[1st Allotted Day]
Considered in Committee
Sir Roger Gale in the Chair
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As this is the first Committee of the whole House of a new Parliament, it might be of benefit to those who are not entirely familiar with the arcane process, and indeed to those who thought they were but are not, if I seek to explain how this proceeds.
You will find on the Order Paper that the amendments are grouped and that helpfully they are grouped not in sequence but by subject. The Chair will try to confine the debate to the subject matter, without being too rigorous in exercising control. Ordinarily, the groups will form the basis of a debate, the first part of which I will introduce and to which the Secretary of State or Minister will then respond. Exceptionally, because this is the first day of a two-day debate to which a plethora of amendments has been tabled, I have deemed it helpful to invite the Secretary of State to open the debate to set out the stall, and on that basis, of course, if the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson wishes to come in immediately following that, that would also be entirely acceptable.
I have one final point to make. Mr Speaker has decided that, although any Member has a right to speak in this House, it is not desirable for new Members to make maiden speeches during the Committee. He has decided this for two reasons: first, it will simply delay the process, and, secondly—and much more importantly, from the point of view of those new Members—inevitably their freedom of movement to describe their constituencies as the second garden of Eden will be limited. I am advised that there will be an opportunity to participate first on Third Reading on Thursday, when the Speaker will be in the Chair, and then subsequently during the remaining debate on the Queen’s Speech. I hope that is all clear and helpful. With that in mind, we will move to the first group of amendments.
Saving of ECA for implementation period
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clauses 2 to 6 stand part.
New clause 4—Extension of the implementation period—
“After section 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (publication of and rules of evidence) insert—
‘15A Extension of the implementation period
(1) A Minister of the Crown must seek to secure agreement in the Joint Committee to a single decision to extend the implementation period by two years, in accordance with Article 132 of the Withdrawal Agreement unless one or more condition in subsection (2) is met.
(2) Those conditions are—
(a) it is before 15 June 2020;
(b) an agreement on the future trade relationship has been concluded;
(c) the House of Commons has passed a motion in the form set out in subsection (3) and the House of Lords has considered a motion to take note of the Government’s intention not to request an extension.
(3) The form of the motion mentioned in subsection (2)(c) is “That this House approves of the Government’s decision not to apply for an extension to the period for implementing the agreement between the United Kingdom and the EU under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union which sets out the arrangements for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU”.
(4) If the Joint Committee does not agree the extension specified in subsection (1) but EU representatives on the Joint Committee indicate that they would agree an extension for a shorter period, a Minister of the Crown must move a motion in the House of Commons to agree the shorter period proposed, and if that motion is agreed, a Minister of the Crown must agree that shorter extension in the Joint Committee.
(5) Any Minister of the Crown who attends the Joint Committee may seek agreement to terminate the implementation period if a final agreement on the future trade relationship is ratified before the end of the implementation period.’”
This new clause would restore the role for Parliament in deciding whether to extend transition to avoid a WTO Brexit.
New clause 36—Extension of implementation period—
“After section 15 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (publication and rules of evidence) insert—
‘15A Extension of implementation period
(1) If by 1 June 2020, agreements on both of the matters specified in subsection (2) have not been concluded, any Minister of the Crown who attends the Joint Committee must seek to secure agreement in the Joint Committee to a single decision to extend the implementation period by two years, in accordance with Article 132 of the Withdrawal Agreement.
(2) The specified matters for the purposes of subsection (1) are—
(a) the future trade relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU.
(b) a security partnership including law enforcement and judicial cooperation in criminal matters.
(3) If the Joint Committee does not agree the extension specified in subsection (1) but EU representatives on the Joint Committee indicate that they would agree an extension for a shorter period, a Minister of the Crown must move a motion in the House of Commons to agree the shorter period proposed, and if that motion is agreed, a Minister of the Crown must agree that shorter extension in the Joint Committee.
(4) Any Minister of the Crown who attends the Joint Committee may seek agreement to terminate the implementation period if final agreements on both of the matters specified in subsection (2) are ratified before the end of the implementation period.’”
This new clause would require the UK Government to seek an extension to the implementation period if agreements on trade and security have not been completed by 1 June 2020.
Clause 33 stand part.
I begin by wishing you, Sir Roger, and all Members of the House a happy new year.
The Bill implements the withdrawal agreement negotiated by the Prime Minister. It fulfils the will of the British people and will set the stage for our bright future outside the European Union. It lets us take back control of our laws, our money, our borders and our trade policy, and it delivers on the overwhelming mandate given to us by the British people to get Brexit done by the end of January.
Sir Roger, as you have just informed the Committee, I am, under your guidance, speaking to this group. I will speak to clauses 1 to 6, clause 33 and new clauses 4 and 36, noting that new clause 19 and amendment 25 have not been selected.
Clause 1 gives legal effect to the implementation period in domestic law. The implementation period ensures that common rules will remain in place until the end of this year, meaning that businesses will be able to trade on the same terms as now until a future relationship has been agreed. This provides certainty and stability for the duration of this time. During the implementation period, the effect of the European Communities Act 1972 will be saved and modified on a temporary basis to provide the necessary continuity. It will have a new purpose: to give effect to EU law as set out in the withdrawal agreement, to provide for the implementation period. As a result, businesses and citizens need prepare for only one set of changes as we move into our future relationship with the EU.
Can my right hon. Friend give us an estimate of how much the implementation period will cost us, and will he reassure us that once we are out properly at the end of this year, there will be no future payments thereafter?
This will secure our membership for the period. One of the costs for businesses—one of the greater costs—would result from two sets of changes, without the comfort of an implementation period. The business community itself—of which I know my right hon. Friend is a great champion—said that it wanted an implementation period while the negotiation on the trade deal was being conducted to avoid the higher cost of two sets of changes.
The saving of the ECA will be repealed at the end of the implementation period, at which point the repurposed ECA will cease to have effect. Clause 1 is essential to achieving the terms agreed in the withdrawal agreement and ensuring the proper functioning of European Union law during the implementation period, and for that reason it must stand part of the Bill.
I still do not think that the Secretary of State has made a clear enough case for why he would wish to tie the Government’s hands in such an unnecessary way and risk the disaster of no deal. Also, there could be perfectly constructive negotiations going ahead, which he would be prepared to throw away if they could not fit into the arbitrarily short time of 11 months. Will he tell us why he thinks it is worth running that risk, which is such a big risk for our businesses and for our economy?
I know that we have two days for the Committee stage, but it is very odd for someone who wants us to remain a member of the European Union to complain about the fact that we have an implementation period so that the business community does not face two sets of changes and so that we give businesses confidence for the rest of the year.
Clause 2 saves EU-derived domestic legislation for the implementation period. The last one and a half decades have seen a substantial amount of EU legislation that has required domestic legislation, both primary and secondary. That domestic legislation constitutes a large body of law, and to ensure that the law continues to work properly during the implementation period, we need to take several important steps. First, we must preserve the legislation to avoid its being impliedly repealed following the repeal of the ECA. If we do not save it, there will be a risk that it will either fall away or be emptied of meaning, which could mean that citizens and businesses were no longer protected by, or indeed able to rely on, existing rules.
The second essential purpose of the clause is to maintain the proper functions of the statute book for the duration of the implementation period. During that period, we will continue to apply this law, but we will not be part of the European Union. To ensure that that is reflected in the statute book, the Bill provides for time-limited glosses, or modifications, to new and existing EU-derived legislation. Those glosses make clear the way in which EU law terms and UK legislation should be read so that our laws continue to work during the implementation period. Let me give one example. All references to European Union citizens in the UK statute book will, as a general rule, be read as including UK nationals during the implementation period. These provisions will automatically be repealed at the end of the year when they are no longer needed.
I hope that the Secretary of State will be able to clarify whether that also applies to the European arrest warrant. Obviously, we will remain subject to it and able to take advantage of it during the implementation period, but at the end of that period, as a third party, we will simply not be able to enter into it. During the implementation period, will British subjects still be subject to the arrest warrant overseas?
Under clause 1, the implementation period ensures the continuity of the law. That is why it is saved, but modified. Clause 2, and the others in the group, deal with the technical terminology. Where there is a change in meaning, it means continuity. I see that the hon. Gentleman is frowning. The substance of my reply is yes, in that the Bill ensures continuity. The purpose of terms such as “European Union citizen” will have ceased because we will have left, but, on the other hand, the implementation in EU law will continue, allowing those terms to continue to be applied and any tidying up—any technical changes—to be applied. So this is a technical glossing and that is its purpose.
While the Secretary of State is on his feet discussing this, could he set out the exact position for EU nationals, because those of us who have up to 42,000 living locally are extremely concerned? There have been lots of discussions and tweets about this, so could he please just lay out exactly what the position will be not only during the next 12 months of the implementation plan but going forward?
The hon. Lady raises an important point. I do not want to stray too far into the second grouping in Committee, which is indeed on citizens’ rights and which the Security Minister will address, but what this Bill is doing is securing the rights of EU citizens within the UK and indeed the rights of UK citizens in the European Union, because we value the contribution that those EU citizens make to the UK. They have chosen to make their homes here and to bring up their families here, and their rights are protected. That is one of the reasons that I urge Members on both sides of the House to support this Bill.
During the transitional period, laws will be made in the European Union that we will be expected to obey. Does my right hon. Friend agree, however, that clauses 29 and 38—one of which deals with the review of legislation through the auspices of the European Scrutiny Committee, where we will be affected by our vital national interests being undermined—provide good protection for the United Kingdom’s national interests? Secondly, does he agree that the question of parliamentary sovereignty in clause 38 will complement that by ensuring that the whole process of legislation under the withdrawal agreement will not affect the continuing sovereignty of the United Kingdom Parliament, and that this therefore effectively provides a double lock on the rights of this House as we leave the European Union?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to signpost those two safeguards being put in place, in which he played a significant part, but I would say that there are three. I will come on to the third, if I may slightly push him by making that correction. He is right to say that the European Scrutiny Committee, under his chairmanship, will have the right to trigger debates and scrutiny. Secondly, he has championed the clause dealing with the sovereignty of Parliament, which is set out clearly in the Bill. The third element that I would draw to his attention, which is within this grouping, is our legislating for the Government’s manifesto commitment not to extend the implementation period. That will ensure that there is no extension of the implementation period and will therefore ensure that there is no risk of a further one-year or two-year period during which the issue about which he was concerned in relation to those two other clauses could arise. So there are three protections, and not just the two that he mentioned.
Very, very good!
I am pleased that my hon. Friend signals from a sedentary position that he is content with that.
Ultimately, clause 1 will ensure that there is continuity in our laws during the implementation period and that our law continues to operate properly. It is therefore essential and must stand part of the Bill.
The Secretary of State has commented about the sovereignty of this United Kingdom Parliament across the whole United Kingdom. At all stages in the future, as marked out by the Northern Ireland protocol and the exceptions to this Bill, the people of Northern Ireland will be subject to European Union law for a long time into the future, as far as we can see, so it is not correct, is it, to say that the sovereignty of the entire United Kingdom will be placed in this place?
We will debate at length tomorrow the provisions relating specifically to Northern Ireland, but there is a further sovereignty within the Bill in respect of Northern Ireland. I do not want to stray too far into that debate now, but there is a consent mechanism that pertains specifically to the Northern Ireland protocol, so there is a further sovereignty lock in that regard. However, that is a matter for the groupings that we will address tomorrow.
Turning to clause 3, we are confident that the list of so-called glosses set out in clause 2 works in all the cases that we have examined, and I pay tribute to the officials who have trawled the statute book in that regard. However, it is right that we, as a responsible Government, reserve the ability to nuance the impact of those technical changes should unforeseen issues arise during the implementation period. The power set out in clause 3 provides for that. The Bill gives five different applications for that power. Three relate to the glosses. The power can add to the glosses; it can make exceptions; and it can be used to make different provisions from the list, if for any reason we need to change a gloss in a specific case or set of cases. The power has two further applications: it can be used to tidy up the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and to cover any specific technical inoperabilities that may occur that have not been foreseen. It is appropriate, prudent and sensible that the Government are prepared in this regard, which is why those five elements are in the Bill.
Analysis by the Scottish Parliament Information Centre, which is the equivalent of the House of Commons Library and is therefore independent, notes that clause 3 empowers UK Ministers acting alone to make provision in devolved policy areas. The Government’s delegated powers memorandum states that they will not normally do so without the agreement of the relevant devolved Administration, but as the Secretary of State will be aware, the Sewel convention does not apply to delegated legislation. Does he therefore agree that this power shows that the Bill is indeed the power grab that the Scottish National party has always said it is? If it is not, why is it there at all?
The hon. and learned Lady is incorrect in saying that. First, this is an international agreement, which is a reserved matter—a matter for the United Kingdom. Secondly, these are glosses—technical issues—in terms of the tidying up that I set out, and they are tightly defined. Thirdly, the devolved elements are addressed by giving the devolved Assemblies the power, through clause 4, to do further glosses themselves.
I am sorry, but the Secretary of State is simply wrong about that. On any legal analysis, it is quite clear that clause 3 gives UK Ministers acting alone the power to make regulations in relation to areas of devolved competence. I reiterate my question: why is that power there at all if the Government are not intending to use it to take powers away from the Scottish Parliament and other devolved Administrations?
Again, with great respect to the hon. and learned Lady, she is over-reaching in the interpretation that she is applying to clause 3. It is a technical provision that allows for technical changes—glosses to terminology —such as the example that I gave the Committee a moment ago of how EU citizens may be defined. The clause is for technical changes in unforeseen areas, rather than fundamental changes of powers. Indeed, we have given an equivalent power through clause 4, in respect of the ability of the devolved authorities to do exactly the same thing or very similar.
Clause 3 must stand part of the Bill to ensure that the statute book is maintained and that any unforeseen technical issues that arise in future are addressed. That is why clause 3 is required. It is not as the hon. and learned Lady characterises it; it is a technical provision for glosses for any issues that were unforeseen at the time of the Bill’s passage.
Could I probe that a bit further? In clause 4, proposed new paragraph 11B specifically provides that Scottish Government—and indeed Welsh Government —Ministers cannot make any provision outwith devolved competence. However, there is no equivalent provision in clause 3 saying that the British Government cannot not use the powers to make regulations about devolved matters. If this is just technical, as the Secretary of State says, why will he not agree to include a similar qualification in relation to the British Government’s powers? If he will do so, could that perhaps be addressed in the House of Lords?
That is not something that I would urge the other place to address, because this is a provision to address unforeseen areas in which technical changes may be required in the tightly constrained areas set out in clause 3. The hon. and learned Lady turns to clause 4, which confers on the devolved authorities a broadly equivalent power to that set out in clause 3. Where legislating for the implementation period falls within devolved competences, it is right that legislative changes can be made by the devolved authorities, with which I am sure she would agree. Therefore, the change in clause 4 provides the devolved authorities with corresponding powers to those set out under proposed new section 8A(1) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, as outlined in clause 3, so far as they are exercised within the devolved authorities’ competences.
Clause 4 enables devolved authorities to add to the list of glosses established in proposed new section 1B to make provision different from those on that list and to disapply that list from certain pieces of legislation. The clause also enables devolved authorities to respond to unforeseen complications that may arise during the implementation period to ensure that the provisions established by this Bill continue to give effect to the planned implementation period. In short, the rationale for clause 4 is the same as the rationale for clause 3. When exercised by a devolved authority acting alone, the power is subject to the consent of a Minister of the Crown, consultation with a Minister of the Crown, or a joint exercise with a Minister of the Crown in certain circumstances, which are defined in paragraphs 5 to 7 of schedule 2 to the 2018 Act.
The implementation period is critical. It will provide much-needed continuity and certainty to businesses and individuals as we move from membership of the EU to our future relationship with it. With the power provided in clause 4, the devolved authorities can ensure that the implementation period will work in relation to devolved legislation should any issues be identified. Clause 4 must therefore stand part of the Bill.
Clause 5 provides for the direct application of the provisions of the withdrawal agreement in domestic law. It will also allow individuals and businesses to rely directly on the withdrawal agreement. They will be able to know that there is consistency in how the agreement is applied in both the UK and the EU. It is also necessary to give domestic legal effect to article 4 of the withdrawal agreement. Through this clause, most of the provisions of the agreement will flow into UK law directly without the need for further legislation.
The withdrawal agreement will, among other things, secure the rights of more than 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and around 1 million UK nationals living in the EU. Ensuring that the withdrawal agreement is interpreted and enforced consistently in both the UK and the EU will ensure that citizens are treated fairly and equally. Clause 5, in its presented form, is vital to the UK’s implementation of the withdrawal agreement, and it must therefore stand part of the Bill.
Turning to clause 6, the UK has reached agreements with the EEA EFTA states and Switzerland respectively. The agreements are separate from, although similar to, our agreements with the EU. They protect the rights of Norwegian, Icelandic, Liechtenstein and Swiss citizens living in the UK and those of UK citizens living in those countries, so that they can continue to live their lives after exit day broadly as they do now.
Will the Secretary of State explain in clear language how he believes that will be played out at airports? Will there be several queues? Will there be one queue for everybody from European countries? I ask because many people ask me these questions in my surgery.
We will go into more detail on citizens’ rights when we discuss the second group of amendments, but clause 5 secures the legal effect to the protections that apply to citizens within the EEA EFTA states. One of the big questions on the Brexit discussions that we have heard repeatedly in this place has been, “To what extent will people’s rights be protected?” This Bill is doing that for EU nationals through clause 5, and clause 6 mirrors those protections in law for citizens of the EEA EFTA states. The hon. Lady touches on the arrangements for citizens’ rights, which are a separate issue, but this is about how legal protection will apply to those nationals.
Clause 6 gives effect in domestic law to the EEA EFTA and Swiss separation agreements in a similar way to the withdrawal agreement. This ensures that a Norwegian citizen living in the UK can rely on their rights in a UK court in broadly the same way as a Swedish citizen. It does so in the same way as clause 5.
We do not want a Norwegian, Liechtenstein, Icelandic or Swiss national to have any less certainty on their rights than an EU national here or, indeed, a UK citizen in Europe. Clause 6 also enshrines the legal certainty for businesses and individuals covered by the EEA EFTA agreement that article 4 of the withdrawal agreement provides. This clause, as presented, is vital to the UK’s implementation of the EEA EFTA and Swiss agreements, and it must stand part of the Bill.
Clause 33 prohibits the UK from agreeing to an extension of the implementation period. Page 5 of the Conservative manifesto says:
“we will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020”,
and clause 33 says:
“A Minister of the Crown may not agree in the Joint Committee to an extension of the implementation period.”
It could not be clearer. This Government are determined to honour our promise to the British people and to get Brexit done.
Both the EU and the UK committed to a deal by the end of 2020 in the political declaration. Now, with absolute clarity on the timetable to which we are working, the UK and the EU will be able to get on with it. In sum, clause 33 will ensure that we meet the timetable set out in the political declaration and deliver on our manifesto promise. For that reason, the clause must stand part of the Bill.
I understand why clause 33 is in the Bill. As much as I am a remainer—I remain a remainer, and I will remain a remainer until my dying day—I none the less accept that the second referendum has now happened. That is the end of it.
My anxiety, however, was first expressed, in a sense, by the previous Prime Minister when she wrote the first letter of intent with regard to article 50, which stated that we would have trouble on security issues if we did not have a full deal by the end of the implementation period. I ask the Government to think very carefully about how we ensure that, by the end of this year, we have a security deal covering the whole range of security issues that face this country. I would argue that that is as important as the trade-related issues.
I welcome the constructive way in which the hon. Gentleman raises his concerns about security while recognising the general election mandate and how it plays into this clause and its reflection of the manifesto.
I draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to two things. First, the withdrawal agreement commits both sides, including the European Union, to using their best endeavours to reach agreement. Secondly, the political declaration commits to a timescale of the end of 2020. That is why we are confident that this can be done to the timescale, and it is a reflection of the commitments given by both the UK and the EU in the withdrawal agreement and the political declaration.
Does the Secretary of State agree that all things are possible when both parties to a negotiation are willing to proceed in good spirit? Indeed, in a briefing to EU politicians in November 2019, Michel Barnier said the timescale would normally be far too short but that Brussels would strive to have a deal in place by the end of 2020. It is clearly possible to do this deal for the end of 2020. Does my right hon. Friend agree that is the right approach to take?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. Indeed, the Commission President will be meeting the Prime Minister tomorrow, and I will be meeting Michel Barnier, to act on that constructive spirit. Both sides have committed to the timescale.
I am conscious that the House is now in a different place, but many Members will recall that it was often said it was impossible to reach an agreement before, indeed, the agreement was reached.
I welcome the fact that the Government are determined to bring this process to an end by December 2020, and I hope that that does concentrate minds in the EU. If the EU and the Government cannot come to an agreement by then, what are the implications for, first, the future arrangements and, secondly, the current withdrawal agreement, especially the provisions in Northern Ireland?
First, I believe we can and will do this, and, as I have indicated to the House, so does the EU, because it has committed, in the political declaration, to doing it. Secondly, a number of issues are addressed through this Bill: citizens’ rights, which the hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) asked about in relation to her constituents, are protected through this Bill. People used to talk about a no-deal outcome, and one thing this Bill does is secure the protection of the 3 million EU citizens within our country, who are valued, and of the more than 1 million UK citizens there. The right hon. Gentleman has concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol, and I stand ready, as do my ministerial colleagues, to continue to discuss issues with him. We will debate that in more detail in Committee tomorrow, but, again, the Northern Ireland protocol is secured through the passage of this Bill. That puts us in a very different place from where many of the debates were in the previous Parliament in respect of concerns about no deal.
I remind the Secretary of State that just last month the Commission President said that she has serious concerns about this timetable. All experts in trade are concerned that an 11-month period simply does not necessarily give the time to get a good deal done, so why is he signing up now to something he could postpone until at least June, when he will have a better sense of how negotiations are going? Why is he cutting off his nose to spite his face by saying now that he will not extend the implementation period?
I will move on, because new clauses 4 and 36 speak to the same point, but, in short, this is being done partly for the reasons I have already given the House in respect of what is set out in the political declaration, where there is a shared commitment, and partly because Members on my side of the House gave a manifesto commitment to stick to this timetable. I am sure the hon. Lady would be the first to criticise the Government if they made a manifesto commitment and then decided not to stand by it. So we are committed to the commitment we gave on the timescale, which is why we want to move forward with clause 33.
I will make a little progress and then, of course, I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.
New clauses 4 and 36 stand in the names of the Leader of the Opposition and the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats respectively. New clause 4 has been tabled by the Leader of the Opposition in an attempt to force the Government to extend the implementation period if a deal has not been agreed with the EU by 15 June. The new clause would also give Parliament a vote on any such extension. New clause 36 is similar in effect to new clause 4, but it would do this without having any parliamentary vote. It states that a deal is required on both economic and security matters by 1 June or an extension is mandated as a consequence of this legislation. The Opposition parties therefore want to amend the Bill to force further delay.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is astounding that so many Opposition Members did not listen to the call in the recent general election from the people, who are fed up with continuous delays and extensions? The message they gave us on the doorstep was to get Brexit done so that we can all move on and start talking about other things, such as our NHS, schools and policing.
My hon. Friend is right to say that a very clear message was reflected in our mandate. To be fair to Opposition Members, I should say that I watched the shadow Brexit Secretary on “The Andrew Marr Show” and he did accept the need to move on. [Interruption.] I am giving credit to him, although I appreciate that he is engaged on other matters in his own party at the moment. My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there was a clear desire from the British public to get on to the other priorities to which he refers.
Is not the danger in setting this fixed date that the British Government will quickly have to make a decision about what they want to achieve in the second phase of Brexit? Are they going to go for close alignment? If so, they could possibly get the deal done in the year. But if they decide they are going to disalign, that will create difficulties, and the best we can hope for will be, if not a no-deal cliff edge, a bare-bones free trade agreement. That could be very bad news for the economy.
With respect to the hon. Gentleman, we see it as a win-win. The EU wishes to trade with the UK; we wish to trade with the EU. They are our neighbours and we want to have a constructive relationship, but at the same time people voted for change and they want to see change. The Government are committed to delivering, through the Bill, the change that the British public voted for.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is not only the British people who are fed up with seeing Parliament going round and round in circles on Brexit, which is why they voted for the Conservative party in the general election? People in many European countries just want to get on and get past Brexit. They want a trade deal with us; we should agree one quickly and move on.
My hon. Friend, who always speaks with authority as a former Member of the European Parliament, is absolutely right to understand that this is a desire not just of the British public but of many of our friends and neighbours in Europe, who want to see the debate move forward and therefore want to see this legislation delivered. That is why it is right that we have clause 1 and why the new clauses are inappropriate.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the negotiations with the European Union on the free trade agreement will be relatively easy on goods, but the negotiations on services will be much more complicated? That is mainly because on goods we have a balance of trade deficit with the European Union, but on services we have a balance of trade improvement.
I refer back to the remarks I made a moment ago about this being a win-win for both sides. Let me take a portfolio that I used to deal with as a Minister: financial services. It is in the interests of EU businesses to be able to access capital at the cheapest possible price. I see in his place my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), who has expertise in this regard; he knows that the expertise in respect of the global markets and the liquidity that London offers is of benefit not just to the rest of the world but to colleagues in European businesses. They want access to the talent of the constituents of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and many others, which is why it is in both sides’ interests to reach agreement. That is the discussion that the Prime Minister will have with the President of the Commission tomorrow.
For those of us who have been clear about our opposition to no deal, the problem with new clause 4 is that in effect it takes away some of the certainty and benefits to business, because it opens up the possibility of an unended extension, and the problem with new clause 36 is that it is anti-democratic. Any colleagues who think that such provisions may need to be in place should recognise that they would undermine the whole purpose of the withdrawal agreement. The best way to stop no deal is to secure a deal.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I know that he engages extensively with the business community, and what the business community wants is the clarity and certainty that the Bill delivers, and it also wants an implementation period that has a clear demarcation in terms of time. That is what the Bill will deliver.
I shall give way one further time to the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who was the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee.
The Secretary of State has expressed enormous confidence that a deal will be done by December; may I test that confidence a little further? Will he give the House an assurance today that there is no prospect whatsoever of the UK leaving without an agreement in December this year?
I have set this out very clearly. The right hon. Gentleman will have studied the Bill—he always does—and will know exactly what is in clause 33, which is a commitment to stick to the timetable set out for the implementation period, which we committed to in our manifesto. I would hope that he, as a democrat, would want a Government to adhere to their manifesto.
The reality is that, on 12 December, the British public voted in overwhelming numbers to get Brexit done by 31 January and to conclude the implementation period by December 2020, so that we can look forward to a bright future as an independent nation. Page 5 of our manifesto explicitly states that we will negotiate a trade agreement by next year—one that will strengthen our union—and that we will not extend the implementation period beyond December 2020. We are delivering on these promises that the British people have entrusted us to deliver, and the Opposition are interested only in further delay and disruption. I urge Labour and the Liberal Democrats not to press new clauses 4 and 36.
I look forward to hearing from Members across the House as we take the Bill through Committee. This Government are committed to delivering Brexit, and this Bill will enable us to do so.
Order. I should probably have indicated for the benefit of new Members, and will indicate now, that clause 33 will not be decided today. Although it is grouped with these amendments, it will be taken as a Committee of the Whole House decision tomorrow and may or may not be divided on. To make that clear, it will not be that we have forgotten it.
Thank you very much, Sir Roger. It is a pleasure to rise to speak to new clause 4 primarily and to have the opportunity to correct the misrepresentation by the Secretary of State of our objectives in tabling it. It is also a pleasure to do so with you in the Chair, Sir Roger. I want to take this opportunity to thank you and indeed all the Clerks for the work that has been done to ensure that we are able to debate the issues in the Bill today. Much of that work was done over the recess when other people were enjoying the break.
I have to say how much we regret that the Government have provided so little time to debate a considerable number of amendments, all tabled because they will have profound consequences for our country for generations to come. Our proposals over the next two days echo the concerns expressed in the previous Parliament and reflect the approach that has guided us as an Opposition over the past four difficult and divisive years.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He talks about the principles that have guided him. Surely they are the principles that have misguided him and his party. Does he not understand that the political landscape has changed as a result of the general election? As the Secretary of State said, people want to get Brexit done. They do not want further delay, which is all that his new clause and new clause 36 would bring.
I had hoped for a better initial intervention. We are very clear that we accept that the general election has changed the landscape. The shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has made that position clear, other colleagues have made that position clear, and I will do so in my remarks. Government Members should recognise that, although under our electoral system the arithmetic in this place is very clear, the majority of the British people voted for parties that were not of the mind of the Conservative manifesto and wanted to give the British public a further say. I say that not to deny the reality of the voting in this place, but to urge Government Members to have some caution about the way that they approach this issue and claim authority from the British people.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will of course give way. It is always a pleasure.
I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I just wanted to clarify one thing. Labour Front Benchers and the whole Labour party—with few exceptions, if any—voted against the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972. First, does he confirm that that was the case—I do not think that he can deny it? Secondly, does that not make it clear that, back in 2018 when that Act received Royal Assent, they were refusing to accept the will of the British people and were against repealing the 1972 Act?
I am always happy to confirm what is on the public record, but I would say that the Opposition were clear; we campaigned to remain in the European Union because we believed that it was the right thing for our country and for the continent that we share with the other members of the EU, but we accepted the outcome of the referendum and voted to trigger article 50. We believe that there would have been the possibility both of winning an overwhelming majority in this House and of uniting the British people around a departure from the European Union that reflected the 52:48 vote of a divided country in 2016—a decision that would have taken us out of the European Union while remaining close to it, aligned with the single market, in a customs union, and continuing to be part of the agencies and partnerships that we have built together over 46 years. That sort of deal was available and it was Government Members who denied it.
We voted against the Bill on Second Reading because we believe that the withdrawal agreement is a bad deal for the UK, just as we voted against previous withdrawal agreements. When Government Members point fingers, it is worth remembering that we were not alone in that. Albeit for very different reasons, many Government Members, including the Prime Minister, voted more than once against getting Brexit done—on the terms of the previous Prime Minister’s deal and for his own reasons.
I appreciate the sentiment in my hon. Friend’s speech and the way in which he describes the events of the past few years. Does he agree that our duty now, as a responsible Opposition, is to make these very points and to point out to the Government—however large their majority—issues of substance on which we disagree and where the interests of the United Kingdom are not being pursued effectively by the Government?
I very much agree. There needs to be a voice for the approaching 55% of people in this country who were uncomfortable with the direction offered by the Conservative party manifesto. Although the result of the general election was clear, it does not mean that the Government can proceed without question, challenge or scrutiny. That is the point of many of our amendments.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, the tone of which is just right. May I press the wider question around scrutiny? We will shortly have no Exiting the European Union Committee and I am not sure when the Select Committees will return. There is a lot of detail and, having sat on the International Trade Committee, I know that a lot of mistakes can be made at the beginning of the process when it comes to having a forward-looking trade deal. I fear that rushing into it like this—not allowing Parliament much time to debate the principles at the beginning and giving the Government a tiny implementation period—could lead to a much worse outcome than if we were to take a little time to be more thoughtful and give Parliament a genuine role in the new arrangements.
My hon. Friend is right to focus on the issue. The Government have seemed reluctant to embrace the idea of scrutiny and accountability since October in so very many ways. I hope they will think seriously and quite genuinely over the period ahead to ensure that there is a proper opportunity for this House to question and debate the direction of travel.
I am glad that we have this opportunity for the Opposition to make their points, but can they not see that trying to take away the proposition that we leave at the end of the year, come what may, completely undermines the British negotiating position? Every time they have tabled an amendment over the past three and a half years, it has always been to do Britain down and leave us in a weak position.
The right hon. Gentleman and I have had previous exchanges about comments that he might have made about doing Britain down. The position we have taken is that possibly it is not always the best idea to jump off a cliff—that if we find ourselves in a position where we are, for the sake of weeks or months, unable to secure a deal that is in the interests of the British economy, the sensible thing to do is to give ourselves a little bit of flexibility. He may think otherwise, but that is not our view.
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that for many people listening to the argument he is making, this is not a case of a fear of jumping over the cliff but more a fear that those opposed to leaving the EU want us to have our feet firmly stuck in the mud of the EU for ever, and that is the reason he wants a further extension?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention, because it gives me the opportunity to say that that is absolutely not the case. We accept that we are leaving the European Union in three weeks’ time—end of—but that is not the end of Brexit because we will have considerable discussion in this place, and the Government will be involved in negotiations for some time to come, on the future relationship.
The future relationship is the concern behind new clause 4, because we have consistently sought to oppose any proposals that risk damaging people’s jobs and livelihoods. That is why we voted against the deal proposed by the previous Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May): the current Prime Minister may have voted against her for different reasons. It is why we also voted against the deal proposed by the current Prime Minister in the last Parliament.
Since its introduction in October, this Bill has only got worse—in our view, much worse. It grants expansive powers to Ministers and severely diminishes any role for Parliament in the crucial period ahead. It removes our role in approving the Government’s negotiating mandate and voting on the final treaty. Protections for workers’ rights have been ditched, confirming that the TUC was right to dismiss previous Government promises as “meaningless procedural tricks”. The new Northern Ireland protocol undermines the UK’s internal market—something that the Prime Minister had promised his former allies faithfully that he was committed to protecting. Shamefully, the Government have removed the requirement to negotiate an agreement with the EU on unaccompanied children seeking asylum.
The Government have not only removed any role for Parliament in deciding whether to extend the implementation period but are now specifically prohibiting Ministers from agreeing an extension through clause 33, as the Secretary of State pointed out. So no deal is back on the table, as I think he confirmed in his response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). It is that risk that new clause 4 attempts to address. We do not plan to press it to a vote this evening, but it is intended to provide an opportunity for the Government to come back to this House with their proposals, perhaps on Report, on how we avoid the catastrophe of no deal at the end of this year.
It is a reflection of the unfortunately polarised discourse on Brexit, reflected in some of the comments earlier, that new clause 4 was described in some sections of the media at the end of last week as an
“attempt to delay leaving the EU by two years”.
It is no such thing. We recognise, as I said, that the general election result means that we are leaving the European Union on 31 January, but what happens thereafter is crucial to our economy, to jobs and to people’s livelihoods, whether they voted leave or voted remain.
The hon. Gentleman says that he recognises the decision that the electorate took last month, but does he not accept that there was a very clear mandate to conclude the implementation period by the end of this year, which was clearly in the Conservative manifesto—the manifesto of the party that has clearly been elected with a significant majority in this House?
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was listening to the point that I made earlier. I am very clear on the electoral arithmetic, but he should also be clear that there is significant concern among the British people—represented by almost 55% of those who cast their vote in the general election—about the future direction, and there is no mandate for leaving the European Union without a deal.
I do not think that anyone can doubt my credentials as someone who is concerned about and opposed to no deal, but the hon. Member’s remarks would have greater validity if new clause 4 allowed for the potential of a very short extension necessary for the conclusion of a future relationship, as I think he was beginning to say, rather than a completely open-ended extension, which is unsurprisingly being described as an extension to Brexit. If he had wanted to stop no deal, he should have voted for a deal, and he should do that now.
I do not question the hon. Member’s credentials in terms of his concern about our leaving without a deal, but I ask him to look carefully at new clause 4. The framing of the new clause in relation to two years builds on the provisions of the withdrawal agreement to which the Government have signed up but includes the capacity for a much shorter transitional period if the Government are successful in concluding a deal or if this House agrees. Our proposal very much addresses the point that he makes. I will come to that in more detail, and he might want to intervene again.
It was because of the risks of a disorderly departure that we were first to argue—it seems like a very long time ago now—for a transition period, which at that stage the Government opposed. We were raising the voice of business and of the trade unions, and we were pleased when the Government accepted that principle, although they saved face by renaming it an implementation period. When the end of the transition was originally set for December 2020, it was on the assumption that we would have left the EU on 29 March last year, leaving 21 months—[Interruption.] The Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union asks, “Why didn’t we?” He could ask that of a number of his colleagues, including the Prime Minister. That would have left 21 months to negotiate our new relationships on trade and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out, on security in particular. Twenty-one months was seen as ambitious. Many in the Government sitting around the Cabinet table doubted its deliverability. That is why there was a provision to extend it. But now there is only 11 months, and in trade negotiation terms 11 months is unbelievably short.
The Government say that they want an ambitious, best-in-class free trade agreement. They talk about CETA as a model, but not about the time taken to negotiate CETA, of which they are well aware. They say that it will be easy to negotiate, because we start from the unique position in trade talks of existing alignment; the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) is nodding. But it is the Government’s objective to diverge from that alignment, to seek a deal that allows the UK to race to the bottom, undercutting the EU on obligations and regulations and stepping off the level playing field. That will be uniquely difficult to negotiate, and any deal secured in 11 months is highly likely not to be a good deal for the UK.
The hon. Member is making an important point. Essentially, this will be the first trade deal in history where the aim is to put up barriers rather than remove them. Rather than this being an easy process, is it not likely to be convoluted and difficult?
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention, and I agree with him.
Does my hon. Friend agree that we only need to look at the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation —a negotiation on the basis of a trade deal that has taken almost two years and still is not fully completed—to get an answer about how long it takes to negotiate a trade deal when one already exists and economies are already partly aligned?
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; he is right. I fear that the Government platitudes about the ease of negotiating this deal skirt over the real challenges that will be faced and the need for some flexibility and provision to avoid the cliff edge.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I have been fairly generous in giving away. I will make some progress and then take further interventions.
Under the provisions of the withdrawal agreement, as the Secretary of State pointed out, any extension to the transition period must be agreed by 1 July 2020, only five months after negotiations have begun. I fully accept that we might be completely wrong in our concerns. The Government might be able to negotiate a best-in-class free trade agreement within 11 months. If that is the case and they are able to secure a deal, there will be no extension under the provisions of our new clause, so what are they worried about? If the Government are confident—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is finding this funny, but if the Government are confident in their ability to agree a comprehensive future relationship with the European Union, I hope that they will have no problem in returning to the House with proposals along the lines of those outlined in new clause 4.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. When he says that it is a race to the bottom, surely he is showing his own prejudice, in the sense that he does not want the United Kingdom to devolve itself of any unnecessary regulations that have been imposed on this country over the last 47 years.
I was quite involved in the debate during the referendum, and I listened carefully to what many of the Government Members who were advocating our departure were saying. They talked about a bonfire of regulations. The direction of travel for leaving the European Union was fairly clear: it is to free ourselves of those rights and protections that defend working people, protect the environment and protect consumers and to create a different sort of economic model. The hon. Member may not agree with my description, but I think that a “race to the bottom” summarises that pretty well.
The hon. Member asks what the problem is with new clause 4, because if we have done a deal by the end of 2020, we will leave anyway. The point is that if we are not allowed to delay, the imperative on both sides of the negotiating table is to get this done by the end of 2020. If we allow it to be extended for another two years, the negotiations are bound to take longer. Why can he not approach these negotiations with confidence? The Government are confident that they can do it within the period. Michel Barnier, whom I quoted earlier, seems confident that it can be done. Why can his party not approach the negotiations in that spirit?
If the Government were so confident, why did they build into the withdrawal agreement the provision to be able to extend? It was a cautious insurance policy. They were right to do so. We are trying to help them with the problems that they are creating for themselves now.
Many Government Members know that there is a potential for us not to have secured the sort of deal that this country needs by the end of December. If, unamended, this Bill forces the country into a no-deal crash-out—which was described, for example, by Make UK, the voice of the manufacturing sector, as “the height of economic lunacy”—the Government will regret not having taken the opportunity to make some provisions along the lines of new clause 4, which protects the UK from the entirely unnecessary threat of no deal. It simply builds on the mechanism for extending the transition period that is already baked into the Government’s own withdrawal agreement; it is oven ready, as the Prime Minister would like to say. For the same reasons, we do not accept the insertion of clause 33, which is grandstanding nonsense that prohibits Ministers from agreeing to an extension to the transition period.
Let me be absolutely clear again: we are not seeking to delay Brexit—the UK will have left the EU in three weeks’ time—nor do we want to stay in the transition period any longer than is necessary, but the flexibility that we are proposing provides the certainty that business needs. There is no point in replacing the previous cliff edge, about which the hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) expressed real concern, with the new cliff edge if the flexibility that we are suggesting is not there.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very good case about why the Opposition are putting this forward, but will he explain why the date of 15 June 2020 is included? Why is it not 15 September or 15 October, or later in 2020, as one of the conditions that would force a vote in this House on applying for an extension? If he is serious about this, that date should be put back much nearer the end of the negotiations, when we will be more certain about how the Government are proceeding.
I would not actually disagree with the point the hon. Gentleman makes. The date that we have included in new clause 4 is determined by the Government. The position of requiring some flexibility, let us remember, reflects the Government’s previous view. In the last version of this Bill, published in October, the Government accepted the principle that the transition period could be extended. That was the Government’s view—this Government. It was also the Government’s view that Parliament should have a role in that process—the current Prime Minister. It was right then; it is right now; and I look forward to proposals from the Government on Report to address these concerns.
I rise particularly to support clause 33. I think it is essential that we are finally out of the EU in every proper way by the end of this year. Some three and a half years have passed since the British people made their decision that they wished to leave. Many of us voted to leave because we think the world is going to be better once we have left. We do not regard it as some kind of disease or problem that has to be managed; we see it as full of opportunities. We want to rebuild our fishing industry under British regulations and British control. We wish to get all our money back and to spend it on our priorities in health and education. We wish to make sure that we can make the laws we wish, and which the people recommend to us in elections and in the normal dialogue between constituents and Members of Parliament. We are extremely optimistic about our opportunities as a leader of free trade worldwide once we have regained our full vote and voice in the World Trade Organisation and are able to do our own deals with all those parts of the world that the EU has not got round to doing deals with all the time we have been a member.
We are very optimistic. We think we are going to be better off economically. I have always said that, and anyone who suggests otherwise is deliberately misrepresenting my position. I share the frustration of many leave voters that three and a half years on and with a new Parliament with a very clear mandate we are still facing demands that we are going too quickly and that three and a half years plus another year—four and a half years—is still not long enough, and why not six and a half years?
Does my right hon. Friend agree that, unlike the Opposition spokesman, who seems to paint a very gloomy picture about our moving away from European regulations, this Parliament and this country are perfectly capable of regulating our own domestic affairs, and protecting the environment and workers’ rights in the British way, without always acquiescing to EU laws?
I, in particular, think we can do a lot better on taxation. I do not want tax on all these green products that the EU makes us tax. I would not have thought that the Green party really wanted those. However, I suspect that if I or others moved amendments to the forthcoming Budget this March to take out those unnecessary taxes, we would be told we are still not allowed to because we are in the implementation period and have to accept European law. It has also interfered in our corporate taxes in a way that actually reduces the revenues we gain from big business. I would have thought Labour and the Liberal Democrats rather oppose that, but because it comes from the EU, they are completely quiet on the subject. They do not seem to mind that the EU interferes with our revenue raising.
Is my right hon. Friend surprised, as I am, that the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats, with their new clauses, are seeking yet further delays? Despite what the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) says, that is the effect of new clause 4. It would mean a lack of the certainty that the British people voted for at the recent general election.
I do think it is almost unbelievable that the Opposition are talking about adding to four and a half years of delay, under the Government model now, another two years—six and a half years. Six and a half years at £12 billion a year is a huge sum, and I would like to tease this out a bit more with those on our Front Bench because I think my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State misunderstood me. He thought I was talking about the cost to business, but I am talking about the cost to British taxpayers. This extra implementation period in itself—I really rather regret it, but I see it is a necessity from where we currently are, given the forces in this House—must be costing £11 billion or £12 billion, in tax revenue forgone, that we have to pay.
I would like some reassurance from Front Benchers that once we are properly out at the end of December, under clause 33, there will not be further bills. I want us to be able to say to the British people, “We now do control our own money. We are not going to carry on paying for this show.” I think it might be quite a good negotiating tactic to suggest to the EU that perhaps there is not a strong legal basis for some of the claims it wishes to make, because we need to put some countervailing pressure on the EU during this remaining negotiation period on the free trade agreement. I do not think we have to pay for a free trade agreement. I think it is massively in the interests of the rest of the European Union, because it sells us more than we sell it, but we have to be firm, otherwise it will walk all over us again and demand more concessions.
Is not the lesson of the prolonged, tortuous seven years of negotiation on the Canadian deal the very fact that it was an open-ended process that did not come to an end? The effect of new clause 4 is basically to ensure, in providing for an extension, that it makes that extension certain, because the knowledge that the extension can take place will take away the very pressure to make an agreement within the time that is available.
Those of us who have had to study European Union affairs for all too long, because they affect our own country so much, have learned from bitter experience that deals nearly always happen at the last minute under artificial or genuine deadlines that the EU has often imposed on itself. All we are trying to do, in supporting a Government in doing this, is to say to the EU that there is a deadline on this negotiation: “If you, O EU, really want a free trade deal with us, as you have said you do in the partnership agreement, hurry now while stocks last.” It is not all about us; it is about the EU as well. It needs this free trade agreement, and we need to keep the pressure up. Let us tell it that there needs to be significant progress by the middle of this year so that it is realistic to finalise the text.
I do think it should be relatively straightforward, if there is good will on the EU side as well as on our own side, because we have been party to its international negotiations. If we take the best of the Japanese deal and the best of the Canadian deal—it is already there in text—it should be relatively easy to say that we can at least have that. The EU has already offered that to non-members of the European Union, and we should be able to add a bit more because by being a member we already have agreements to things that are in our mutual interest to continue.
I would be very optimistic about the negotiations, but I am quite conscious that if we negotiate as, unfortunately, the previous Government did before the change of leadership and the general election, we will end up making more concessions to get something that the EU has already promised in the political declaration. I do not want the fish at risk, and I do not want the money at risk. I do want to take full control of the money, the fish, the law making and the taxes from the beginning of next year, as we are promised by this Bill, and clause 33 is a very important part of trying to deliver that.
I wish the Government every success. I am optimistic on their behalf because of the promises the EU has made. My message to the EU is: “Do not underestimate the British people. You may have been right to believe that many of their political representatives in the last Parliament were on the EU’s side, not on the UK’s side, but the British people are altogether a more serious proposition, and the British people have spoken loud and clear.” The British people have had enough of the delay, enough of the dither, enough of the concessions and enough of the idea that Brexit is a problem. We believe in Brexit; we want the freedoms; and we want to choose our own taxes, our own laws and to spend our own money. Bring it on—the sooner, the better.
The Prime Minister and some members of the Conservative party call on everyone to “move on” from Brexit. It is as if he expects those of us who see the disadvantages of leaving the EU simply to put our brain in a box and forget about the impacts on our constituents and communities. He expects us not to speak up for the colleagues, friends and, in my case, loved ones who have come here from the EU, made their home here and improved our society. He expects us not to mourn our loss of EU citizenship and to be silent about the damage to healthcare, manufacturing, the food and drink industry, farming, and even fishing—yes, fishing, that oft-quoted supposed beneficiary of Brexit.
The trouble is that the Prime Minister thinks there is only one fishing industry, and one Scottish fishing industry, and he completely ignores inshore fishing, such as that in my constituency on the west coast of Scotland. Eighty-five per cent. of that catch goes to the EU, but with extra bureaucracy, delays and the threat of tariffs, the industry will struggle to compete with Northern Irish fishermen, who share the same waters but will land their catch directly into the single market. To save their boats, some fishermen have even mooted registering them in Northern Ireland, but that would destroy the viability of our fishing harbours, fish markets and onshore processing. It is certainly not a “sea of opportunity” for coastal communities.
Despite his hollow demand to “let the healing begin”, the Prime Minister has produced a worse deal than his predecessor. Like her, he made no attempt to seek common ground across the Chamber, or across the nations of the UK, and he ignored the Scottish Government’s compromise of enabling both Northern Ireland and Scotland to stay inside the single market and customs union, which would have respected the fact that both nations voted to remain in the EU. Even the supposed triumph of the Northern Ireland protocol is sketched on the back of a fag packet, with almost everything left for the Joint Committee to work out and enact through sweeping and unlimited delegated powers.
The changes made to the October version of the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill set the tone for what we can expect from this Government in future. The deletion of clause 34 and schedule 4 removes the protection of workers’ rights from this legally binding treaty, while clause 37 abandons the commitment to family reunification for unaccompanied child refugees. Particularly concerning are the Government’s plans for a ridiculously short transition period of only 11 months—despite the former Prime Minister taking two and a half years just to get the withdrawal agreement. The Tory manifesto revealed the Government’s aim of changing the balance between Government, Parliament and the courts, and in this Bill we see that begin. There is little input for the devolved Governments, despite the impact that Brexit will have on their devolved policies. This debate has been limited to just three days in the House of Commons, as opposed to 30 days to debate the treaties of Rome or Maastricht.
We hear much about sovereignty as an argument for Brexit. The rather pointless clause 36 simply restates parliamentary sovereignty, yet clauses 5 and 6 give the withdrawal agreement supremacy over all domestic UK law. This Bill is not “getting Brexit done”; it is the beginning of the beginning. The former Prime Minister tried to have her cake and eat it, while painting herself into a corner with her own red lines. This Prime Minister clearly does not care if he only manages a few crumbs of a basic, bare-bones trade deal, and the loss of 50-plus EU free trade deals with other countries in the world. Such is the obsession with a short transition—there is certainly no more talk of frictionless trade!
The long wish list of aspirations in the political declaration is way beyond a trade deal; it is the future relationship with the EU. The political declaration makes it clear that the more the UK diverges, the less there will be on the table, and the outcome of that will affect the wellbeing of people in all our constituencies. By deleting clause 31, and by removing parliamentary oversight of negotiations on the future relationship, MPs are losing the ability to influence the terms of that relationship on behalf of our constituents and local industries. We are also losing the possibility of scrutinising the Government’s proposals and holding them to account on their progress. This is a blind Brexit. As others have said, we are expected to jump off a cliff at the end of this month, and we are meant just to trust that somehow the Government will knit a parachute on the way down.
Clauses 1 to 4 are to ensure that EU and EU-derived law functions during the standstill transition, by keeping modified parts of the European Communities Act 1972 in force, along with the sweeping use of delegated powers. No end date is set in any of the clauses, with references only to “implementation period completion day”. Clause 33 later forbids any extension to the transition period, which means that we still face a no-deal crash-out at the end of this year, thus continuing business uncertainty, discouraging investment, and keeping the brakes on the UK economy. A Government do not need to legislate for their own actions, so that is clearly a stunt to keep hard Brexiteers and no-deal disaster capitalists on board—or do the Prime Minister’s colleagues perhaps not trust him to keep to his “die in a ditch” commitments yet again? This is a bizarre act of self-harm, as not only are the Government planning to take the UK off a cliff without a parachute; they are actively removing the safety net at the bottom.
If the Opposition had pushed for new clause 4, we would have supported it. Brexit will harm the health and wellbeing of ordinary people across the UK, and while the Prime Minister may have won the election in England, he did not win it in any of the devolved nations. Indeed, by specifically standing on a ticket of denying Scotland a choice on her future, he lost more than half his Scottish MPs. At the ballot box last month, three-quarters of Scottish voters rejected this Prime Minister, rejected his party and rejected his deal. He has no mandate to inflict his disastrous Brexit on Scotland, and we will not support the Bill.
Thank you, Sir Roger, for allowing me to speak in this important debate. It is a pleasure to be back in Parliament with a new mandate, following the general election. I spoke about the withdrawal agreement in the previous Session, and I am happy to add my voice again to this debate. I will keep my comments brief, but I wish to add my support for the Government’s approach.
As the Secretary of State set out, it is important to have an implementation period. Redditch is a centre of business and has many small and medium-sized enterprises. Although they had mixed views on the referendum, most businesses, citizens and voters now conclude that it is more damaging to be constantly in a cycle of extension and delay to Brexit than to do what the Government are now doing by setting out a clear timeline to follow. Once this Bill has passed, we will have that certainty, and from my experience before I came to Parliament of running a small business for nearly 30 years —yes, I do look that old—[Hon. Members: “No! No!] Thank you, thank you. I will pay you all later. What people need to run their business is certainty, which is what the Bill will provide. It means that we know where we are going, and when businesses know that, they can do what they do best and prepare for the situation in which they find themselves. This is definitely the right way forward.
Let me address the comments made by Opposition Members about new clause 4, which seeks to introduce an extension to the implementation period. I do not support that approach as I think it is a rerun of the previous Parliament, and we all saw how damaging that was, not only for this Parliament but for our reputation in the country. Voters were looking at us and wondering what we were doing and why we were not implementing the clear instructions that they gave us in the historic referendum of 2016. Again, no matter how they voted—whether they voted to leave or remain—there was a simple principle of democracy at stake. Voters said to us, “We have given you those instructions.” It may not have been what I, as an individual, wanted to happen, but that was the overwhelming democratic result of the country. They said, “We expect you, as politicians and parliamentarians, to implement it.” We did not do that and it was a very damaging situation that eroded trust in us as politicians. Anyone who has been out on the doorstep, not only in their own constituency but in others, knows that that is what the public are saying to us.
The Labour party has made a great deal of wanting to hold us to account over the transition period and any possible extensions, so is my hon. Friend surprised that there is only one Labour Back Bencher in this debate, bearing in mind the importance Labour Members attach to this issue?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We see this time and again from the Opposition. They are constantly crying out that they need more time for scrutiny, yet when we have the time there is a sea of empty Benches. We have seen that so many times. This is not the first time. We do not even have the shadow Brexit Secretary here. There is a lack of interest. I honestly think that it would not matter how much time we gave them; they still would not want us to actually honour the will of the British people. I am afraid it is a fig leaf.
Does my hon. Friend agree that part of the problem with what the Opposition propose is not just their lack of attention in coming to the Chamber, but their lack of attention to detail in what they propose? On new clause 4, they talk about the need to bring authority back to Parliament, but does she agree that what it actually says is that only a two-year extension could be proposed by the Government in this country—[Interruption.] That is exactly what it says. And that only the European Union could put a shorter extension on the table. It does not give Parliament the authority to suggest a shorter extension at all.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that point. I expect nothing less from his forensic attention to detail. He highlights the inconsistency at the heart of the Opposition’s arguments. It reminds me of some of the amendments we had in the previous Parliament, when the Opposition wanted to us to give away our control about the process of leaving the European Union. That was constantly the approach they forced on the Government. That has actually ended up very well for us, because we now have a strong governing majority.
The response I have had from my constituents in Redditch since I have been fortunate enough to be returned to this place, and since I have been out and about on my travels speaking to them, is that people are just so happy that we can finally get this process concluded. I agree with the Opposition that we all need to now reach out across the House. We need to put the divisions behind us. I do not want to stand in this place and come across in a way that is taken to be—I am struggling to find the right word. What I want to say is that I want to find common ground. I think there is now common ground between the Government and the Opposition. We want to come together. There is a recognition that different positions were taken by voters, but we need to come together in the interests not only of Parliament, but the country and all our constituents.
I am very respectful of the hon. Lady’s position and the position of others in this House. However, when she refers to coming together, does she understand that we on the Unionist side of the House feel greatly threatened and disadvantaged by the agreement? What is being done to alleviate the concern of Unionists in this House about an agreement that basically puts us outside of the rest of the United Kingdom and under the control of the EU? How can that be right? Does the hon. Lady respect and understand—
Order. I think this is the moment when the Chair has to intervene just a little. I have given a lot of slack during the course of the afternoon. The hon. Gentleman is fully aware that a greater part of tomorrow will be devoted to matters relating to Northern Ireland and I do not wish to stray too far into matters that will be debated tomorrow. We have a minimum of four hours to debate a lot of clauses later this evening. If the hon. Lady is able to win some time for the House, and if other hon. Members are able to do so, we might manage to spend more time debating issues that I suspect a lot of people wish to discuss.
Thank you for guidance, Sir Roger. I will adhere to it and conclude my remarks by saying that I thoroughly support the Government. I support clause 33, which has to be in the Bill. It is an excellent Bill and I look forward to it passing tonight.
I am mindful of your strictures with regard to time, Sir Roger. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) said during his opening remarks that he did not intend to press new clause 4 to a Division. If it assists the Committee, I can indicate that it is not my intention to press new clause 36, which stands in my name and in the name of my right hon. and hon. Friends. I do, however, wish to speak to those. Before I do so, I would like to pick up on the points made by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West (Joanna Cherry) to the Secretary of State with regard to the powers given to the United Kingdom Government and to the Scottish Government and other devolved Administrations.
I found the Secretary of State’s explanation to be a little less than clear and somewhat less than convincing. In proposed new paragraph 11B in clause 4, relating to the powers of the Scottish Parliament, he will see that the devolved Administrations have no power to legislate outside their devolved competences. It is of course in the nature of devolution that the Administrations have no power, so I suggest to the Secretary of State that the inclusion of that provision is at the very least somewhat otiose. He would have to come up with a better explanation than he did to the hon. and learned Lady as to why it is necessary to have, or not to have, a similar provision with regard to the powers of this House.
The Secretary of State talked in his opening remarks about the commitment in the Conservative party manifesto, in respect of which it now has a handsome majority in this House. He was quite right to put that before the Committee, and it is perfectly legitimate that the Government should do so. However, I would suggest that he took it one step further than was sensible when he suggested that clause 33 was necessary for the Government to meet their manifesto obligations. Whether or not a Government meet their manifesto obligations is essentially a matter of politics, not law, and for the Secretary of State to suggest it is necessary to have a clause of this sort to meet their manifesto obligations is something of an overstatement. It would be possible for them to meet their manifesto obligations without recourse to clause 33.
As other Members have pointed out, it is perfectly legitimate—we are entitled to do so—for those of us on the Opposition Benches, and I suspect a number of the better-informed Government Members, to point out that the previous implementation agreement reached by the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), was for 21 months. At that point, we thought that was exceptionally ambitious, but now we find that it can all be done in 11 months. I have been a Member of this House for over 18 and a half years. You learn a thing or two in that time, Sir Roger. You know that, because you have been here even longer than me. One of the things we learn is to take assurances of that sort with a measure of some scepticism when we hear them from those on the Treasury Bench, whichever party is in government. That is why I think this is perfectly legitimate.
We have heard the assurances given by those on the Treasury Bench tonight. They may be right, in which case we will have an agreement concluded by the end of this year, but if they are not, those assurances will stand on the record, and the Minister and his colleagues will have to be accountable for them. I suspect that we now have a choice between close alignment, because that will be all that is possible in the 11-month negotiation period, and no deal. It will be interesting to see whether the unity that has been present behind the Secretary of State on the Government Benches today is maintained after that point.
The Secretary of State and his colleagues have been candid in saying that no deal is still very much on the table, in the event that they do not have a deal concluded at the end of this year. It is worth remembering the extent of the implications of no deal. We have focused almost exclusively on the execution of a trade deal this evening. As the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) reminded us, intelligence and security co-operation is also at risk, and the consequences of failing to get that right would go well beyond monetary and commercial considerations.
I am also concerned about the third issue that would come into play in a no-deal Brexit: the position of Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. The Union of the United Kingdom can be broken up by any one of its four constituent parts. If we end up with a no-deal Brexit, we force Northern Ireland into a situation that is different legally and in regulatory terms from that which pertains in the rest of the United Kingdom. Once that wedge is inserted, we will never see it removed.
I do not intend to press new clause 36 to a Division. We have heard the bold and ambitious assertions from those on the Treasury Bench. Time will tell whether they are right, but if they are wrong, the Secretary of State’s words are on the record and, believe me, they will come back to haunt him.
I will keep my remarks mercifully brief, restricting them to new clause 4. This would be a detrimental amendment to the Bill, because it would completely undermine the negotiations that the Government have to undertake. I understand the concerns about a no-deal situation at the end of 2020—I am very concerned about that, too—but we must follow the golden rules in a negotiation. I have negotiated many things in my life, although clearly not something as large as leaving the European Union—but who has? However, there have been some things that would have had a much bigger direct impact on my life, certainly in terms of business negotiations. Some of those have been life-changing and, particularly in negotiations with our banks, pretty much life-threatening. The golden rule in any negotiation is that a person has to walk into them with confidence. That is absolutely how we have to undertake the negotiations. Of course, as the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) said, there are some downsides to these negotiations. It is therefore even more important to walk into them with confidence. We must believe that we can do this deal.
The provision for an extension to be concluded by 1 July was in the withdrawal agreement that the Prime Minister negotiated. Did he do that because he lacked confidence?
We are in a different situation. I am still involved in my business; it has grown a lot over the last 26 or 27 years, and I have concerns about the impact on it of the wrong kind of exit from the European Union. However, I still think it is absolutely right to set the deadline of the end of 2020 to do this deal. In our manifesto and all the statements in the general election, it is true that we said that we would do this deal by the end of 2020 and that we would be out completely by then. It would be wrong and a breach of the trust that the people had in us in the general election for us now to say that there could be a further extension.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about confidence, but does he agree—he has alluded to this—that it is not just confidence, but a firm deadline that is required, rather than a flextension or the risk of a further extension or postponement? We saw that in the last two Parliaments. That fundamental error, which was made by previous Administrations, will not be made by this one.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The date is the imperative that makes sure that both sides will be looking towards that date to finalise negotiations. There are incentives and imperatives on both sides of the negotiating table. If there is the right spirit of negotiation between the two parties, and we undertake the negotiations in that frame of mind, we will absolutely be able to do this deal. However, if we provide the opportunity for an extension, we hand over the advantage in the negotiation to the other side. That is the absolute reality. We cannot do that, nor do we need to.
There are a number of reasons to think that we can do the deal within the timescale. We start from a position of total alignment, which is bound to help. This is different from a normal free trade agreement, in terms of the negotiations. Clearly, there have to be negotiations on what happens about divergence, but we start from a position of absolute alignment, which, to my mind, makes these negotiations totally possible in the next 12 months.
No one has ever negotiated a trade deal in just 11 months, so is it not likely that we will end up with something incredibly primitive? As for casting up that people voted for this in the election, what they voted for was the Government party saying, “We will achieve that by the end of the year.” They did not vote for it saying, “Well, never mind—we will crash out with no deal if we fail.”
The hon. Lady makes a very good point, and I do not want to do that either. However, if she reads the comments from Michel Barnier that I quoted earlier, from the Financial Times of 26 November 2019, she will see that he said that normally such a period would be far too short, but that Brussels would strive to have a deal in place. Clearly, he thinks that he is capable of doing that. He talks about how he would sequence negotiations. For some things, we would have to kick the can down the road a bit and put some contingencies in place to deal with those. Clearly, he thinks that it is possible that we can do that deal.
The political declaration has a huge wish list of aspirations. Are they going to be negotiated later, or does the hon. Gentleman really think that including the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency and all the various things that are in the wish list will be achieved by the end of the year?
There may be a staging process; we do not know how the negotiations are going to roll out yet. Michel Barnier said that Brussels could take contingency measures to deal with those kinds of issue, because he does not want economic disruption. There is an appetite on both sides. What the European Union has done far better than the UK Parliament is negotiate as a bloc, together. There has not ever been any difficulty from its side in terms of people wanting different things, whereas clearly the UK Parliament has not behaved like that. As a result, the biggest vulnerability within the European Union from a poor trade deal or no trade deal is with regard to the Republic of Ireland.
The Republic of Ireland’s GDP growth rate is around 5%. Most financial commentators say that if there was a no-deal Brexit, the Republic of Ireland would go into recession. The EU would not want that. It would not leave the Republic of Ireland behind. The UK has imperatives in striking a deal and so has the EU. To my mind, that means we can do a deal in the next 12 months. I urge the Opposition to have more confidence in their position. The remarks from the hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield), the Opposition Front-Bench spokesman, betrayed a lack of confidence, appetite and enthusiasm for this whole thing.
We cannot deal with Brexit like this—and I voted to remain. We must walk forward with confidence not only about our new relationship with the European Union, but, crucially at this time, about our negotiations on the trade deal.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir George.
It has been mentioned that I am the only Labour Back Bencher in the Chamber, which is a double privilege. First, I think I am the only Labour leaver from the last Parliament left in the House. Secondly, the hustings for the start of the Labour leadership election are going on upstairs, which is important. One of my party’s problems is that although many of our supporters voted to leave the EU—and are enthusiastic about leaving—they are very poorly represented in the Labour party itself.
There is an element of tilting at windmills in this debate. I do not believe the catastrophe theories about the next 11 months or so. The public want us to get out, and it is in the mutual interest of the EU and its member states and the UK to get as good a deal as possible, so I do not believe the catastrophic predictions. I voted against the previous Prime Minister’s deal three times, and against the current Prime Minister’s deal—in November, I think—but I did so because there were not simple majorities and I believed there was a better deal out there. Going through the Lobby, I was aware that some were voting against because they wanted a better deal—one we believed would better represent the decision in the 2016 referendum—but that others were voting to delay the process because they wanted, either by measures in this Chamber or by a second referendum, to overturn the 2016 decision itself.
I am pleased we are now to leave the EU on 31 January, but I am less pleased that, because of tactical mistakes made by my colleagues, we are in a minority against the Conservative Government and look like being so for some time. I take issue with both the philosophy and the detail of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) from the Front Bench. The debate about whether we should remain in or leave the EU was never simply about the economy. Much of the debate—certainly this is one of the things that has motivated me since the 1975 referendum, when I voted to leave—is about the democratic argument. I believe it is better for both the economy and our society if people in this country elect the people who make our laws rather than letting unelected and appointed people in other countries make them. That is a fundamental principle of democracy. Without it, we simply do not have a democracy. I also think that making our own regulations and laws for our own industries is likely to make us economically more efficient and proficient.
The other side of my hon. Friend’s argument is that the Conservatives want a race to the bottom. They might or might not. I am in the Labour party, not the Conservative party, because my philosophy differs from theirs on many issues, but it is better in a democracy if we argue those issues out in general elections such as the one we have just had. If the Conservatives, as they tend to, want a more free-market approach, they should argue for that, and if we want a more interventionist approach, we should argue for that, and whether we win or lose the argument is up to the electorate. At present, however, our ability to support our own industries depends not on whether we or the Conservatives win an election, but on rules for state intervention and support set down by the EU.
As always, the hon. Gentleman is making a compelling argument. I congratulate him not only on his insight but on his consistency. In the end, this is a question of who exercises power and from where, in exactly the way he describes. For too long, too many people on both sides of the House have seen this argument through an economic prism, but it is actually about who decides our destiny, and it should be the British people through those they choose to speak for them here.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He will not necessarily take this as a compliment, but Tony Benn could have made those points, because they have run through the arguments of both Conservative and Labour Members who support leaving the EU ever since we joined in 1972.
Not only is it better that those decisions be taken here, but it is often assumed that the EU is good for the economy and the protection of trade union and environmental rights, yet quite a lot of evidence runs counter to that. I am not an expert on fishing, but the discard rule has been an environmental disaster in the North sea. I understand quite a bit about trade union protections and legislation and I never get a satisfactory answer from my side about the Laval and Viking decisions of the European Court of Justice. Not only do they undermine the minimum wage and the nature and definition of a trade dispute; they are effectively unchangeable, as we in this country cannot change laws made by the ECJ. That is what is fundamentally wrong with being a member of the EU.
I have no doubt that there will be changes when we leave the EU—people will be able to claim there has been a negative economic change there or a positive one here—but that happens all the time. Where has our paper industry gone? Has it been helped by the EU and its regulations? What about our agrochemical industry? It was essentially destroyed by European legislation, but I do not hear people in this Chamber arguing against the EU in that regard. It is accepted—I do not know why—that the EU will always be good for these things.
If new clause 4 were to be put to the vote, I would not join my colleagues in support of it. I agree with what Labour Front Benchers have said—that we should use the debate on the Bill to improve things—but going over the debate we have been having in this Chamber since 2016 will not do that. I have no idea—I have not counted up the time—but my guess is that we have spent as much time in this Chamber discussing the 2016 referendum, at which we committed to giving the people the choice, as we did debating both the Lisbon and Maastricht treaties put together. I understand, however, that Front Benchers do not intend to put the new clause to a vote. I hope they can be more constructive as we continue this debate.
The Democratic Unionist party will be supporting clause 33, though tomorrow we will be tabling amendments to the Bill, because, although we accept that it is essential to get out of the EU as quickly as possible, we believe that the terms of the withdrawal agreement are detrimental to Northern Ireland. The purpose, however, of any amendments my party puts forward will be to assist the process of leaving the EU and to ensure that the whole UK leaves. That is not the case with new clauses 4 and 36, which are designed to extend the period for which we stay in the EU and would make it much more difficult to have a clean break.
Have we learned nothing from the tactics the EU has used over the last few years? The longer the period, the more it can hold back, and the more demands it can make. We have seen that time and again.
The last Parliament made it clear that it would not give the Government the support that they needed to move forward with a deal. The EU dug its heels in deeper, and did not try to be accommodating. What is important about clause 33 is that it draws a line, sends a signal and makes the position very clear. It says, “Here is the deadline: now get on with the negotiations.” No clearer message could be sent to those who are negotiating on the EU’s behalf.
Indeed it is significant that, although we were formerly told that a trade deal could take years to negotiate, the language is suddenly changing because the arithmetic in the House has changed and the Government’s will is different. We are now being told, “Well, it might not be as difficult as it was for Canada and Japan. After all, we are starting from the same place, and we have a lot of the same regulations”—and there are a number of other reasons why the negotiation might be easier than we were previously told that it would be.
I suspect that the right hon. Gentleman is referring to the comments of the EU Trade Commissioner. He made those comments in the context of a decision by the British Government to retain close alignment. The difficulties occur when we disalign.
Of course that will be the opening negotiating position. He is not going to say, “Yes, and by the way, we do not have to have close alignment.” There will still be a desire on the part of the EU to keep us as close as possible. However, one way of ensuring that we get a deal, and get the kind of deal that we want, is to make it clear that we will not engage in protracted negotiations. We must say, “We will not allow you to use all the tactics that you have used before. You must come to a conclusion. If you want access to our UK market—and you need access to it because you sell more to us than we sell to you—and if you want the future trading relationship and the co-operation that the Government have offered time and again, you must reach a deal quickly.”
Has the right hon. Gentleman noticed, in the three and a half years of these endless debates, that the Labour and Liberal Opposition have always tabled proposals that strengthen the EU and undermine the UK? Has he noticed that they only ever put the EU case, and never put the UK case?
That was the whole point of extending the implementation period, to allow that tactic to be used, even in this Parliament, with different arithmetic. It is one of the reasons why I think the Government are right to draw a line and say, “We have a year in which to do this. Now let us get on with it, and let us get the deal.” I just hope that during that period, the Government will also be cognisant of the fact that the protocol on Northern Ireland is damaging to the Union, and will seek to ensure in the negotiations that that protocol is weakened and the differences between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK are changed, so that we leave the EU along with the rest of the United Kingdom and on the same terms.
The right hon. Gentleman has talked about our huge trade deficit with the European Union and how vital a free trade agreement is to the EU—how much more in its interests such an agreement is. I understand that our current trade deficit is more than £92 billion a year. Is the right hon. Gentleman cognisant of that figure?
That is one of the reasons why it should not be too difficult to secure a trade deal. After all, in whose interests is that? It is in the interests of workers in Germany, France, Italy, Spain and other countries all over Europe to have access to the UK market. Our market is lucrative for them. We hear all this talk about why it will be difficult to do a deal, but why would EU negotiators, now that they know there is a different will in the House, want to turn their backs on the UK market? Why would they not want to have the ability to sell goods to us, and to sell them on good terms? They will not want to erect the barriers that people said they were likely to erect.
This is the right thing to do, tactically and politically. The Minister has said that it is necessary to deliver on the commitment that his party made to the electorate during the general election, but let us go back further than that: it is necessary to deliver on the referendum result of 2016, when we promised people that we would leave. I think that the delay has been long enough, and people are frustrated enough, so this is the right thing to do politically, but I also think that it is the right thing to do from the point of view of industry, and economically. We have heard time and again that investment decisions are being delayed because of uncertainty—that people need to know what the future is likely to be, so that we can then see a bounce in the economy. Let us not push this further down the road. Let us make sure that people have certainty as quickly as possible.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, throughout the general election, the mantra of the British people was “Just get on with it.”? Indeed, the outcome of the election was a mandate to the House to get on with the exiting of the European Union, and the new clause flies in the face of the outcome of the general election that we have just had.
Order. I was hesitating to interrupt the right hon. Gentleman, because I thought that he was reaching his peroration, but may I just remind him that he should keep his remarks as close as possible to the clauses and new clauses that we are debating?
Let me conclude my speech, Sir George, by issuing a word of caution about clause 33. While a deadline of December this year can put pressure on the EU, it can also put pressure on the Government. As we in Northern Ireland have learned, the pressure on the Government from the 31 October deadline led to concessions that were not good for, at least, our part of the United Kingdom. This is where Government will and determination are important.
Equally, the deadline that the Government have imposed on themselves could be used by EU negotiators to make demands. Those negotiators could say, “If you want a deal by that stage, here are the things that we want from you: we want you to make concessions on fishing, on level playing fields, on payments and on a whole range of other things.” That is the only word of caution that I will issue. Deadlines put pressure on both sides, and come December this year, whether the Government are prepared to stand firm in the face of their own deadline and not be pushed around will be a test of their will.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 to 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Rights related to residence: application deadline and temporary protection
I beg to move amendment 5, page 9, line 36, leave out from “Crown” to end of clause and insert
“must by regulations make provision—
‘(a) implementing article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (right of eligible citizens to residence documents proving legal status), including making provision for a physical document;
(b) implementing article 17(4) of the EEA EFTA separation agreement (right of eligible citizens to residence documents proving legal status) including making provision for a physical document; and
(c) implementing article 16(4) of the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement (right of eligible citizens to residence documents proving legal status).’”
This amendment would mean that EEA and Swiss citizens residing in the UK would automatically have rights under article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (and equivalent provisions in the EEA EFTA and Swiss citizens’ rights agreements) rather than having to apply for them, and would have the right to a physical document proving their status.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 6, page 10, line 41, at end insert—
‘(3A) Regulations made under this section shall apply to—
(a) the rights of all persons eligible for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom by virtue of—
(i) the withdrawal agreement, or
(ii) residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17) as in force on 21 December 2019, and
(b) such other persons as Ministers consider appropriate.
(3B) The residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17) may not be amended so as to reduce the range of persons eligible for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom by virtue of those rules (other than by primary legislation), but other persons may be added as Ministers consider appropriate.”
This amendment would ensure that the range of persons entitled under UK law to benefit from the rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reduced except by primary legislation.
Amendment 27, page 10, line 41, at end insert—
‘(3A) Regulations made under this section may not prevent EEA and Swiss nationals, or their family members, who are resident in the United Kingdom on or prior to 31 December 2020 applying for settled status at any time.”
This amendment would ensure that people eligible for settled status would not be prevented from obtaining it by an application deadline.
Clause stand part.
Clauses 8 to 10 stand part.
Amendment 2, in clause 11, page 14, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
‘(1) A person may appeal against a citizens’ rights immigration decision to the First-tier Tribunal.”
This amendment would give a right of appeal against a citizens’ rights immigration decision.
Amendment 3, page 14, line 24, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—
‘(3) Subject to subsection (4), while an appeal is pending, the person concerned shall be deemed to have all the rights associated with indefinite leave to remain under the residence scheme immigration rules, in particular as concerns residence, employment, access to social security benefits and other services.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply to an appeal against a decision falling within subsection (2)(a) or (c).
(4A) “Pending” shall have the same meaning for the purposes of subsections (3) and (4) as in section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.”
This amendment would protect the rights of EU citizens while their appeals are pending.
Amendment 20, page 14, line 24, leave out “also”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 2.
Amendment 7, page 14, line 25, leave out “(including judicial reviews)”
This amendment would remove the power being provided to ministers to make regulations about judicial review of certain immigration decisions.
Amendment 21, page 14, line 27, leave out “(1) or”
This amendment is consequential on Amendment 2.
Clauses 11 to 14 stand part.
That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.
Clause 15 stand part.
Amendment 22, in schedule 2, page 46, line 12, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert
“Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration”.
This amendment would make the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration responsible for appointing non-executive members to the independent monitoring authority, rather than the Secretary of State.
Amendment 23, page 46, line 20, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert
“Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration”.
This amendment would make the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, rather than the Secretary of State, jointly responsible with non-executive members of the Independent Monitoring Authority for ensuring that, as far as possible, numbers of non-executive members exceed the number of executive members on the IMA.
Amendment 37, page 59, line 15, leave out paragraphs 39 and 40
This amendment would require any transfer or abolition of the functions of Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements to be by way of primary legislation.
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
Clauses 16 and 17 stand part.
New clause 5—Protecting EU Citizens’ Rights—
‘(1) This section applies to—
(a) European Union citizens having the right to reside permanently in the UK according to Article 15 (“Rights of permanent residence”) of the Withdrawal Agreement;
(b) persons to whom the provisions in (a) do not apply but who are eligible for indefinite leave to enter or remain, or limited leave to enter or remain by virtue of residence scheme immigration rules (see section 17).
(2) A person to which this section applies has the rights and obligations provided in Article 12 and Title II Part II ‘Citizens’ Rights’ of the Withdrawal Agreement.
(3) The Secretary of State must by regulations make provision—
(a) implementing article 18(4) of the withdrawal agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document), including making provision for a physical document providing proof of residence;
(b) implementing article 17(4) of the EEA EFTA separation agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document) including making provision for a physical document providing proof of residence;
(c) implementing article 16(4) of the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement (right of eligible citizens to receive a residence document) including making provision for a physical document providing proof of residence.
(4) No provision of this or any other enactment, or adopted under this or any other enactment, may be used to require European Union nationals and their family members, or nationals of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland and their family members, who reside in the United Kingdom immediately prior to the end of the implementation period, to apply for a new residence status under Article 18(1) of the Withdrawal Agreement, or to introduce a deadline for applications under residence scheme immigration rules or relevant entry clearance rules.
(5) Residence scheme immigration rules and relevant entry clearance immigration rules may not be amended to provide that any person who benefited or is eligible to benefit under those rules on the day on which this Act is passed benefits any less than he benefited or was eligible to benefit on the day on which this Act is passed.”
This new clause provides for all EU citizens who are resident in the UK before exit day to have the right of permanent residence, whether or not they have been exercising treaty rights, and makes sure that every person who is entitled to settled status has the same rights.
New clause 18—Fee levels and exemptions—
‘(1) No person to whom regulations under section 7(1) (as qualified by section 7(2) and 7(3)) apply may be charged a fee to register as a British citizen that is higher than the cost to the Secretary of State of exercising the function of registration.
(2) No child of a person to whom subsection (1) applies may be charged a fee to register as a British citizen if that child is receiving the assistance of a local authority.
(3) No child of a person to whom subsection (1) applies may be charged a fee to register as a British citizen that the child or the child’s parent, guardian or carer is unable to afford.
(4) The Secretary of State must take steps to raise awareness of people to whom this section applies of their rights under the British Nationality Act 1981 to register as British citizens.
(5) A Minister of the Crown may amend, waive or restrict any requirement of any other person to pay a fee to register as a British citizen where the Secretary of State considers it appropriate or necessary to do so in consequence of any discrimination between people of, or children of people of, differing nationality or other status.”
This new clause would ensure that persons entitled to benefit from the citizens’ rights protections in the Bill did not miss out on registering as a citizen of the UK because of the level of fee currently charged.
New clause 33—EU Settlement Scheme: physical documented proof—
‘The Secretary of State must make provision to ensure that EEA and Swiss nationals and their family members who are granted settled or pre-settled status are provided with physical documented proof of that status.”
This new clause would require the Government to provide physical documents to enable people to prove their settled status.
New clause 34—Settled status: right to appeal—
‘(1) A person may appeal against a settled status decision to the First-tier Tribunal.
(2) A settled status decision includes a decision—
(a) to refuse to grant leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules made under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971, or
(b) to grant limited leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules made under section 3(2) of the Immigration Act 1971 to a person who has applied for indefinite leave to remain under that Appendix.
(3) An appeal against a decision under subsection 2(b) may be brought only on the grounds that the person is entitled to indefinite leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules.
(4) While an appeal under subsection 2(a) is pending, the person concerned shall be deemed to have all the rights associated with indefinite leave to remain under Appendix EU of the Immigration Rules in particular as concerns residence, employment, access to social security benefits and other services.
(5) While an appeal under subsection 2(b) is pending, the limited leave to remain granted under Appendix EU to the Immigration Rules shall continue in force.
(6) “Pending” shall have the same meaning for the purposes of subsections (4) and (5) above as in section 104 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002.”
This new clause would establish a right to appeal settled status decisions.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir George.
For us, this part of the Bill is relentlessly dire. For decades, British citizens and citizens across Europe have enjoyed the extraordinary benefits of free movement—to live, work and study across a continent. This part of the Bill implements part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, the part that brings all those benefits of free movement to a crashing halt. Future generations throughout Europe will miss out, but none more than UK citizens.
Order. I hope that those who are standing at the back of the Chamber will take the advice that it is discourteous to chunter while the hon. Gentleman is speaking.
If those colleagues are waiting for a vote on the previous group, it may be useful to tell them that that vote is not happening, but if they are interested in free movement rights, they are welcome to stay.
As I was saying, free movement rights have been brought to a crashing halt by part 2 of the withdrawal agreement, and that is what this part of the Bill seeks to implement. It is not just UK citizens who will no longer be able to benefit from free movement, but those here at home who will have less opportunity to meet, work alongside or form families with European colleagues or to benefit from the skills and expertise they bring as workers in our public services or the wider economy.
In Scotland, we face the very real prospect of a stagnating or declining population, so any legislation implementing that agreement would be horrible, but this legislation is even worse than it needs to be because where the withdrawal agreement gives the Government a choice, they have made the wrong choice. Instead of making life just a little bit easier for EU nationals going through a torrid time, the Government are making it more miserable. In doing so, they have broken explicit promises made by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster during the Brexit referendum.
Our amendments seek to remedy the awful choices that the Government have made—namely, the choice to demand that citizens apply to stay; the choice that they have made to fail to provide a physical document as proof of status; and the choice that the Government have made about how the new Independent Monitoring Authority should be constituted. Our new clause 18 seeks to make life a little better for EU nationals by ensuring that those who are entitled to British citizenship can access that entitlement, regardless of their ability to pay exorbitant Home Office fees.
I turn first to amendments 5 and 6. Article 18 of the withdrawal agreement gave the Government a choice. They could either do what the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary promised and declare in law the rights of EU citizens automatically—a so-called declaratory system or registration system. Alternatively, they could make EU citizens apply to stay in their own UK homes, changing the rules after those citizens had put down roots here and pulling the rug from under their feet. There is no reasonable explanation why the Government chose the latter. The difference between a declaratory or registration system and an apply-to-stay scheme might not sound like much to those who are new to the issue, but the implications are absolutely momentous in terms of the potential disaster that individuals will face and of the number of people who face such a disaster.
By way of a hypothetical example, let us imagine a retired French lady and a young Polish guy. The French lady has been here since the 1970s and had a permanent residence document under the old EU rules. Understandably, she thought she did not need to apply to stay, but it turns out that, of course, she did. The Polish guy was born here and because of that he believed that he was British, so he did not apply. However, it turns out that because his Polish mum and his UK father were not married at the time of his birth, he was not British after all, and he should have applied as well. Under the Government’s proposals, that French lady and the young Polish lad will be subject to the full force of the hostile environment. At some point, out of the blue, they will lose their jobs, their access to the NHS or the tenancy of their homes. It will be just like the Windrush fiasco, but for them it will be even worse because they will have no way to rectify their terrible situation and will be subject to removal. Imagine what that will mean for those individuals.
In terms of scale, we need to recall that few schemes such as the one that the Home Office is attempting ever get close to a 90% reach, never mind a 100% reach, and that even if the Home Office does amazingly well and achieves a 90% reach of EU nationals, that will still mean that hundreds of thousands of people will be in situations like that. There are a million reasons why we will not get close to a 90% reach.
Is it not concerning that, when we look at the monthly figures, we see that more than 40% of EU nationals are only being given settled status? I am sure MPs right across the House will have had examples of people, particularly women with caring responsibilities who have been here for decades, who are not being given it. My concern is for those very elderly people who are not even considering that this might apply to them.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was just about to give an example of the sort of person who will be caught out by this, and there are many more. It is not just those who did not think they needed to apply because of the complex stays, or their immigration and nationality situation, but also those with, for example, low digital literacy or poor language skills. There are also those who accepted pre-settled status and overlooked the subsequent deadline for applying for settled status, as well as children and vulnerable adults. The list goes on.
This is absolutely not the way, as the Government have said previously, to avoid a new Windrush disaster. This is the way to create a disaster on an even greater scale. It is not just me saying this; it is the3million campaign group, legal experts and think tanks, and it is the cross-party conclusion of the Home Affairs Committee, so we call on the Government to think again and to provide the status automatically and keep the settlement scheme open so that people can access the physical document that they need, as and when they realise they need it. That is what amendments 5 and 6 seek to do, as does the official Opposition’s new clause 5, which, because it would do everything in one go, is the one that we will support in a vote.
The second bad choice the Government made was in relation to documentation. The withdrawal agreement allows for the provision of a physical document as evidence of status. Alternatively, that proof could be in digital form. The Government have gone for a purely digital form of proof, which is completely contrary to what the overwhelming majority of EU nationals would prefer. How many Members would be happy to rely exclusively on a piece of Government digital code in an online system as the sole means of evidencing their right to live, work or study here or anywhere else? If the digital form were available alongside the opportunity to request a document, that would be fine, but it is completely unacceptable for it to be in digital form only. What if our retired French lady is digitally challenged, as the expression goes? How difficult will it be for her to prove her rights? And what will happen when the young Polish guy seeks to persuade a landlord that he is eligible to rent a flat in England? We know how great the chance is that the landlord will rent that flat to a person with a passport, way before they will go through the process of checking the Polish lad’s immigration status. The right-to-rent scheme is already in limbo because judges have found such episodes occurring with other less complicated forms of proof. What if the digital system crashes altogether at a crucial moment, as has happened already? Again, the Home Office is making decisions against the interests of EU citizens. That is why amendment 5 calls for a physical document to be provided.
I like to be fair, so let me acknowledge one good decision that the Government have made. That was the decision to open the settled status scheme to a broader category of citizen than was strictly required by the withdrawal agreement. Amendment 6 seeks to cement that into primary legislation, rather than leaving it to the whim of an immigration Minister to do away with at the drop of a hat by changing the immigration rules. The official Opposition’s new clause 5 would do the same thing.
A third disappointing choice that the Government have made relates to the make-up of the Independent Monitoring Authority—that is, the body tasked with ensuring that citizens’ rights under the agreement are properly protected. The withdrawal agreement gives broad discretion as to how the board should be made up. Given the torrid time that EU citizens are enduring, the last thing they want to see are provisions that mean that the person appointing the members of the IMA is a person who has ignored all the other concerns and broken the key commitment that she made to them during the referendum. That is of course the Home Secretary.
Yes, there are other provisions that are designed to create a degree of independence for the IMA, but in advance of the creation of the authority, it is the chief inspector of borders and immigration who has been monitoring the settled status scheme and who has prepared reports and recommendations about it. That makes him a strong candidate for knowing what skills are required for the Independent Monitoring Authority, but there are other independent people who could do the task and give EU citizens much more faith in the process. Additionally, in amendment 52, we seek to strengthen the role of the devolved Administrations in the process of appointing those IMA members being selected because of their knowledge of conditions in the devolved areas.
Turning to appeals, it is positive that the Bill makes provision for a right of appeal against settled status decisions, but not that it does so only by way of regulations or immigration rules. There should be a statutory right of appeal in the primary legislation. These significant rights are not to be toyed with on the whim of a Minister. So again, we support parties who have tabled amendments to put the right of appeal in the Bill directly.
In amendment 7, we challenge the Government’s giving Ministers the right to make provisions about judicial reviews of certain citizens’ rights immigration decisions. This seems unprecedented, and if the Minister can provide another example of such a power being granted, I would be grateful to hear about it. There is huge concern about what the Government want to do with judicial oversight of the decisions that they make, and I hope that this is not an early example of Government attempts to curtail judicial oversight of significant and sensitive immigration powers.
I turn now to the registration of British citizenship. This is another scandal that has developed on the watch of successive Conservative Home Secretaries negligently conflating naturalisation with registration. After the British Nationality Act 1981 came into force, many children and young people who would automatically have been British through birth here were instead given a statutory right to register as British if they met certain criteria such as living in the country for a certain period or their parents becoming settled or British. These criteria reflect the fact that for those children and young people, the UK is their true home. De facto, they are British and should therefore be legally entitled to British citizenship. A Conservative Minister of State said, when introducing the relevant provisions in 1981, that it is extremely important that those who grow up in this country should have as strong a sense of security as possible. That is not the same as naturalisation, where the law gives the Secretary of State discretion in relation to people who have chosen to make the UK their home. But the Home Secretary charges for children to register, as if the two things were equivalent. Even though the administrative cost to the Home Office of registration is around £370, the Home Office has been charging over £1,000 for several years—something the now Chancellor acknowledged was a huge sum when he was asked about it at the Home Affairs Committee. Imagine anyone in this Chamber being asked by an official for £1,000 before their child could be confirmed as British and could exercise their rights as a British citizen. It would be deemed outrageous and totally unacceptable to every single person in this Chamber. It is similarly outrageous that the Home Office is inflicting that fate on other children who are just as entitled to their British citizenship.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent point, and I am glad he is raising the issue. I often get families at my surgeries who cannot afford to have their children registered; they might register themselves because they need to work or travel, but they cannot afford to pay for their children. With the decision of the courts on this issue, does my hon. Friend have any view on whether people should be issued with refunds for the children they have already paid for, as the courts have ruled the charges unlawful?
I fully support that decision, and I will come to the court case in a moment. Another example I found when searching for cases is that parents have to choose which child will become a British citizen. They cannot afford to pay for two or three, so they have to pick which child will benefit from citizenship. It is a really appalling and cruel game.
It is therefore welcome, as my hon. Friend pointed out, that the fees have been found unlawful in the High Court because they do not properly take into account the best interests of children. I pay tribute to the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens, Amnesty International and others for their work on that case. Instead of appealing against that decision, the Home Office should listen to the reasoned arguments and stop this absolute scandal. Among the victims of this scandal are many EU and European Economic Area nationals—for example, a young Belgian girl born in the UK to Belgian parents just after they moved here and before they were settled. She becomes entitled to British citizenship automatically after 10 years, or if the parents become UK citizens or settled themselves, but she or her family quite simply may not be able to afford the £1,000 fee. She, along with many others, will be forced to register under the settlement scheme, when they have a far stronger right to citizenship. As the Project for the Registration of Children as British Citizens and Amnesty pointed out in a letter to the Minister’s predecessor, children and young people in the care system are especially at risk.
There are many things that need to be done to allow children and young people to access their right to British citizenship, but one key aspect is ensuring that all who have that right through registration can afford it. That is why new clause 18 sets out to limit the fee that can be charged for the administrative cost and to provide for free exemptions and waivers in appropriate circumstances. I do not want this to be limited to EU citizens, but it has to be because of the scope of the Bill. However, there is a far bigger job of work to be done in ensuring that these things are done right across the board. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) pointed out, we should look to reimburse those who have had to break the bank, take loans or do whatever else simply so that their children can become British citizens or register the right to British citizenship that they are entitled to under statutes passed in this place. It seems a simple matter of justice to me. I cannot understand how any Government or MP would want to continue to deprive de facto British citizens of the legal British citizenship they are entitled to, and that is why new clause 18 should be put to a vote this evening.
In conclusion, many EU citizens are having an incredibly difficult time, to put it mildly. They were hurt again by the lazy rhetoric coming from the Conservative party during the election about the cost of benefit payments to EU migrants, and by the Prime Minister’s remarks about EU citizens daring to treat the UK like their own country. Instead of occasional platitudes in this Chamber, we need consistent and vocal support for EU nationals. More than that, we need action, not words, and these amendments and new clauses are exactly the action that is needed to improve the lives of those people.
It has now been over three years since the referendum, and we are here today because the Conservative party can finally break the deadlock and ensure that there is no more delay. This Bill means that the UK will leave the EU on 31 January, delivering on our pledge to get Brexit done. Our Prime Minister, standing right here at the Dispatch Box, laid out a powerful vision for a rejuvenated, forward-looking, optimistic United Kingdom. This Bill will allow us to unite the whole country and take advantage of the opportunities that lie ahead for us.
Throughout the negotiations, our first priority has been to safeguard the rights of EU citizens, those who have built their lives here and contributed to the UK. The clauses laid out in the citizens’ rights part of the Bill are essential to implementing the withdrawal agreement so that EU citizens’ rights to live, work, study and access benefits in the UK are protected. We have delivered on that commitment, and this Bill provides certainty to EU citizens and their family members who are covered by our implementation of the withdrawal agreement.
The citizens’ rights clauses—clauses 7 to 17—include provisions to implement technical aspects of the withdrawal agreement. This will provide for a grace period for EU settlement scheme applications, frontier workers, restrictions of rights of entry and residence, appeals, recognition of professional qualifications, social security co-ordination and equal treatment. The Bill also implements the EEA EFTA separation agreement and Swiss citizens’ rights agreement, providing EEA, EFTA and Swiss nationals with certainty. For colleagues’ reference, unless I make further distinction, I will refer to this entire group as “EU citizens”.
Once we leave the EU, and after the implementation period, we will end free movement. Clause 7 allows Ministers to set a deadline for applications to the scheme and enables the Government to preserve the rights of EU citizens during the grace period. It also means that we can maintain the same protections for those with a pending application or appeal at the end of that grace period.
I urge hon. Members not to press new clauses 5, 18 and 33, as well as amendments 5, 6 and 27 to this clause, which put the success of the EU settlement scheme in jeopardy. If we remove the need to apply for status, put in place a declaratory system, provide for physical documents, lock the eligibility criteria and remove the deadline, it could undermine our ability to give EU citizens the certainty that we have promised and are determined to deliver.
I will be very clear with Members: the EU settlement scheme is already up and running. It is designed to be quick and easy for applicants, and it is working. For Members’ information, the latest figures show that over 2.8 million applications have now been received, and nearly 2.5 million people have been granted status. The scheme is a success.
As the Minister will know, I questioned the Prime Minister on this issue on 25 July. I reminded him that during the referendum he personally promised that no EU citizen living in the UK would be treated any less favourably as a result of our leaving the European Union. I asked the Prime Minister whether he would
“now guarantee the right to healthcare, pension rights, the right to leave and return, the right to bring over family, the right to vote and all the other rights currently enjoyed by EU citizens”.—[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1498.]
The Prime Minister, at the Dispatch Box, told me and this House that the Government were giving those guarantees “unilaterally”. Which clauses make good on those promises from the Prime Minister about the right to pensions, the right to healthcare and the right to bring family members over at some time in the future? If they are not in the Bill, the Prime Minister has made promises from the Dispatch Box that the Government have no intention of keeping.
Order. I draw Members’ attention to the fact that interventions should be brief and to the point. I am not necessarily saying the hon. Gentleman’s was not, but for further reference I think that advice should be taken.
Thank you, Sir George. As my right hon. and hon. Friends will outline, we are working with our colleagues and friends around Europe, and they are all very happy with the scheme. In fact, as I will come to in a few moments, our scheme is far more generous than what many countries around Europe offer to UK citizens. I hope that will change, but this programme does deliver—I will come to some specifics in further clauses, but I am sticking to the clauses that are before us today. It is delivering a scheme that, as I say, has had over 2.8 million applications already, and nearly 2.5 million people have already been granted status. That is a success. EU citizens in the UK also have until the end of June 2021 to apply.
I have two quick questions for the Minister. First, how many individuals have applied? I note that some may have made several applications. Secondly, and more importantly, does he dispute my estimate that hundreds of thousands of EU citizens will fail to apply in time? Has the Home Office made such an assessment?
I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. In fact, I disagreed with quite a lot of what he said when he was on his feet a few moments ago, when he gave some clear misrepresentations of what is happening with this system. Over 2.8 million people have already applied, with nearly 2.5 million applications being granted, so that shows that the scheme, which has not been running for a year and still has at least a year and a half to run, is working.
On the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, I remind him and other colleagues who are unaware that not only have we said that if somebody has a good, reasonable reason for not applying earlier, we will still process their EU settled status application—even after June 2021—but we are doing specific work with groups around the country to reach the most vulnerable people. We have the road shows and our online work, and the phone centre is working around the clock, seven days a week, to deal with people’s queries. We have put in some £9 million to work with voluntary groups around the country to reach everyone, so, yes, I disagree with him in the sense that I think that we will get to these people.
Will the Minister give way?
I will in a moment.
If EU citizens do not apply through the EU settlement scheme, it may prove difficult to distinguish them from those who arrived after the end of the implementation period. The hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) ignored that fact completely earlier. It is essential that EU citizens have the evidence that they need to demonstrate their rights here in the UK.
Will the Minister give way?
Not at the moment. Such an approach could also lead to EU citizens who have not applied for documentation suffering inadvertent discrimination compared with those who have. That is exactly what happened to the Windrush generation, and the Government are adamant that we must avoid a repeat of that dreadful situation.
Given that the Minister mentions the Windrush generation, he will surely recognise that many of the amendments relate to concerns that the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), others and I raised during Select Committee on Home Affairs sessions that examined the EU settlement scheme and, of course, the Windrush scandal. There is no malign intent behind the amendments. They are about ensuring that people have their rights and are able to exercise them. What lessons has the Minister learned from the Windrush scandal and, indeed, the evidence taken by that Committee?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. It is clear, as I have just said, that we all want to ensure that we avoid the problems that we had with the Windrush generation. One of the key issues—
Will the Minister give way on that point?
I will finish answering the first intervention before I consider taking any others. Part of the problem with a declaratory scheme is that it leads to the problems of Windrush. This scheme means that people have evidence of their rights, which means that they cannot be contestable in future, avoiding that problem in the first place. Moreover, this scheme is already more generous in its scope than the agreements themselves require, which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East did outline earlier. For example, some people do not meet all the current requirements of free movement law and therefore are outside the scope of the agreement. As a matter of domestic policy, we have decided, nevertheless, that such people should be in scope of the EU settlement scheme, so we have granted them residence rights.
I will go a bit further on physical documentation. We are developing a new border and immigration system that is digital by default for all migrants, not just EU citizens. It is being rolled out incrementally and, over time, we intend to replace all physical and paper-based documents, which can be lost or stolen. Eventually, all migrants, not just those from the EU, will have digital status only, so amendment 5 would impede our ability to deliver an improved, equal and fair digital status.
Does the Minister not understand that someone getting to the end of the settled status process may be told that an email is meaningless and they will not have a document, which will not be reassuring? Part of the Windrush issue was that the Home Office destroyed records, so people who are depending on the Home Office to keep digital records are naturally pretty nervous. They would keep their records quite safe at home.
A declaratory system does not prevent registration. We can register people, but we can automatically say that they have a right. This is an application system, and people are being turned down or given pre-settled status—it is not the same.
It is important that I clarify some of the hon. Lady’s misrepresentations. Her point argues for and against her colleague’s earlier comments. We want to ensure that people have a status, and a digital status means that it is there for ever. It means that employers, landlords or anybody can access it in future. It is not reliant on somebody keeping any documentation or ensuring that it is not stolen. As for her comments about the process, it is fast and easy—
Not for everyone.
Let me finish the point. It takes five to 10 minutes online—the same as renewing a driving licence or passport.
The hon. Lady should be aware that, as of the last set of official figures, only two[Official Report, 13 January 2020, Vol. 669, c. 1MC.] people have been actively refused settled status, and both refusals were on serious criminality grounds. I stand by this country’s right to protect the security and safety of people in this country by refusing settled status to people with a serious criminal record.
Pre-settled status is granted only to people who have not been living in the country for five years. I will come back to the process around that in a moment, but anyone who has lived in the country for five years or more—we are helping them with ways of evidencing that—is entitled to full settled status.
Will the Minister give way?
I will just finish my point. Protections for those who do not apply by the June 2021 deadline are already built into the agreements. There will be no cliff edge for vulnerable people who are unable to make an application due to circumstances beyond their control. As with all aspects of the EU settlement scheme, we will adopt a flexible and pragmatic approach and exercise discretion in applicants’ favour. I urge hon. Members to withdraw their amendments, but I will take the hon. Lady’s intervention.
What the Minister is saying is not accurate. I have a constituent who has a national insurance number card, which are not even issued anymore, who was only given pre-settled status. That constituent was able to prove that they had been here, and everything they submitted was correct, yet they have pre-settled status. How many more people have been given that?
As I said, anybody who has lived in the country for five years or more is entitled to settled status. I am very happy—[Interruption.] Will the hon. Lady listen to the answer? If hon. Members have individual cases in which somebody has been granted pre-settled status when they feel that they should have received full settled status, I will personally look at those cases. Every such case that has come forward so far has turned out to involve an issue. In one case, the person had not actually even applied for settled status and had gone through an entirely different system. In other cases, applicants had not been able to provide evidence. However, our teams are working with people—that is why we are doing the road shows—to ensure that anything that people can provide as evidence of their being in this country for more than five years will allow them to be granted settled status. With nearly 2.5 million settled statuses already granted out of 2.8 million applications, I think that highlights the success.
Will the Minister give way again?
No, I will not give way on that point any further.
Clause 8 enables the Government to protect frontier workers and means that we can establish a registration scheme providing certainty to such workers about their rights going forward. Clauses 9 and 10 go hand in hand, enabling us to continue to apply EU deportation thresholds when assessing conduct committed before the end of the implementation period for the purposes of restricting a person’s right to enter or reside here in the UK. Conduct committed after the end of the implementation period will be assessed according to UK rules on criminality and behaviour non-conducive to the public good. That creates a fair and even system for all that does not benefit any foreign nationals over others.
Clause 11 provides a power to put in place various rights of appeal in connection with citizens’ rights and immigration decisions, including refusals under the EU settlement scheme, which are an essential and important part of our commitments.
I ask hon. Members to not to press amendments 3, 2, 20, 21, 7 and new clause 34 because they are unnecessary. Thanks to the power contained in clause 11, EU citizens who are appealing a decision on residence will be able to do so under the EU settlement scheme. Individuals who have been granted pre-settled status who believe they should have been granted settled status can also appeal.
The amendments would also potentially do damage. The situations requiring the right of appeal under the agreements are numerous, and the applications of existing rules relating to appeal rights are complex. Putting a right of appeal into the Bill would mean that none of that detail could be properly reflected.
The amendments would make it harder for EU citizens to appeal against an exclusion decision. They would actually remove our ability to provide EU citizens with access to the special appeals immigration commission when challenging an exclusion decision through judicial review. They would also prevent the Government from treating EU citizens in the same way as third country nationals when it comes to removals during an appeal process. Furthermore, the amendments create a perverse incentive for individuals to launch appeals and would mean that people who have applications that have absolutely no chance of succeeding could access social security benefits. I am concerned that this would open our immigration system to potential benefits abuse, which is something we should not allow. I hope what I have said assures hon. Members that these amendments are not only undesirable but unnecessary, so I urge them not to press them.
Clause 12 provides a power to amend the statute book to protect existing decisions on the recognition of professional qualifications and to ensure that outstanding applications for recognition can be completed. Such lifelong recognition of qualifications will provide certainty to professionals such as nurses, vets and lawyers who provide crucial services to us all.
Clause 13 enables the Government to maintain our statute book in accordance with the social security co-ordination provisions. This will protect areas such as access to pensions, benefits and healthcare cover for those who move between the UK and the EU before the end of the implementation period.
Clause 14 provides a similar power for maintaining the statute book to make sure that the rights of equal treatment and non-discrimination are protected in future. The clause will, for example, make sure that EU citizens who are resident before the end of the implementation period can continue to access benefits and services on the same basis as they do now.
Clause 15 establishes the Independent Monitoring Authority for the withdrawal agreement and the EEA EFTA separation agreement on citizens’ rights. Schedule 2 makes provision for the authority’s constitution and functions. The authority will be fully independent and will have significant powers to receive complaints and conduct inquiries. It will also have the power to bring legal action against the Government and public authorities, and work is already well under way in the Ministry of Justice to set up this new organisation.
I urge hon. Members not to press amendments 22, 23 and 37. The first two amendments are unnecessary, as non-executive appointments to the Independent Monitoring Authority’s board will be made under the well-established principles of public appointments, in accordance with the governance code for public appointments. The Secretary of State will also have a statutory duty to have regard to the need to protect the IMA’s operational independence.
Clause 16 contains supplementary provisions, such as to prevent any overlapping conferred powers from affecting the extent of any power of a devolved authority. Clause 17 provides the necessary definitions of terms used in this part of the Bill.
I also urge hon. Members not to press new clause 18, which would remove citizenship fees for EU citizens. That could lead to discrimination based on nationality by giving EU citizens preferential fees for citizenship. It would also undermine the legislative structure, which is already in place, that not only sets fees but provides for specific fee exceptions.
That is exactly why new clause 18(5) would allow Ministers to extend the reduced fees and the waiver scheme to everybody else. It would be entirely within the Minister’s gift to make sure such discrimination does not arise. What is discriminatory is the horrendous fee, which prohibits some kids from getting the British nationality to which they are just as entitled as the children of everybody in this place.
New clause 18, as drafted, would discriminate by nationality because, as I said, it would give EU citizens preferential fees for citizenship.
My next sentence would have negated the need for the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, because I was about to say that new clause 18 would also undermine the legislative structure that is already in place. This Bill is not the place to set fees, including specific fee exceptions, as that is done in different legislation.
Part 2 of the Bill honours our obligation to EU citizens who are living in the UK by ensuring they have the certainty they need as our country moves forward. Frankly, it is disappointing that not all European countries have provided the same assurances to British nationals living in the EU, which is something we hope will change. We will continue to work towards that for our citizens.
This Government have always put citizens’ rights first and foremost, and we will continue to do so. EU citizens are our friends, our family members and our colleagues. They have made and continue to make a hugely important contribution to our country, our economy, our communities and our society, and we want them to stay. This Bill will ensure we can deliver that unequivocal guarantee, both now and in the future.
I rise to speak to new clause 5 on the system for providing settled status, on which we will be seeking a vote, and to amendments 2, 3, 20 and 21 on the right of appeal, as well as amendment 37 on the Independent Monitoring Authority.
I regret the Minister’s combative response to the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who made a typically thoughtful and considered contribution that did not reflect division across the Committee because, when these issues have previously been debated in Parliament, considerable concern has been expressed on both sides about the consequences of getting this wrong. If we do get it wrong, it will have a significant impact not only on EU citizens in the UK and on Brits in Europe but, frankly, on our caseload as Members of Parliament.
I believe it is possible to reach agreement on some of these issues, and it is in that spirit that I address our amendments. On new clause 5, the Minister said that providing certainty for EU citizens is central to the Government’s agenda. The Prime Minister said:
“under this Government they”—
“will have the absolute certainty of the right to live and remain.”—[Official Report, 25 July 2019; Vol. 663, c. 1459.]
That seems clear, but the reality of applying for settled status is different. It is a constitutive system in which EU citizens acquire settled status or pre-settled status only by successfully applying for their right to live and work in the UK post Brexit. New clause 5 seeks to avoid that by making the scheme declaratory, meaning that EU citizens and family members who meet the eligibility criteria would automatically have the right to continue to live and work in the UK and would simply need to register for the purpose of proving their status.
We believe our approach would avoid a repeat of Windrush. The Minister suggested that the Government’s objective is to avoid such a Windrush situation and that a declaratory system could encourage a repeat. The Windrush scandal was caused by a number of factors: the changing legal environment for people who had lived here for decades; the 2012 introduction of the hostile environment; the lack of record keeping by the Home Office both under this Government and when we were in power—I am not trying to score party points; and by Home Office staff being incentivised by targets and bonuses to reach deportation targets. But for the Windrush victims, crucially, there was at least the legal safety net of the Immigration Act 1971, so they could seek recourse against their treatment.
What the Government are saying is that making the EU settlement scheme declaratory would create a second Windrush. They are perversely blaming the scandal—it was a scandal, as the Minister recognises—on that safety net, which is a fundamental misunderstanding. They are saying that the way to avoid another Windrush is to remove the safety net that the Windrush victims faced.
No system will get 100% of those eligible to apply, and I recognise the Minister’s point about the Government’s efforts to ensure that as many apply as possible. I take his point that 2.8 million have already done so, and I am sure many more will apply by the deadline of June 2021, but not everybody will. The Government do not even have a target for how many people they think should be eligible to apply. If only 3% of the estimated 3.5 million EU nationals living in Britain fail to apply, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility, it will leave 100,000 people facing a hostile environment and facing possible deportation. I have talked to many EU citizens who, despite all the Government’s publicity efforts, are unaware that the rights they have enjoyed for 30 years need to be applied for, and I have had to explain to them about how to apply for settled status. The Government have recognised that, as has the Minister. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, he said:
“If EU citizens have not registered”
by the deadline for settled status
“without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply,”
When pressed on whether that would mean deportation, he said:
“Theoretically, yes, we will apply the…rules.”
The possibility of people whom we describe as our neighbours, friends, taxpayers and colleagues being deported exists while we pursue the same approach to settled status as the Government are now.
It is not too late to correct course. In our view, and that of others proposing similar amendments, a declaratory system is the only way to prevent hundreds of thousands of people from potentially being criminalised and deported. Under a declaratory scheme, if somebody does not register for settled status before June 2021, they will not lose rights; they will simply need to register for the Government to provide them with the proof of their status.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the speech he is making. Does he agree that the Minister is completely wrong to think that a declaratory system means that fewer people will apply after June next year? People will still have every incentive to apply for the settlement scheme, because they will need that proof to avoid the hostile environment and to access the NHS, employment and all their other entitlements in this country.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there would be every incentive to apply, because without the proof these people will not be able to exercise their rights. We are simply seeking to ensure, through our new clause, that they do not lose their rights. The approach we are suggesting is explicitly allowed under the withdrawal agreement. The Government had a choice about what kind of system they would implement and, in our view, they chose wrong. We need to remember that this is not just about EU citizens in the UK; the largest national group affected by Brexit are the 1.2 million British citizens in Europe. The EU and the individual member states, not all of which have met our expectations, have been clear that rights granted to UK citizens will be based on reciprocity. The Minister is right to want to see other countries stepping up to the mark, but that will not be assisted if we reduce rights of citizens within the UK, because that will risk a reduction of rights of citizens across the EU27. So a declaratory scheme for EU citizens will be good not only for those here, but for UK citizens living in Europe.
I wish to move on to another aspect of the problems with the settlement scheme. The Minister said that 2.8 million have applied and he went on, unintentionally, I am sure, to give the wrong impression about the granting of status, because he said that 2.5 million had been granted status—that is correct, but it is not the status they had applied for. The most recent statistics show that almost half of the applicants for settled status are being granted pre-settled status, which comes with substantially fewer rights; it is a temporary form of leave lasting up to five years—[Interruption.] It is not indefinite leave to remain.
You are misleading people—
In a moment, I will ask the Minister to come back on me on some of these points and he might want to respond on that. In addition to the cliff edge at the end of 2021, when anyone who has not applied to the settlement scheme will face possible deportation, pre-settled status creates hundreds of thousands of individual cliff edges when people come to the point of confirming their individual position, because it does not provide—[Interruption.] I see my friend and former Committee colleague the hon. Member for Worcester (Mr Walker) looking puzzled about that, but if pre-settled status does not provide a permanent right to remain, that is granted only at the point at which settled status is gained. We are creating hundreds of thousands of individual cliff edges.
The campaign group the3million has shared one case with me that illustrates many of the problems with settled status. It involves an older Dutch woman who has been living in the UK for decades. Despite her living at the same address for more than 30 years, and paying council tax, income tax and NI, the online system could not find a trace of her, so she was forced to trawl through paperwork to provide evidence of seven years of residency. For some of those years she had saved council tax bills, but she had to find at least six bank statements for each of the other years. She then faced huge difficulties scanning and uploading the documents. After she had eventually sent them off, she waited several weeks for a response, only to be told that the Home Office required more evidence. After another difficult process of finding and submitting documents, she was finally granted settled status, but this woman has said that she could not have done it without help, and her journey shows that although the app may be simple for the most straightforward of cases, as soon as somebody faces difficulties, it can be immensely difficult to resolve them and secure the right status.
That is also why it is important to have the right to challenge individual decisions. Under the withdrawal agreement, the Government agree to ensure that EU citizens have a right of appeal against any decision to refuse settled status. Clause 11 of the agreement specifically confers powers for Ministers to make regulations providing for appeal rights, but this Bill does not confirm the provision of appeal rights for all applicants. To that end, amendment 2 seeks to clarify that EU citizens have the right to appeal a decision on settled or pre-settled status. Clearly, the Government are not intending to accept any amendments, so I would welcome the Minister intervening to confirm today on the record that the right of appeal will be created using powers under the withdrawal agreement and that it will cover all those in the UK, particularly those who came under the Zambrano and Surinder Singh routes. Would he like to intervene? [Interruption] He indicates that he will come back at a later stage, and I would be grateful for that.
We know that particular groups are at a higher risk of not registering—for example, older people, children in care, those with lower language skills, or non-EEA citizens who are dependent on an EU family member. The scheme makes it more difficult for women and disabled people to secure their correct status and it is therefore likely to be causing discrimination. However, the Government have not put in place the tools to monitor the scheme effectively; they are not collecting equalities data; and despite my requesting it several times over a lengthy period, they have still not published their equalities impact assessment.
Clearly, it is also essential that the EU settlement scheme is properly monitored and the withdrawal agreement sets up the Independent Monitoring Authority for that purpose—it is charged with overseeing the Government’s implementation of the citizens’ rights section of the agreement. As set up in schedule 2, the IMA will be neither independent of the Government nor empowered to hold them to account. The Government have used this Bill to further weaken the authority by permitting its functions to be delegated by secondary legislation. Our amendment 37 would ensure that if the Government intend to modify or abolish the IMA, that would be done only through primary legislation. We would ask the Government to look seriously at that proposal, as well as the other amendments tabled by other Opposition parties on the IMA.
I am coming to a conclusion, so I wonder whether the Minister wants to intervene on the point I made to him. [Interruption.] He is going to come back later in the debate, and that is fine. My concluding point is simply that the Committee needs to be mindful that the rights and position of 5 million citizens are at risk over Brexit—those in this country and those British in Europe—so it is essential that we get this process right. Our proposals would ensure that every eligible EU citizen and family member automatically has the right to stay here, which the Government are not providing for in this Bill. We would put their right to appeal in law and ensure that the IMA can properly hold the Government to account. We hope that the House will support us on new clause 5 and we ask the Government to look seriously at the other issues we have raised.
I am pleased to speak in support of clause 7 and part 3, and I support all the comments made by the Minister. When I served as a Minister in the Department for Exiting the European Union, I was responsible for drafting much of the Bill, and I am glad that a lot of it has survived my absence from the Government. I pay tribute to the Front-Bench team, to parliamentary counsel and to the officials for the drafting of a complex and critical piece of legislation. In preparing the Bill, we conducted considerable engagement with the charitable sector, representatives of EU citizens and the legal sector to identify their concerns so that we could design a new framework that would not only command their confidence but, above all, work.
I should say at the outset that with Brexit, free movement will obviously come to an end. That is one reason many people voted to leave the European Union, myself included. I am the child of immigrants, yet I do not have a problem with saying that it is right that our democratic institutions, our UK Government and the British people have control over migration, not Brussels, the EU Commission or the EU Parliament. Everyone in the House should welcome that fundamental aspect of the EU Brexit project if we are truly to reflect the desires and needs of those who send us here.
With the ending of the free movement of people, I do not think we can be in any doubt about the Government’s commitment to safeguarding the position and rights of the 3 million or so EU citizens who are already living and working here. We want them to stay, as has been said so many times; we value their immense contribution; and we want to make Brexit as easy as possible for them.
I am glad about the proposals that provide for the legal rights of EU citizens, their access to healthcare and social security, recognition of their professional qualifications, and their employment and equalities rights. The Bill will enable them to continue to live their lives as they do now. It is this Bill that provides for the groundbreaking Independent Monitoring Authority, which is a hugely important proposal that will reflect our watertight commitment to EU citizens.
First, the scheme is working. The Minister himself has overseen the roll-out of the settled status scheme for years now. As of October 2019, more than 1 million people had been granted settled or pre-settled status under the EU settlement scheme. That milestone came four months after the scheme fully launched in March last year. That is an excellent start, and I pay tribute to the Home Office and all those involved in such an immense administrative task.
Secondly, the scheme is working because it is practical and user friendly. The EU settlement scheme is designed to make it straightforward for EU citizens and their families to stay in the UK after Brexit. They need only to complete three key steps: prove their identity, show that they live in the UK and declare any criminal convictions. A wide range of support is available for EU citizens and their families, including a dedicated settlement resolution centre and 300 assisted digital locations to support those who have limited access to IT, and the Home Office funds a plethora of organisations to help those citizens who are more vulnerable—the homeless, the disabled and the elderly—to navigate the system.
I wonder whether the hon. Lady can do something that the Minister could not. During her time in government, did she see an estimate of the number of EU citizens who, perhaps accidentally or because they did not fully understand their own immigration situation, will have failed to apply for the scheme by the deadline? Was I right to suggest that it will be hundreds of thousands? What should happen to them?
I will come back to that point, but of course any system will have the challenge of reaching everybody affected by it. That is why the Government have not held back at all in coming forward with outreach, engagement and the publicity and advertising campaign, and with the resources made available to the millions of EU citizens who are affected. We need only look at the numbers to see that the uptake rate is so far very encouraging. We should judge it on the evidence, not fear speculative future possibilities.
I accept all that, just as the Opposition spokesperson accepted all that—in general, all is going well—but the difference between us is on the consequences of not applying. Under our system, people could still apply for years to come; under the Government’s proposed system they will not be able to. Overnight, there will be tens—probably hundreds—of thousands of people without status. How many people do the Government expect to be in that situation, and what should happen to them?
It is important for any system to have robust deadlines and to have consequences if deadlines are not met. Importantly, though, there is a grace period in the legislation that allows considerably for people being late or delayed in making their application. That strikes the right balance by ensuring robustness but making allowances for those who might not get there in time.
Thirdly, we know that the system is working because EU citizens and those who work for them have told us so. Charities such as the East European Resource Centre and the Refugee and Migrant Centre, which receives Home Office funding and has helped thousands of EU citizens and their families, have welcomed the operation of the scheme so far.
Lastly, the significance of the Independent Monitoring Authority cannot be diminished. It represents not just the legal protections that are offered and provided for in the Bill, but a cultural change at the Home Office and in Government towards migrants. It represents a culture of protection and safeguarding and of enabling people to know their rights and exercise them.
Much has been said about avoiding the mistakes of Windrush, and I can see exactly why people fear history repeating itself. My parents emigrated to this country from Commonwealth countries at the same time as the Windrush generation and could have easily been caught up in the mistakes and consequent problems. When I was a barrister, I did a lot of work in immigration law, representing the Government in the High Court and in immigration tribunals. Of course, any large administrative exercise of this scale can be vulnerable to mistakes. This policy area is heavily legislated for and therefore very complex. Mistakes are made, but there is also abuse of the rules.
Any system must be light-touch and pragmatic enough to minimise the burdens on those who are directly affected and those who have to go through the system, but at the same time robust enough and sound enough to prevent such abuse. It is okay to live in an ideal world and assume that there is no abuse of immigration rules, but, unfortunately, the reality—the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) will know this from his experience in the sector—is that there is abuse. In recent times, we have faced unsubstantiated claims and unjustified appeals, and thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money has been used to perpetuate pointless and vexatious claims through the immigration system and the High Court.
The Government are highly cognisant of their obligations to EU citizens. It has to be said that even without the IMA there would be many avenues of legal redress for EU citizens—appeal rights and judicial review are enshrined not only in the Bill, but in common law—but the Government have gone further. They are committing to setting up an independent watchdog specifically—exclusively—for EU citizens to monitor the application of the rules, carry out inquiries, take up judicial review and represent EU citizens, be their collective voice and ensure that mistakes are remedied swiftly. It will be thanks to the IMA that a Windrush-type scandal will be avoided, EU citizens will have a voice and the system will improve and serve people. That is a step change—a sign of the political will to get it right and drive forward change.
Leaving the European Union presents us with myriad opportunities to take back democratic control of our migration policy—something that we should welcome and see as an opportunity for our country. I commend the Bill and the measures on EU citizens to the Committee.
I rise to support Labour’s new clause 5 and to press to a vote my own party’s new clause 34, which would create a right of appeal when settled status was refused.
Shortly before the general election, I visited a school in my constituency. During the usual chat with students about what they would do after their exams, what careers they would pursue and whether they would go to university, one girl told me that she was worried about her future. She wanted to go to university, but she was afraid that she would not be able to. She had lived in Edinburgh most of her life, but she and her parents were from a different part of the European Union and they did not feel secure about what would happen to them if Brexit went ahead. This is the only country that she really knows, and her parents did not know where they stood because of the uncertainty and the difficulties that they saw with the settled status proposals. She is not the only one.
Like so many in this place, I have colleagues, friends and many, many constituents who have made their lives here. These are not the people who, as this Government shamelessly claimed during the election campaign, cost us billions, put pressure on public services and strain on school places, and led to more crime. These claims were made despite the evidence from migration advisory services, which showed the opposite to be the case.
These are people who came to this country to work and pay taxes. Many were part of the hugely valuable workforce in our NHS, our university sector and major private companies. They deserve to have this country recognise that and respect their rights. This Government should do that by standing by the promise that was made to those people by the Prime Minister when he entered Downing Street. That is why I and the Liberal Democrats will be supporting the Labour party’s new clause 5 to give automatic rights to EU citizens, rather than them having to apply for settled status with the potential of facing deportation if they do not. That is no way for this or any other Government or any other country to treat people.
It is incredibly important that we take every opportunity to reassure EU nationals who, as the hon. Member rightly says, are so valued in our country. In those circumstances, did she take the opportunity to give that reassurance to her constituents and say that if they simply applied for settled status, it would be vanishingly unlikely for them to have any difficulty staying in the UK?
I thank the hon. Member for his point, but what I did was promise them that I would fight for their rights in this country. I would fight for them to have the automatic—[Interruption.] No, I was not scaremongering. I promised them that I would do what I am doing tonight. I said that I would stand in this House and call for them to have the automatic right to stay in this country—this country, where they have lived, where their parents have contributed and paid taxes—without having to apply and face the fear of deportation if they failed. That is what I promised.
Our economy—our demographic—demands that we encourage people to come here and contribute, bolster our workforce and fill the skills gap that we see in the NHS. That is why, as I promised that teenager and the many constituents who have come to me, I will fight to safeguard the rights of all EU citizens in the United Kingdom, and of those UK citizens who have made their lives across the EU, by asking for reciprocity. That is why we have tabled new clause 34 to create a right of appeal if an application for settled status is refused. These people deserve so much better than what is being offered by this Government.
On 13 December, following the general election, I thought about how that teenager and so many other people who have come to this country must have felt. What does the future now hold for her and her siblings and for so many others in my constituency and across the country? I am talking about people who, through no fault of their own, have had the security, which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald) mentioned, ripped from them.
Many of those people will vote with their feet. We will lose people in an exodus that shames us. We will lose people who make a valuable contribution to our education system and our health service—something that shames this country. People will leave their lives and their livelihoods because they do not feel welcome. The hon. Member for Cheltenham (Alex Chalk) accused me of scaremongering. The rhetoric of his party during the election, demonising people and driving us towards a scandal that will dwarf Windrush, was far from acceptable. It is not good enough. The Minister talked tonight about safeguarding rights, but if he really wants to do that and if he really wants to respect the people who have come here and contributed to our being the fifth largest economy in the world, make their right to stay here automatic—and do it now.
I thank you, Sir George, and the many Members who have made contributions today. Some really important points have been made on all the amendments on this crucial subject, which many of us who served on the Home Affairs Committee in the previous Parliament examined in great detail. The Minister gave a rosy depiction of how the scheme is working and how everything will function. Of course, we would all like to see people register for the scheme and get the right information, and we would all like to see more digital systems that work for everybody. The reality, though, is somewhat different, as those of us who have regular daily experiences with the immigration system on behalf of our constituents, and who have seen the many pieces of evidence that we took on the Home Affairs Committee, recognise.
The amendments that have been tabled, including by my party’s Front-Bench team, which I support, are there to improve the system and ensure that it actually delivers the rights that were promised to EU citizens and EEA citizens who have been resident in this country for many years and who have, as many have said in this debate, made huge contributions to our communities and to our country as a whole. Certainly in my own constituency, the contribution of EU citizens over many decades has been immense. Over the past few years, many constituents have come to me with concerns about the scheme, including those that are reflected in the amendments that many of us are supporting this evening.
We are not scaremongering if we look at the record of the Home Office and its continued failures on a series of issues. We have only to look back to 2017, when the Home Office sent letters to 100 EU citizens telling them that they had to leave the UK immediately—an episode for which the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), had to apologise in 2018. Members of Parliament were sent letters about the importance of applying for the EU settlement scheme, even though they were not EU nationals. It was an extraordinary situation, which the then Home Secretary had to explain.
One has only to look at the regular monthly statistics from the Home Office to see the number of cases of wrongful deportations and wrongful detentions as a result of the hostile environment policy and as a result of mistakes and problems. That is why appeal rights are so crucial. If we look at the compensation pay-outs that are being made when the Home Office makes mistakes, we can see how much this is costing the Government. We have all those examples and, of course, the example of the Windrush scandal, which was so shocking and so shaming to our country. People who had contributed to our country over so many years were treated in such an incredible way. With all those examples ringing in our ears, we should be taking these issues incredibly seriously. I urge the Minister and the Government, and those in the other place when they are examining these parts of the Bill, to look seriously at ways in which this legislation can be improved, so that we can deliver on the commitments that have been made. I do not doubt the Minister’s intent. I am sure that he is sincere in wanting to provide EU citizens with the rights that they deserve, but the reality is often different.
I want to raise with the Minister the specific point about physical documentation. Of course we all want to see digitalisation; we all want to see more efficient systems. We all want to see a system where we can quickly get information—whether that is employers, housing providers or other providers of services—to ensure that people receive the things that they are entitled to under the law. But the reality is, as we all know, that these systems break down. There are mistakes in them and names are often rendered incorrectly. What is the back-up? What will happen when somebody is trying to apply for a house, access medical services, apply for a job or apply for an education that they are entitled to in this country and the system breaks down? The computer may say no, or the blue screen of death may come up on the computer. Whatever the problem, we all know that these things fail.
When we are talking about such a fundamental thing as the right to live, work and exercise rights in this country, which many EU citizens should have under this legislation and deserve, we have to ensure that there is back-up. We have our birth certificates and passports—physical documents for the most crucial aspects of our rights and citizenship rights in this country. I caution the Minister: when the mistakes happen—the inevitable breakdown, a cyber-attack on the system or the system becoming unavailable—what will happen to the people who get caught up in them? All those mistakes will generate not only a huge cost for the Government in rectifying them in due course, but great harm and concern to the individuals involved. Anyone who deals with the immigration system on a weekly basis, as many of us do, can point to myriad examples.
There is also the crucial issue of numbers, which the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East (Stuart C. McDonald), who served with me on the Home Affairs Committee, mentioned. No exercise on this scale has been attempted before the registration of millions of individuals under this system. Problems are inevitably going to occur, not least when the Government themselves cannot tell us exactly how many EU and EEA citizens are lawfully resident in the UK. They also cannot tell us—this has been asked on a number of occasions—how many people they estimate will not have applied by the deadline that is now being put in place. I find it deeply worrying that the Government propose to implement a policy without even knowing the number of people that it is going to affect. We do not want to see the unlawful detentions and deportations of individuals that we have sadly seen in the past, nor the harm they cause to the individuals whose rights are affected.
This issue goes back to some fundamental promises that were made—not only by the current Prime Minister, but by the previous Prime Minister and by those who advocated leaving in the first place. The3million campaign, which has done so much good to highlight the concerns of those affected by these changes, rightly points out that it was made clear during the 2016 referendum that there should be
“no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK…EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
That was a clear promise and a solemn undertaking, and it is one that has been repeated by the Prime Minister and Ministers since. I have no doubt that the Minister intends these measures in good faith, but the reality of accessing the scheme, demonstrating those rights and being able to prove that they are being lawfully exercised will be very different. I think we will be picking up the pieces of this in years to come, so I urge the Minister to look carefully at these amendments.
I call Sir Desmond Swayne, who is known for many things in the House, not least his brevity.
Thank you, Sir George.
I am persuaded that the amendments are unnecessary, and I support the provisions of the Bill. But just one word of caution: I have received a number of inquiries from constituents—European citizens—who clearly have not been reached at all by any of the outreach, such are the basic questions that they ask. Indeed, I received one such inquiry today. On that score, when I think about it, I do not know whether I have been living in a bubble, but I have not seen any of that outreach at all myself. Admittedly, I have not been looking for it. Nevertheless, I just ask Ministers to re-examine the outreach that there has been and to reassure their level of confidence that it is adequate.
I speak in support of new clauses 5 and 18. Constituents have contacted me to raise serious concerns about the rights of their family and friends who are EU citizens and who are eligible for settled status, but who may not be able to complete their application on time or may be unaware of the deadline. This is a particular issue among elderly EU citizens, some of whom may have serious medical conditions that impair their ability to complete forms. One constituent told me about her mother, who is in her 90s and came to the UK as a refugee from Poland just after the second world war, but who has never needed to apply for citizenship. She now has Alzheimer’s and, had it not been for the help of her daughter, would be at risk of losing her rights through not being able to apply for settled status. No doubt there are others like her.
As the Minister stated, we want to avoid another Windrush situation. The IMA is no substitute for a safety net to protect the rights that people are at risk of losing. It has been suggested that legal redress can be achieved outside a tribunal system, but what would be the cost? Huge fees are incurred by people trying to get redress for their legal rights; such fees can be astronomical. One of my constituents, Martin Janu, has a wife who is Spanish. She is fearful of the potential erosion of her rights under settled status, so she has applied for citizenship, but that is at the cost of £1,400. Having such high fees for applications for citizenship and visitor visas is nothing more than a racket by the Government, who are ripping off applicants.
I thank my hon. Friend for making this case. I had a call three days ago from a constituent who told me that his wife, who he has been married to for well over 40 years, is a French national. She has worked as a teacher in a school here and is now on a pension, but she is worried about what is going to happen to them. I actually went on to the Home Office website and tried to guide them through what they need to do, but they are worried about what is happening to them and about the costs of all these processes. It is very important that we have safeguards in place.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. We need to have safety nets in place, and these new clauses would provide the safety nets needed to ensure that people’s rights are protected, no matter how few people might be affected.
In short, EU citizens who have been here lawfully and qualify for settled status should not have their rights limited by any barriers, such as time limitation or fees. If the Government do not to listen to these warnings, there is a very real risk of another Windrush. The Government will then be found to have been asleep at the wheel, because another scandal is avoidable. This situation is unacceptable, totally avoidable and easily remedied. I therefore invite the Minister to accept new clauses 5, 18 and 34.
I will be brief; I just want to respond to a couple of points that have been raised during the debate. The hon. Member for Sheffield Central (Paul Blomfield) quoted me during an interview some time ago—with a German journalist, if I recall correctly. Sadly, he did not give the whole quote, so colleagues are probably not quite aware of the point I was making, which was that the whole point of the settled status scheme is to ensure that nobody is left behind and all rights are properly protected. That is why not only are we running the scheme until the end of July[Official Report, 13 January 2020, Vol. 669, c. 2MC.] 2021, but we have also said—as I said at the Dispatch Box again today—that we will be looking to grant settled status to anybody who comes forward after that stage who has not acquired settled status because they have not applied for it for a good, reasonable reason. This scheme is based on a very different principle.
Will the Minister give way?
No, I will not be giving way at the moment.
The hon. Member for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) said that the whole process is different from previous systems. We are looking to grant status. I give great credit to the superb team of Home Office civil servants, particularly in Liverpool, who have delivered this scheme—a scheme that, as the hon. Gentleman said, is unprecedented in now having taken more than 2.8 million applications and processed some 2.5 million of them. To be clear with colleagues, of the almost 2.5 million applications that have been processed, I can confirm that only five have been refused—all on grounds of serious criminality. It is right that we do those checks and ensure that there is proper evidence.
Let me go a bit further in response to the comments of the hon. Member for Sheffield Central regarding the difference between pre-settled status and settled status. What he said at the Dispatch Box risks creating a scaremongering regime that has been portrayed in a couple of other speeches this evening. Pre-settled status is a pathway to settled status, ensuring that people who have lived in this country for five years or more have their rights fully secured. There is no cliff edge. When somebody has lived in this country for five years or more, having got pre-settled status, they can move straight to full settled status; their rights will be the same. They will be protected from the moment they have pre-settled status, and the evidence is an important part of that.
The hon. Gentleman asked a very specific question about appeal rights. Yes, appeal rights apply to all cases under the new settlement scheme. That also goes to the point raised by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine). My hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Suella Braverman) is absolutely right: we are determined to make sure that we are delivering on the rights of EU citizens and that we in this country play our part in delivering on the promises we made.
When the Minister says that this will apply to all citizens, does he include those who came under the Zambrano and Surinder Singh routes?
I say to my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne) that we are always reviewing the outreach work. The Home Secretary and I are particularly focused on this work to make sure that it is not just giving good value for money for the taxpayer but is also reaching the hardest-to-reach places and communities in the country. We are working with some 57 voluntary organisations around the country and with commercial and public sector organisations that employ large numbers of EU citizens, and we will be looking to continue that work and drive it further and further.
It is important that we encourage people to apply for this settled status. It is simple, quick and easy; it delivers on people’s rights; and it delivers on our promises. That is why we will not accept any amendments or new clauses this evening.
Order. I say for the benefit of new Members in particular that although the Minister has responded to the debate, I am now going to call the mover of the lead amendment to conclude and respond to the debate.
Thank you, Sir George. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions to this robust and very helpful debate in which I think every single speaker spoke of the contribution that EU nationals make to this country and the importance of protecting their rights.
So far so good, but beyond that, there are fundamental differences about how best we do it. Opposition Members say that we must automatically protect EU nationals’ rights in law, so that nobody will lose their rights overnight, while Government Members say that they must apply to stay. The Government have not challenged at all our assertion that that almost certainly means that tens, probably hundreds, of thousands will potentially lose their rights overnight. The Minister said that there will be a period in which anyone with a good, reasonable reason for missing a deadline will be able to get that all fixed. We are possibly talking about a six-figure number—and what is a good, reasonable reason? I gave two hypothetical examples in my speech, one being a French lady who has been here since 1970, has retired, had permanent residence under the old EU scheme, and does not think she needs to apply. There are lots of folk in that boat. Is that a good, reasonable reason—that she did not think she had to apply? What about the Polish guy that I cited? He was born in the United Kingdom. He therefore thought that he was British because his father was British, but actually, because of his parents’ marital status at the time of his birth, he is not British. He fails to apply. Is that a good, reasonable reason—that he thought he was British but was wrong about nationality law?
There will be tens of thousands of cases just like that, and the Government have done absolutely nothing to reassure us about the cliff edge that awaits us. Amendment 5 would go some way towards solving that by putting in place a declaratory system. The Opposition’s new clause 5 is more comprehensive. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment so that we can support the new clause instead.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.