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Brexit: EU Citizenship

Volume 787: debated on Monday 11 December 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they are having with the European Union concerning whether those United Kingdom citizens who wish to retain their European citizenship post-Brexit may do so.

My Lords, EU treaty provisions state that only citizens of EU member states are able to hold EU citizenship. Therefore, when the UK ceases to be a member of the European Union, British nationals will no longer hold EU citizenship unless they hold dual nationality with another EU member state. We are content to listen to proposals, but this is not a matter within the scope of the current negotiations with the EU.

I thank the Minister for that extensive reply, although I find it disappointing. It is really important to many people in this country to retain the rights of their European citizenship—so, given the new and cordial relationship between the Government and the European Commission and institutions, would it be possible to open up this discussion to find a mutually beneficial way to move this agenda forward? We have a friend also in the European Parliament in this regard.

We are content to listen to proposals on this; we are not ruling it out. The problem is, as the noble Lord will know very well, that you can only be an EU citizen if you are the citizen of an EU member state. To get what he wants would involve changing treaties—and he will know how difficult that is in the European Union. The other side has shown no interest whatever in doing it. I am aware of the proposals from the European Parliament, and we will look at any proposals, but our EU negotiating partners so far have not expressed any interest in it. It would be a long, difficult and complicated process and, I suspect, would set a precedent that they do not wish to set.

My Lords, can the Government confirm that before last Christmas, we offered continuing residence to the 3.5 million EU citizens living here if our 1.2 million people living there also got it? The Eurocrats refused the offer, even having the nerve to accuse us of using their people as bargaining chips. Is this not further proof that Herr Juncker and Co. are interested only in keeping their failing project afloat, however much it damages the real people of Europe?

The noble Lord makes an important point, but it is not that helpful to look back over what might have happened in the past: best now to celebrate the excellent achievements that we have gained in reaching agreements last week, whereby EU citizens in the UK will have their rights guaranteed and vice versa.

My Lords, may I take my noble friend back to his original Answer, which presumably means that passports will be required? Have Her Majesty’s Government decided whether that is so; secondly, whether a new one will be required; and, thirdly, whether it will be charged for?

I think the noble Lord will have to wait for the Home Office’s proposals on a new immigration system for an answer to that question.

As the Minister said that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, made an important point, perhaps he could spell out what the important point was to him—because, as far as I am concerned, I missed it.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that an arrangement such as this would be hugely beneficial to many working in the creative industries, for whom free movement around Europe is essential?

If the noble Earl means the proposal suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, I have said that we are happy to entertain proposals in this area. But I think it would be extremely difficult for the EU to concede that citizens from non-EU member states would have citizenship.

My Lords, the Government rightly value the integrity of the United Kingdom—as indeed do these Benches. Do they therefore think it is right that there will be an imbalance in that most citizens of Northern Ireland will be able to retain EU citizenship through their right to an Irish passport? Should the Government not therefore support the call my noble friend proposed making to the European Parliament, for the EU 27 to examine how all UK citizens can retain the benefits of EU citizenship?

As the noble Baroness is aware, special arrangements have always applied between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, given the troubled history of that island. I repeat that we are not ruling out the idea—but she will know, as well as I do, how difficult it would be to achieve consensus in the 27 to change the treaties to enable that to happen. It would set a precedent that citizens from non-EU member states can have EU citizenship, with its rights and obligations. I am sure she will agree that it is difficult to see how that would come about.

My Lords, on Thursday the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, said in regard to the likely problems of our youth orchestras in travelling to the EU after March 2019:

“Much more important is the visa requirements that will be needed after Brexit”.—[Official Report, 7/12/17; col. 1156.]

Can the Minister update the House on such anticipated problems, of youth and amateur orchestras needing visas to go to the EU after Brexit, and outline the steps being taken to mitigate this problem?

These are of course matters that will be discussed in the next phase of the negotiation. As I said in response to an earlier question, the noble Baroness will have to wait for the proposals for a new immigration system that the Home Office will announce in due course.

My Lords, I am not sure that it would be a precedent to achieve what the noble Lord has suggested. For example, I remind the Minister that in Moldova, which is not an EU country, a large number of Moldovans have the right to Romanian passports and therefore entry into the EU—so the precedent is already there.

I think that that is because they have Romanian passports. Romania is an EU member state and takes those obligations accordingly. As I said, it is very difficult to see how the treaties would be changed to enable this to happen. I am aware of the proposal from the European Parliament. We are not against the idea—we would be happy to consider it—but I think that there is very little chance of it happening.

My Lords, I am very proud that I was born Welsh, and I am very proud that I was born British as well. By what right can the Government or anybody else deny those who are born after we joined the European Union of their citizenship in Europe? How can we deny it to them?

Because, my Lords, we had a referendum on the subject of leaving the European Union and the people of the United Kingdom—and, indeed, the people of Wales—voted to leave.