.
I respect the hon. Gentleman, and I totally condemn anyone who has referred to him in that fashion for expressing his views, just as I am sure he would do in relation to those on the other side. We all have a duty here to be courteous in our debate.
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. This debate is so serious that it needs to be debated in a very reasonable, calm and rational manner, as we have seen in the House today.
Most people have been extremely supportive of what we are suggesting, but others have seen the campaign as a plot to undermine the referendum result, which could not of course be further from the truth. What we are proposing is that, as part of the negotiations, the British Government make the case that those of us who wish to keep our current rights are able to do so, while those who wish to renounce their rights would also be able to do so if they so wished. If the British Government are serious about healing the wounds of the referendum, I argue that they should pursue such an initiative with vigour, because it could unite everybody in every part of the British state.
The key point is that the rights we currently enjoy under the Maastricht treaty do not in any way challenge or undermine our rights as subjects of the British state. This point was made with vigour by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion. They are additional rights, and any action by a Government to take away those rights is an extremely serious matter. It is therefore no wonder that this issue is now before the courts in Europe.
As someone who fundamentally believes in Welsh independence, I recognise that, following the political freedom of my country, there will be a requirement to protect the rights currently enjoyed by the people of our respective countries, as was of course the case following Irish independence. I think that answers the point raised by the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton)—he is no longer in his place—in his intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon.
In his article in The New European at the weekend, Professor Volker Roeben, who was formerly of the University of Swansea but now works in Dundee in Scotland—I am delighted to see him here—makes the case quite clearly that international and EU law should protect our current EU citizenship from Brexit. I understand that legal opinions differ and I readily admit that I am no legal expert, but he makes a compelling case. I would like to finish my speech by quoting him at some length. He said:
“Of course, a member state is free to terminate its membership for the future, but it cannot extinguish the citizenships that have already been created and the rights that have been exercised—these continue. This status cannot not be taken away neither by the European Union nor by one of its member states.
This is also the impetus of the international law of treaties laid down in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This international law will be binding on the EU, the UK and the remaining member states after Brexit. It governs in considerable detail the consequences that the withdrawal of a state from any treaty, including the Founding Treaties, entail.
One consequence is that the treaty ceases to bind, but the other is that the withdrawal must not have retroactive effect on the rights of individuals already created at the time of withdrawal.”
This results in a challenge to the European Commission and, as I readily admit, to the British Government. My understanding is that the European Parliament is far more understanding of the case than the Commission. If this is the case, then MEPs will have an important role in scrutinising the negotiating tactics of Mr Barnier and his team. At the end of the day, as Professor Roeben states, it is a matter of political will. I hope that, following this debate, Parliament will support the motion and mandate the British Government to negotiate a protection of the rights we all currently enjoy as European citizens.
I now have to announce the results of today’s deferred Divisions. In respect of the question relating to Northern Ireland political parties, the Ayes were 308 and the Noes were 261, so the Ayes have it. In respect of the question relating to passport fees, the Ayes were 317 and the Noes were 258, so the Ayes have it.
[The Division lists are published at the end of today’s debates.]
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am grateful for the opportunity to make a correction to the record. This morning, I referred in a question to the Secretary of State for Scotland during Scotland questions to branch closures by RBS last month. Of the 10 branches given a reprieve last month on the basis that they were the last bank in town, two were not in fact the last branches in town. I suggested that the branch in Melrose, which is not the last bank in town, was in the Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale constituency, which is the constituency of the Secretary of State for Scotland. As a matter of fact, it is in the constituency of Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk. The other branch that is not the last branch in town is located in Kyle, which is in the Ross, Skye and Lochaber constituency, which is the constituency of the leader of the Scottish National party in Westminster. I would like to correct the record to that effect.
May I, too, warmly thank my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) and Plaid Cymru for bringing forward this timely and important debate?
Before I begin my remarks, I would like to declare a non-financial interest. For many years, I have been an honorary consul to Romania for the highlands and islands. I will come back to that later. It seems to me, as we are discussing the rights of European citizenship, that we should all declare our financial interests, as well as many more interests.
The concept of European citizenship was introduced in the 1992 Maastricht treaty, affording rights, freedoms and legal protections to all citizens, as well as giving a legal basis to European identity. Many of those rights are tied up with the four freedoms of the single market, as we heard earlier. European citizens have the right to live, work and study across the EU and associated countries. European citizens are free to trade and transport goods, services and capital through EU borders as in national markets, with no restrictions on capital movements or duty fees. Citizens have the right to vote and run as a candidate in local elections in the country where they live and in European elections, and to participate in the European citizens’ initiative. Citizenship of the EU confers the right of consular protection by embassies of other EU member states when a person’s country of membership is not represented by an embassy or consulate in the country in which they require protection. EU citizens have the right to vote for and petition the European Parliament, and the right to address themselves to the European ombudsman and EU agencies directly in their own language if the issues raised are within their competence. Finally, EU citizens enjoy legal protections under EU law, specifically through the charter of fundamental rights of the European Union and through Acts and directives regarding the protection of personal data, the rights of victims of crime, the prevention and combating of trafficking in human beings, equal pay and protection from employment discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, sexual orientation, age and other characteristics. Those are substantial rights for European citizens.
I was privileged to serve as the vice-president of the Conference of Peripheral Maritime Regions, a fantastic organisation that brings together local authority areas from across Europe as far apart as Finland and the Azores. We discussed common issues across the European Union in order to get our points made as citizens of the EU about policy. It was a great privilege to do that. I travelled to that group as a European citizen with the rights I have outlined. I was never treated as an outsider or a foreigner, and none of the people I met during that time were ever foreign to me.
As an honorary consul, I have helped Romanian citizens in the highlands and islands, directing them to the support and services they might need. It has never involved my doing anything other than my job of helping people as an MP. It would be the same, and it is the same, for constituents who are Polish, French or German. I am sure we would all do the same. That point of contact has allowed me to build social and economic ties with our Romanian neighbours.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work to support Romanians and other European citizens in my hometown of Inverness. I welcome the fact that Plaid have brought this debate today, especially as I am a member of Plaid Cymru, as well as a member of the Scottish National party.
Absolutely. On the principle of extending European citizenship, this is deeper than just a set of rights. This is an historic tie, which we should cherish. That identity is very important to Scotland. We have always been a European nation and we continue to be a European nation.
My hon. Friend is laying out the connections and ties we have been lucky enough to make across Europe. In 2005, I did an internship at the Committee of the Regions not long after the new accession states joined the EU. It was with great joy that I made new friends from Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and all the other new countries coming into the EU, who valued that citizenship and the links and ties they could make. Does he share my deep regret that we are no longer going to be a part of that shared project?
Absolutely, although I would say that the UK Government have it within their gift to ensure, certainly on the issue of European citizenship, that we remain a part of that project.
It is very important to understand the feeling in Scotland, which I know is shared by many people in Wales. I would like to quote from a leader in the Sunday Herald, which I think is particularly poignant:
“Scotland has been an outward looking European nation since the late middle ages. From the 16th century, Scots merchants, academics and soldiers spread far and wide in the continent establishing communities in countries like Poland, Sweden and the Low Countries. As a poor nation on Europe’s periphery it was Scotland’s lot to export its people, and the flow continued apace during the British Empire. But intellectual and commercial trade was very much two way. It is no accident that so many European words have entered the Scottish language, such as the Swedish ‘braw’, Dutch ‘kirk’, German ‘ken’, French ‘dour’. Our very language testifies to Scotland’s European connections.”
I wonder if the hon. Gentleman would care to add to his list: soiree, meaning an evening out; gigot, meaning a leg of lamb; and ashet, on which we cut our lamb and which comes from assiette in French?
Yes, I would indeed. It is a list to which I could, if I had the time and perhaps the patience of Mr Deputy Speaker, add many more words that highlight that connection. [Interruption.] I am being encouraged to go for it, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will move on.
That is the kind of place Scotland is and the kind of Scotland we want to live in. Our European identity and our shared values with the EU are very much at the heart of that. It is important to reflect that, during the referendum on the EU, 62% voted to remain in the EU and there was a majority to remain in all Scottish local authority areas, yet European Scots face not only the economic and social impacts of Brexit, but losing their European identity. A colleague of mine in the European Parliament, Alyn Smith, said:
“So what does Scotland have right now? Scotland has been an integral part of the EU for almost 50 years, a status that we now face losing. We are represented at every stage of the EU’s activities. The recreation, in 1999, of the Scottish Parliament and the formation of a Scottish Government gave Scotland a far stronger voice within the EU, and has allowed the people of Scotland to find Scottish solutions for Scottish problems and design a society that reflects our needs. This has led to Scotland showing how very European it really is. We stand alongside the rest of Northern Europe by not privatising healthcare, encouraging the development of renewable energy and not charging our citizens for higher education.”
These rights are held dear not just in Scotland, but throughout the UK. Clause 41 of Magna Carta states:
“All merchants may enter or leave England unharmed and without fear, and may stay or travel within it, by land or water, for purposes of trade, free from all illegal exactions, in accordance with ancient and lawful customs.”
For trade, this goes back not just to the Bill of Rights, but to Magna Carta.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, and for pointing out that the situation looks as though it would have been easier in the time of Magna Carta than it will be if we lose our European citizenship. However, I want to reflect on the highlands and our relationship with European citizenship.
I suggest that one reason there was such a strong remain vote in Scotland was not just that, as the hon. Gentleman said, people think themselves more European than perhaps British—I do not agree with him about that—but that, as I think we can agree, there is a real understanding of the positive benefits of immigration. When I served on the Scottish Affairs Committee, it was striking that Scotland was crying out for more people to come in and work there. Does he think that the fact that the Scottish people have not been afraid to talk about the positive benefits of immigration may be a large part of the result north of the border?
The right hon. Lady has stolen my thunder slightly, because the fact that we have received many benefits was exactly where I was going to go next. The very next line of my speech—I am very grateful that she brought this up—is that the long-term issues in the highlands have not been about immigration, but about emigration. That has been a historical problem. Depopulation has been a critical issue in the highlands. Our deepened relationships with the EU have presented an opportunity to welcome EU Scots to our region, a great many of whom have settled in the area.
The right hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry) highlighted the different attitude to migration, and that really needs to be underpinned by different migration policies and by Scotland being able to decide, as is the case in other countries such as Switzerland, where the 26 cantons can control half the visas. This issue does not have to be centrally controlled in London. In my constituency, I need fishermen to come from Ghana and the Philippines to fish. I cannot get them in, because a person in London often says no. We need a migration Minister with the courage to change that, and I hope we have this time.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I know that he shares my concerns about the unrealistic, counter-productive, one-size-fits-all net migration target that overlooks the incredible value of migrant people to our isles and the different economic needs of the highlands and islands, and of Scotland as a whole.
Over the next 10 years, 90% of Scotland’s population growth is projected to come from migration. This is especially vital for the highlands. Migration has created cultural and diverse communities that have tied us together, populated by many European Scots, solidifying our European identity. Twenty-one languages are spoken by pupils, for example, at Central Primary School in Inverness, such is the diversity of families settling in the highlands. European citizenship, whether it is our own or that of European citizens who are here, is very important for the economy—tourism accounts for 20% of the economy—as well as many other sectors. I could mention food processing, renewables, life sciences and so on, but I will not pause on those.
In addition to what the hon. Gentleman says about migration to our country, Scotland, the historical emigration of Scots was a curse on the highlands for many years, but European investment in infrastructure, via schemes such as objective 1, helped halt—and indeed reverse—that, meaning that classmates of mine and younger generations stayed in the highlands, rather than seeking their fortunes outwith the beloved land they came from.
Absolutely—hear, hear! The point about young people staying in the highlands is critical, but, conversely, their ability to move freely throughout Europe, gain skills and come back is also very important. I have personal experience of this. My two boys went off to work in Europe, gain skills and broaden their horizons. One has already come back to Scotland to add to our economy the skills he gained in Europe. As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins) mentioned, the ability of young people to travel through and study and work in Europe and to live as European citizens has been transformational, not just for them but for our economy—locally, in the highlands, across Scotland and, I contend, across the whole of the UK. We should cherish that. It should not be under threat.
As a student, I not only benefited from the ability to travel in France and elsewhere but spent a month just outside my hon. Friend’s constituency working on a fruit farm in Beauly—which, of course, is French for “beautiful place”. Does he agree that, as well as people from the UK losing out if they cannot travel freely across Europe, if European citizens are restricted in their ability to come here, young people here will lose out on the benefits of mixing with people from a wide range of backgrounds, and as well as the free movement of people, the free movement of ideas and beliefs is vital and should be retained?
My hon. Friend makes a terrific point that we should pause to reflect on during this discussion, and it is not just about the ability of young people to interact in that way. I have often said that I aspire to be an older person and that I am making good progress—I have used that line before and will do so again. It is not just about young people; European citizenship is key to everyone’s ability to broaden their horizons.
Just today—ironically—there was an announcement about the introduction of free inter-rail travel across Europe. Young people face losing out on that; they face losing out on the end to roaming charges and consequently a loss of connectivity; and, as mentioned earlier, they face losing the European health protection that has enabled them to reduce the cost of living and studying.
The hon. Gentleman is describing very eloquently the opportunities that his sons have had travelling through the EU. Is this not precisely a question of education and the opportunities our young people have to travel, and was not the Brexit vote particularly strong where educational opportunities were not very high? Rather than leaving the EU and restricting young people’s ability to go to the EU, is it not important that we extend educational opportunities to all young people in this country?
On the life chances that young people will have as they grow into adults and move through their careers, it is critical that every opportunity they get to broaden their horizons be embraced, and we should do everything possible to avoid anything that removes their ability to broaden their horizons, such as losing their EU citizenship.
I want to quote a couple of paragraphs from Jolyon Maugham QC:
“The idea of European citizenship has its roots in the aftermath of the second world war, when Winston Churchill”—
my hon. Friend the Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) quoted him earlier—
“spoke of a ‘common citizenship’ that would unite Europe together ‘in the sharing of its common inheritance’”.
He went on to say:
“European citizenship confers a number of privileges: the right to live in and move freely between member states”,
and all the other things that I mentioned earlier.
“The shared assumption of the European Union and the UK government is that Brexit will mean British citizens will automatically forfeit these rights. But this is being tested in a case brought by a group of UK nationals living in Amsterdam, which I funded with the help of Dutch law firm Bureau Brandeis, which agreed to act for a modest fee.”
He ended by saying, as one who was born in London,
“I am a Londoner, I am British, and I am European. They’re not mutually exclusive”.
The same applies to Scotland. Citizenship of Europe is very important to us. Scotland is not foreign to Europe, and Europe is not foreign to Scotland. We are Europeans.
I am grateful to the Merriam-Webster thesaurus for its definition of “foreigner” as
“a person who is not native to or known to a community.”
EU citizenship has made that an antonym. Those people are our buddies, our chums, our comrades, our confidants, our cronies, our friends, our pals, our mates, our partners and our peers. We are European. We should retain the rights and benefits of European citizenship, and I hope that the Government will ensure that that happens.
I thank my colleagues in Plaid Cymru for initiating this welcome debate.
European citizenship confers numerous privileges: the right to live in and move freely between member states, the right to diplomatic and consular assistance from other member states, and the right to participate in elections to the European Parliament. It is a principle of UK citizenship law that individuals cannot be stripped of their citizenship because of territorial changes. The UK Government must clarify whether that principle should apply to the protection of European citizenship.
It is shameful that, although the Tory manifesto on which the previous UK Government were elected promised to—at last—allow British citizens who had lived abroad for more than 15 years to vote, those people were then denied a chance to vote in the referendum. The voices of about 1 million people went unheard. It is also shameful that the UK Government have not yet delivered on the promise that the EU’s freedom of movement rights will be honoured for all citizens who reside in other nations in the European economic area. For many UK citizens who did not have the chance to vote in the referendum, and for many who voted to remain because they did not wish their European citizenship rights to be taken away from them, this Brexit—whatever it is—is nothing like the epitome of democracy that some hard Tory Brexiteers would have us think.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful speech. Is this not the greatest tragedy of the way in which the Brexit negotiations are unfolding? The people who voted leave were not being given the Brexit for which they voted on the timescale for which they voted, but the biggest losers will be the people throughout the country—especially the young—whose opportunities will become far more limited because of the type of Brexit that is being pursued. Furthermore, every parent and grandparent in the country should reflect on the damage that is being done to the prospects of their children and grandchildren.
That is an excellent point with which I completely agree. Indeed, I am about to speak about just that issue.
Brexit is an injustice that will take away rights without giving people the option to secure those rights in the long term for themselves and their children. The idea of European citizenship is cherished by those who are old enough to remember a time when Europe was going through a healing process. We seem to have forgotten that it was not always the peaceful, prosperous place that it is today: a union of people, not merely nations. It is a pity that there are elected politicians in this House who are unwilling to understand the strong feelings of many British people about their European identity.
My hon. Friend and constituency neighbour is making a strong speech. Does she agree that many people, particularly in places like Cardiff where we have a strong and thriving university sector, see themselves much more as part of pan-European collaboration in science and driving forward progress in discovery, and key to that is their European Union citizenship? By taking that away we potentially do great damage to those relationships on a European level that are taking forward all sorts of exciting scientific discoveries.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am proud to represent Cardiff North, and the whole of Cardiff is a diverse community. We have plenty of students from across the European nations, and we want to retain that feeling of European identity and citizenship.
My hon. Friend is making very important points. She mentioned the politics of this, and it used to be the case that the Conservatives supported the single market and these issues. I feel very strongly that Labour should fly the flag for citizens’ rights within the context of the single market. That is an incredibly important thing, and I hope that eventually my Front-Bench team will also recognise that the single market is the best way to offer these protections.
I too represent a university constituency, and I recognise the concerns raised by our young people who want to access the opportunities the EU gives them. We need to fight to ensure that opportunities continue after Brexit, but does the hon. Lady also recognise that this is very much a game of two halves: although many young people, particularly university students, could take up those opportunities, which are very welcome, many other young people from disadvantaged backgrounds would never have the money to be able to travel to Europe and could never take up those options, and their employment prospects were deeply damaged by their being undercut by the free movement of people across the EU?
I beg to disagree with the hon. Lady. The best way to retain those opportunities for young people from all types of background—disadvantaged and not—is to keep those opportunities open and to work to be a citizen of the EU, and for the UK Government not to take us on the damaging Brexit course they are currently taking us on.
I thank the hon. Lady for making a very important point. Does she agree that tens of thousands of young people from all parts of the UK and from all backgrounds have benefited, because the EU has allowed those from more disadvantaged backgrounds to get educational opportunities they would never otherwise have had?
I completely agree with the hon. Gentleman. I worked in Brussels for a time, as well as in other EU countries, and I can see the benefits for young people from all backgrounds.
This is about identity. It is about what we call ourselves in terms of our identity and citizenship. I call myself Welsh and European, and I will continue to do so in equal measure even after Brexit.
I urge the Government to look at the practical benefits of European citizenship, and to support demands to allow British people to continue to benefit from it. As I said, I lived, studied and worked in France, Spain and Belgium when I was younger. It is a shame to think that my two daughters will not be able to have those same experiences and opportunities because the UK Government did not think EU citizenship was worth fighting for. Brexit will do nothing more than isolate us as a nation and cut off those benefits and opportunities for our younger people.
To be Welsh and European is to be open and inclusive. The Welsh writer Gwyn Thomas expressed that beautifully when he said that south Wales society is
“the most marvellously interpenetrating thing”
“everyone was sensitive and thin skinned to the problems of others”.
He described it as a
“warm soup of comradeship, love, singing, understanding”.
That is how we should consider citizenship of the whole European Union, and I urge this Government to have the courage to safeguard our citizenship as we exit the EU.
What a pleasure it is to follow such a fantastic speech from the hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin). I begin by commending and thanking our colleagues in Plaid Cymru for securing this debate. I believe that this is the first time in history that Plaid Cymru has had its own Opposition day debate, and I hope that we will have more of them.
Most people who have taken part in this debate have declared an interest. I look up at the annunciator and see my German surname, and I am incredibly proud to be someone of German descent in this House. I am also incredibly proud to represent Scotland, where 62% of the population voted to remain in the European Union. All 32 local authority areas voted to remain, and my constituency voted remain. However, we see ourselves looking over the cliff-edge of a hard Brexit to which we have been driven by the Back Benchers of the Conservative party, and it is something that Scotland did not vote for.
The points made during the debate, particularly by the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake), about the impact on young people really amplify the disaster that Brexit will be. I have questioned the Prime Minister about the Erasmus scheme, and she can give us certain guarantees about the next year or two. However, the reality is that a young person studying at Lochend Community High School in Easterhouse, a deprived area in my constituency, currently has the opportunity to travel and see other parts of Europe through Erasmus. That directly answers the point made by the hon. Member for Belfast South (Emma Little Pengelly) about young people from deprived backgrounds.
Just to build on that, my point was that, yes, it is fantastic that young people have such opportunities, and we have tried to encourage take-up in Northern Ireland, but I speak to many young people from deprived communities who have said, “We apply for job after job across the European Union.” There are record levels of NEETs—young people not in employment, education or training—and to understand what motivates people we must understand that those opportunities do not apply to everybody. We need to recognise that that was part of the challenges of the single market and free movement of people and part of why people were opposed to it.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that intervention. I have been campaigning on apprenticeships during my time in the House, and, as a former modern apprentice, I am glad that we are taking part in National Apprenticeship Week. However, the reality is that this Government have a poor record when it comes to paying young people. Young people are not included in the national living wage, and an apprentice can still, under the law, be paid as little as £3.50 an hour. I am absolutely in favour of ensuring that young people are paid appropriately, but that is not necessarily something for the European Union. I think responsibility for that lies at the door of the UK Government, who have a pretty woeful record on employment rights and pay for young people.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Mr Leslie) talked about the importance of staying in the single market and the customs unions—I stress that I mean “the” customs union. I hope that his particular wing of the Labour party grows stronger and can convince his Front-Bench team of the importance of remaining in the single market and the customs union, because failure to do so will result in the sacrifice of 80,000 jobs in Scotland. I represent a constituency with fragile employment prospects. Unemployment in my constituency is double the UK average, which is one reason I am particularly furious that UK Government have just closed two of the three jobcentres in my constituency. Only last week, I was dealing with two companies that have announced the closure of stores in my constituency because they are going into administration. One reason for that were the fluctuations in the pound due to the uncertainty caused by Brexit. We need to be absolutely clear about the need to protect jobs. I agree with the right hon. Member for Islington North (Jeremy Corbyn) about the importance of a jobs-first Brexit, but the only way to achieve that is by ensuring that we stay in the single market and the customs union, so I very much hope that the hon. Member for Nottingham East manages to convince his Front-Bench colleagues.
That is good timing by the hon. Gentleman, because this afternoon the European Commission published its draft negotiation for the future relationship. One of the final paragraphs states that the European Union will be prepared to reconsider the idea of an FTA settlement if circumstances change and the situation evolves. The EU is saying that if the Government drop their ridiculous, self-imposed red lines on the customs union and the single market, it will allow us to have those benefits. I think that is the route we need to pursue.
Absolutely. Unsurprisingly, I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The Prime Minister conceded yesterday that roaming charges will come back. The Government are spending all this time talking about taking back control, but they will not be taking back control of my phone bill the next time I go to Europe, because it is going to go through the roof.
These things were all put on the side of a bus, which brings me to my next point. When I went with my wife and son to the polling station to vote in the EU referendum, there was nothing on my ballot paper about leaving the single market and the customs union. Conservative Members spend a huge amount of time telling us that people knew what they were voting for. If that is the case, people thought they were voting for £350 million extra a week for the national health service, and we do not see much evidence of that happening.
My final point—I say this as someone who respects the will of Parliament—relates to the absence of certain Members who spend a huge amount of time talking about parliamentary sovereignty. I suspect that, once again, an Opposition day motion will pass. There is much in this motion that is absolutely commendable and I would be more than happy to support it in a Division. My challenge to hon. Members, particularly those with a Brexit background who claim that we are taking back control and empowering this place, and who say, “We must respect what the House of Commons says,” is to acknowledge that, when this motion passes, it is incumbent on the Government to support it and implement it. I very much hope that the Government will adhere to it and that they will not ignore Parliament. If they are serious about taking back control, that starts with listening to this House of Commons.
Right hon. and hon. Members will forgive me if my comments are fairly brief, given my current condition. I am pleased to say that this has been a high-quality debate, in contrast to the debate out in the country. We have heard positive contributions from about a dozen hon. Members. Perhaps that has something to do with the absence of the usual suspects, particularly on the Conservative Benches, who continually repeat the same tired arguments, to very little positive effect. I am gratified by the emphasis that so many hon. Members have put on the rights of young people, thus looking to the future, not to the past.
It is a somewhat novel idea for this place to talk about the continuation of European Union citizenship after we leave. It is not surprising, therefore, that Members have been tempted to wander away to questions about the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and to the Brexit question in general. I do not think that that has impeded or hampered the debate; it has been a suitable counterpoint.
In her initial response, the Minister for Immigration made her central point that when we leave the European Union, EU citizenship will lapse, but Opposition Members have clearly made the counter-argument that international law suggests the very opposite. I will take the opportunity yet again to draw attention to the report “The Feasibility of Associate EU Citizenship for UK Citizens Post-Brexit”, which argues the case clearly, based on the Vienna convention, specifically article 71(b).
I am glad that this has turned out to be a positive if shortish debate, and I look forward to hearing a positive response from the Government.
I congratulate Plaid Cymru on its first Opposition day debate, the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Liz Saville Roberts) on tabling the motion and the hon. Member for Arfon (Hywel Williams) on opening the debate with his usual eloquence, passion and power. I congratulate everyone who has contributed to a genuinely considered discussion on maintaining European Union citizenship for British nationals.
It is entirely proper that we debate issues relating to the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, and the rights that we hold today as European citizens are an important aspect of that. I have heard many arguments from across the Chamber today as to why we should seek to secure some form of continuation of EU citizenship for British nationals after we withdraw from the European Union. I welcome the varied contributions made to this important debate, including the report by Jill Evans MEP and Swansea University, to which several colleagues referred.
I have listened closely to the arguments that the rights and protections held by individuals with EU citizenship are, in some cases, integral to their identity. We had a fascinating discussion about identity, and my hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman) spoke well about some of the complexities of that and how his constituency has been shaped by Europe in a different way from some others. I should say that the Prime Minister has made it clear, and I reiterate, that we are leaving the European Union; we are not leaving Europe. On this question of identity, at the end of this process we will still all be citizens of a European state.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting suggestion. I said that we listened carefully to the debate, and of course we always listen carefully to decisions of this House. In response to the calls from my colleagues in this House and the other place, and from Members of the European Parliament, to argue for the continuation of EU citizenship for UK nationals, let me say that, as my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration confirmed earlier, we will always be very happy to listen to any proposals on our exit from the European Union. However, as EU treaty provisions state that only citizens of EU member states are able to hold EU citizenship, when the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, UK nationals will no longer hold EU citizenship, unless of course they hold dual nationality from another EU member state. It is important that we respect the EU’s legal order, and of course our own, when EU treaties and EU law no longer apply to the UK.
I wish to take this opportunity to respond on the doctrine of acquired rights, which I know the House of Lords EU Committee looked into, expressing some concern about the validity of acquired rights in this context. Article 70 of the Vienna convention was mentioned by a number of colleagues, including the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake). To be clear, article 70 is a “default” rule, which does not apply where the parties to a treaty agree arrangements relating to a particular party’s withdrawal. The UK and the EU will agree these arrangements under the article 50 process, to be defined in the withdrawal agreement. The argument on acquired rights under article 70 does not, therefore, apply in the context of these negotiations.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Of course it is a question of political decisions on both sides and respect for one another’s legal orders. The prospect of maintaining EU citizenship for UK nationals is not something that has been suggested to us to date in the negotiations, either by the European Commission or by any individual member state. Throughout the negotiations we have, however, put citizens at the heart of our approach.
Does the Minister not agree that the Prime Minister is proposing, in many ways, that we are going to see very new shores—for example, with the border without a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland? If we are really looking for new opportunities, this would be exactly such an opportunity, where we are doing something that has not been done before.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Of course, in our joint report we made specific commitments on the Irish border that we absolutely stand by.
It has been the Government’s policy from the very beginning to provide certainty and stability for UK citizens who have made their lives in the EU and for EU citizens here in the UK. As the Prime Minister set out at Mansion House last week, EU citizens are an integral part of the economic, cultural and social fabric of our county, which is why we made it a priority to secure in the first phase of the negotiations a fair deal on citizens’ rights that will allow for UK and EU citizens to continue their lives broadly as they do now.
As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration detailed earlier in the debate—
I will give way to the hon. Lady after I have made this point, if I may.
The comprehensive agreement that we secured in December grants citizens certainty about a wide range of rights, including residents’ healthcare, which was highlighted by the hon. Member for North East Fife (Stephen Gethins), as well as pensions and other benefits. That means that UK nationals who are living in the EU at the point of exit will continue to benefit from rights that stem from their EU citizenship today. After our exit, those rights will be provided for by the withdrawal agreement, which will enshrine them and take the status of international law, having direct effect in EU member states. They will also be written into UK law by Parliament, through the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill.
The hon. Lady raises a good point. She touched on some of the history in her speech and I was very interested in her historical references. There are long-standing commitments that the UK has made to the citizens of all of Ireland, and we built on those in the Belfast Good Friday agreement. I shall return to them towards the end of my speech. We have to recognise that those provisions were brought about by unique circumstances that date back long before our membership of the EU.
The Government have shown that we have listened to calls to provide certainty to EU citizens in the UK, by ensuring that citizens will be able to rely directly on the rights enshrined in the withdrawal agreement through the withdrawal agreement and implementation Bill, which will be introduced to Parliament after the withdrawal agreement has been finalised. As my right hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration mentioned, we have listened to feedback from communities throughout the UK on the process of acquiring settled status. We have been clear that the new application scheme will be digital, streamlined and user-friendly. We are consulting regularly with EU citizens’ user groups and employers as we design the system.
On the point made by the hon. Member for North East Fife, we will make sure that those who undertake overseas postings, including military service in our armed forces, will not be disadvantaged.
I hope I can tempt the Minister back to the rights that UK citizens currently have as EU citizens. He said a few moments ago that it had not been suggested in the negotiations, but Guy Verhofstadt has been clear that he believes that UK citizens would be able to retain their EU citizenship rights on an individual basis. What does the Minister have to say about that clear proposal?
As the hon. Member for Arfon mentioned earlier, I have personally discussed this issue with Guy Verhofstadt. I put it to him that we are negotiating with the Commission, so he needs to make that point to the Commission. If he wishes that to be part of the negotiations, it needs to be discussed in that context. After his meeting in Downing Street this week, Guy Verhofstadt said:
“I think it is possible in the coming days and coming weeks we make progress on this”
issue for citizens
“and we can conclude on this…It should be fine that the citizens rights’ chapter is done, it is finished, it is concluded and everybody knows UK nationals and EU citizens know what their status is in the future.”
I welcome that statement.
Some colleagues have referred to rights that are not covered by the agreement we have reached so far—for example, the right of onward movement for UK nationals. The EU’s approach so far has been to say that it is not an issue that can be resolved in this phase of the negotiations, but we have had meetings on the topic with Members of the European Parliament, and I know that they are as keen as we are to secure that right. It is not something on which we have in any way given up.
Other colleagues, including the hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, referred to the right to stand and vote in local and national elections. I stress that we wanted that right to continue—we would have liked it to be part of the citizens’ rights agreement—but the European Commission again ruled that it was outside the scope of the first stage of the negotiations. We have made a commitment to protect that right for EU citizens currently in the UK, and we want to that to be reciprocated. A number of member states already have provisions allowing nationals of a third country to vote in local elections, and we will continue to explore that with other member states bilaterally.
The hon. Member for Cardiff North (Anna McMorrin) mentioned plans to legislate to enable UK citizens living overseas for more than 15 years to retain their right to vote. I am sure that, like me, she welcomed the Government’s support for legislation of this nature just the Friday before last.
As the House will be aware, we are seeking to agree an implementation period of about two years beyond the date of our exit. The purpose of such a period is to give people, businesses and public services in the UK and across the EU the time they need to put in place new arrangements that will be required to adjust to our future partnership. I want to be clear that, during this implementation period, we intend that people will be able to come to the UK to live, study and work, as they do now. We are discussing the precise terms of the implementation period with the EU and we aim to reach agreement by the March European Council.
My hon. Friend is clearly articulating what the aims and the goals of the Government are. A minute ago, he mentioned reciprocation. Is it not the case that that is at the core of all this? We are asking not for special rights for EU citizens, or indeed for UK citizens, but for a fair and reasonable exit process from the EU that retains reciprocal rights.
My hon. Friend and neighbour is absolutely right. We want reciprocal rights and reciprocal respect for one another’s political and legal systems.
We recognise that, in the future, as the hon. Member for Arfon noted, UK citizens will still want to work and study in EU countries, just as EU citizens will want to do here, helping to shape and drive growth, innovation and enterprise. None the less, the people of the United Kingdom did choose to leave the EU, and, as he pointed out, Wales voted by a majority to leave. As a result of that decision, the EU treaties will no longer apply to the United Kingdom and the Government have been clear that freedom of movement will come to an end.
I listened with interest to the part of today’s debate that dealt with suggestions for our continued membership of the single market. We accept that there is a balance of rights and responsibilities in the treaties and that, in choosing to leave the EU, we will put those rights in a new and different balance. We understand and respect the indivisible nature of the four freedoms, which is why leaving the EU and ending free movement and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice does mean leaving the single market.
The Government propose a unique and ambitious partnership, which will be based on our rules and regulations being the same from the start and on maintaining our commitment to free trade and high standards, while allowing us to both make changes when we want to in a stable and orderly way, as my hon. Friend just said, with respect for one another’s systems. The exact shape of this future relationship has yet to be negotiated, but as the Prime Minister noted last week, we recognise the need to maintain the social, economic and cultural links between our people and ensure that businesses can attract and employ the people they need. That is why we are taking an evidence-based approach to our future immigration policy—something that the hon. Member for Torfaen (Nick Thomas-Symonds) managed to both call for and rail against at the same time. We commissioned an independent advisory body, the MAC, to gather evidence on patterns of EU migration and its role in the wider economy. That will include consideration of the impacts on the different parts of the UK, within the context of designing a UK-wide immigration system.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to take an evidence-based approach, he has to make sure that his legislation is based on that evidence and the studies that are being conducted. He also suggested that the CBI had been critical of the Government. In fact, the CBI welcomed our recent announcement on citizens’ rights during the implementation period. Its director general said that this is
“a big step in the right direction”,
“This announcement will remove significant short-term uncertainty for family, businesses and wider communities.”
We have also listened carefully to the evidence.
The CBI is a key consultee of the MAC process; I am sure that it wants to play a full part in the process and to make sure that the legislation, when it comes forward, is based on the evidence.
Talking of listening to the evidence, I listened carefully to hon. Members in this debate when they talked about young people’s opportunities to study and to travel, and about the benefits of working together on issues such as science and research. We set out in our “Collaboration on science and innovation: a future partnership paper” a strong ambition to continue to co-operate and collaborate with EU member states, and indeed the many third-country members of its framework programmes, in that area. The Prime Minister spoke in Florence about maintaining the educational, cultural and scientific links between us and fellow members.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; he is being most generous. May I press him on the point that I raised with the Prime Minister? At the time that a second-year student now at Lochend Community High School in my constituency leaves school and goes to university, will they still be able to take part in Erasmus?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, the current Erasmus programme is covered by the current multi-annual financial framework of the European Union, which ends in 2020. We need to look at what future frameworks would look like and how negotiations would approach the issue in future, but we have already set out a very positive UK position. We look forward to engaging with the EU on many issues, as part of the discussions of our future partnership.
In the debate, there was some discussion of the powers of devolved Administrations to act on citizens’ rights. I should make it clear that we are committed to securing a deal that works for the entire United Kingdom—for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all parts of England. We expect the outcome of leaving the European Union to be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved Administration. I look forward to discussing that further when I attend the Joint Ministerial Committee (EU Negotiations) tomorrow. The deal secured in December is, of course, without prejudice to the common travel area between the UK and Ireland and the rights of British and Irish citizens in each other’s countries. We stand by our commitments in the Belfast agreement, one of which is that the people of Northern Ireland have the right to choose to be British, Irish or both. Maintaining those rights means that the people of Northern Ireland will not be required to assert and choose a specific identity in order to access public services and other entitlements. Their rights to work, study and access social security and public services will be preserved on a reciprocal basis.
I am grateful for the time and contribution of all Members to this important debate. I have listened carefully to the points that have been raised across the House. Whilst associate citizenship is not within the current scope of negotiations, I reiterate that I will always be happy to listen to proposals from colleagues or our European counterparts on how we can best safeguard the rights of UK nationals.
I want to be clear that at every step of these negotiations, we will work to secure the best possible deal for all UK nationals, including those currently living in the EU and those who wish to travel to the EU in future. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has repeatedly made clear, although we are leaving the European Union, we are not leaving Europe. I remind colleagues that the concept of EU citizenship only appeared in the Maastricht treaty of 1993. We were citizens of Europe long before Maastricht, and while we may now be leaving the political structures of the European Union and its treaties, we will not be any less European as a result.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House supports the maintenance of European Union citizenship rights for Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and English citizens, notes that the range of rights and protections afforded to individuals as European Union citizens are integral to a person’s European identity; further notes that many of those rights are closely linked to the UK’s membership of the Single Market; and calls on the UK Government to ensure that the UK’s membership of the Single Market and UK citizens’ right to European Union citizenship are retained in the event that the UK leaves the EU.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. At Prime Minister’s questions today, the Leader of the Opposition stated that British armed forces were directing the attacks in Yemen. I checked with No. 10 Downing Street and that is completely incorrect. British armed forces personnel are not involved in any way at all with what is going on in Yemen or Saudi Arabia. We are about to discuss our armed forces, and I feel that comments like that could actually be putting our armed forces at risk. I wondered whether you had had any indication that the Leader of the Opposition is going to come to the House to apologise and put the record straight.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will be very glad to be able to tell our European friends that this House now supports the idea of maintaining European Union citizenship rights. This follows the motion passed by the Brussels Parliament in March 2017, which also supported the idea of continuing associate EU citizenship for British nationals post Brexit. I seek your confirmation that as this motion has now passed, the Government must respond with a statement in this place on this matter within the next 12 weeks.