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EU nationals make an invaluable contribution to our economy, our society and our daily lives. They should be assured that, as the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary have repeatedly said, there will be no immediate change in their status in the UK. The Prime Minister has made it clear that decisions on issues relating to the UK’s exit will be for a new Prime Minister. I am therefore not in a position to make new policy announcements this afternoon.
The discussions that we have with the European Union to agree the arrangements for the UK’s exit will undoubtedly reflect the immense contribution made by EU citizens to our economy, our NHS and our schools, and in so many other ways; but they must also secure the interests of the 1.2 million British citizens who live and work elsewhere in the EU.
The Home Secretary was clear yesterday when she said that we should seek to guarantee that the rights of both groups were protected, and that this would be best done through reciprocal discussions with the European Union as part of the negotiations to leave the EU. It has been suggested that the Government could now fully guarantee EU nationals living in the UK the right to stay, but that would be unwise without a parallel assurance from European Governments regarding British nationals living in their countries. Such a step might also have the unintended consequence of prompting EU immigration to the UK.
It is in the best interests of all for the Government to conduct detailed work on this issue, and for the new Prime Minister to decide the best way forward as quickly as possible. In the meantime, let me stress that EU nationals continue to be welcome here. We have seen some truly abhorrent hate crimes perpetrated against EU nationals in the past week or so, and we will not stand for attacks of that kind. They must be, and will be, tackled in the strongest possible terms.
EU nationals can have our full and unreserved reassurance that their right to enter and to work, study and live in the UK remains unchanged, but to pre-empt future discussions at this point would risk undermining our ability to protect the interests of EU and British citizens alike, and to secure the best outcome for both.
I hate to teach the Minister about British constitutional organisations and structures, but ours is a Cabinet Government structure. Irrespective of whether Prime Ministers decide to leave, the Cabinet can still make decisions.
May I point out to Ministers that people are not bargaining chips? It is deeply offensive to assume that this country retrospectively changes the rights of its citizens. It is a duty of Government to allow people to live their lives and to make arrangements and predictions. We have 3 million EU citizens in this country, and 1.2 million British people live in the EU. They have a right to expect the Government to make clear statements.
The Minister may have read a letter to The Sunday Telegraph in which Members of Parliament, including my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper, Mr Carswell and Mr Lilley, Frances O’Grady of the TUC, Simon Walker of the Institute of Directors, and Sunder Katwala of British Future—the Co-op is also concerned—say that it is duty of this Government to state clearly and unequivocally that any EU citizen here will maintain and continue to enjoy the rights that they have acquired. Anything else would represent a failure of the Government to protect their people and future obligations. The Minister may also be aware that the House of Lords is far from happy with the Government’s position. Will he do the right thing now and not turn people into bargaining chips and not worry about what might happen in future but at this moment stand up and say that we honour human rights, that EU citizens have made an important and valuable contribution that will be honoured and that those who are here will continue to be here?
I entirely understand the basic premise of the right hon. Lady’s point, which is that we should seek to reassure EU nationals here in the UK and British citizens in other EU countries. On that broad premise, we are not poles apart. The question is about how we achieve that objective, which raises several complex issues. She will understand that we are talking about not only the right to reside, but employment rights, the right to study, entitlement to benefits, access to public services, and the ability to be joined by family members.
This is not, as the right hon. Lady seeks to characterise it, about viewing people as bargaining chips in some way; it is about getting the best possible outcome for EU citizens who are here and for the 1.2 million British citizens who are elsewhere in the European Union. The Government are absolutely focused on getting the best possible solution through discussions with the European Union. She and other EU nationals who are here and contributing to our society can be assured that that is absolutely at the forefront of what we are seeking to achieve in the negotiations that will follow.
I am sure that everyone on both sides of the House wants to see no disadvantage given either to EU citizens living in this country or to UK citizens living in other European countries. I detect the faint whiff of synthetic indignation over this entire urgent question process. What judgment has the Minister made about the best way to protect the interests of the more than 1 million British citizens living, and in many cases working, in other EU countries, so that no one is disadvantaged at the end of this process?
We need to ensure that there is an overall balance and that all the issues are given careful consideration. We have to view things in the round. That is why it would be a mistake to view this in a narrow way and to make statements now that could impede broader discussions about the position of British nationals in other European countries. That is the right approach and is precisely why the Prime Minister set out that we need to consider things very carefully.
I should probably begin by declaring an interest: my wife, Marie-France, is a Dutch national and our three children are half-Dutch. So many British families are similar to ours, with relatives born in Ireland or in other EU countries. The 3 million or so EU nationals living here are the fathers and mothers, aunties and uncles, and grandmas and granddads of millions of British children. To leave any uncertainty hanging over their right to be here is tantamount to undermining family life in our country. That does not strike me as a very prime ministerial thing to do, but it is what the Home Secretary did yesterday. She said that
“people who have an established life here” would be part of negotiations with Brussels. For people making a huge contribution to our society to be talked of as a bargaining chip, as was said, is insensitive to say the least. But when she adds that
“nobody necessarily stays anywhere forever”,
it becomes quite threatening.
I hope the Minister will go back and tell the Home Secretary that my kids would quite like their mum to stay here forever, if that’s okay with her. In retrospect, does he not accept that the Home Secretary’s comments were ill-judged? Is it not the case that people who have made a life here when it was perfectly legal for them to do so should not now have the rug pulled from under them? Furthermore, is it not entirely within the gift of the UK Government to remove this uncertainty today? Why is the Home Secretary not here today doing precisely that, rather than prioritising her leadership campaign? This is entirely a matter for the UK Government to decide, and it is this Government’s own decision to make this an issue in the negotiations. By doing so, are they not creating the conditions for the unwelcoming climate to continue, and for the rise in xenophobic and racist abuse we have seen?
Finally, does the very fact that we are having to hold this debate today not illustrate how flawed the referendum campaign was? Did people not have a right to know the answer to this crucial question before they went to vote? Sending any EU nationals home has enormous implications for families, for public services and for the economy, so why on earth did the Government instruct civil servants not to carry out any contingency planning on the implications of Brexit? Was that not the very height of irresponsibility? And has it not left us with “neither compass nor chart”, as Lord Hennessey has said? The Conservative party has reduced our country to chaos and created uncertainty being felt in every family. If the Home Secretary wants to be the person to lead us out of it, she needs to have the courage to come to this House and clear up her own mess.
If anything was ill-judged, I think the right hon. Gentleman’s comments were and the manner in which he approached his contribution this afternoon. I have been clear that there is no concept of bargaining chips or viewing people in that way. I have been clear on the contribution I see EU citizens making to our country, now and in the future, which is why it will be a part of that negotiation as we look towards a positive future for our country outside the EU. It would not be responsible to take a stance now that could have an impact on the 1.2 million British citizens in countries outside the UK. [Interruption.] It is not a choice of one or the other; it is a question of looking at both of them, and getting the best possible outcome for UK citizens in other European countries as well as giving assurance on the rights of European citizens who are here. It is important that we approach the negotiations in that way.
The right hon. Gentleman makes the point about the rise in community tensions, as he did fairly to us last week when the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend Karen Bradley, made her statement on hate crime. We would have common cause in utterly condemning hate crime—I absolutely condemn it again today—with the further work that will be introduced on tackling hate crime and the further work that the police are doing in our communities at the moment. We celebrate the work of so many European citizens here in our country now, which is why this does need to be part of those discussions and agreements with the European Union, to give that assurance and, yes, to get the best possible outcome for them, as well as for British citizens abroad.
Will the Minister understand that many of us regard the Home Secretary’s recent remarks as wholly inappropriate? Does he also accept that any EU citizen who currently resides in the UK will continue to do so, as he has suggested, but that once the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 has taken place, it will be a matter for domestic legislation here at Westminster to decide, in our traditional fair and reasonable manner, on what basis people should remain, having regard to the interests of UK nationals in other member states?
I underline again that we are an open, welcoming country and recognise the contribution that EU citizens make to our country, our economy and our communities. That is why this must form part of our assessment, our consideration and our negotiations and agreement with our European partners. I stress it in those terms very clearly. I hope my hon. Friend will understand why the matter needs to be viewed in that broader construct in the best interests of our country and to get the best outcome from those discussions.
May I start by observing that this is one of many questions to which it might have been prudent to have an answer before Ms Stuart and her fellow Brexiteers persuaded so many of their fellow citizens to vote to leave the EU? Be that as it may, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union, and our fellow citizens who were born outside the UK are now anxious to know what the referendum results mean for them, not just now but in the future. And so are EU citizens across the UK. It is wrong and irresponsible to prevaricate about this.
“We will strive to make Britain a country that works for everyone—regardless of who they are and regardless of where they’re from.”
Actions speak louder than words. Why is the Home Secretary not here today to give the sort of reassurance that one might have expected in the light of that election pitch? What could be more important than her coming to this House to give that reassurance?
“We are one Scotland and we are simply home to all of those who have chosen to live here. That is who and what we are.”
Will the Minister reconsider, follow the First Minister’s example, and offer such reassurance for the whole of the United Kingdom? If he is not prepared to do that, will he clarify today in what circumstances he thinks it would be appropriate to remove the rights of EU citizens already living here?
The hon. and learned Lady has rightly highlighted that there were and will be a range of issues that need to be addressed, and obviously this is one of them. It was a consequence of the decision to leave the European Union; it was not shied away from and was clear in advance of the referendum. She makes her point in a clear and concise way. To come to her broader point, we want to get to a position where we can tell EU nationals who live in the UK that everything will be fine, that we can see them continuing here. I reverse the approach and take it from that standpoint. That is the approach that we will take as we look towards those negotiations and those EU discussions.
Order. If I am to accommodate most colleagues, there will be a premium upon brevity, to be exemplified by Sir Eric Pickles.
The hyperbole and the overstatement from the Opposition Benches will do much to frighten EU nationals in this country, more so than anything that has been said from the Front Bench. But there is an urgency to giving a clear message on the matter. EU citizens are among our top surgeons, our top consultants, our top anaesthetists. They are among our top engineers and our top architects. These are people who can work anywhere in the world and we need to be very clear that we want them here, as part of our economy.
I recognise the contribution made by all the people my right hon. Friend mentioned to our economy and also, as I said, to schools, the health service and so many other parts of our communities. I stress again that there is no change to their status now. We have to approach the discussions and focus on how we get the best possible outcome for them as well as for our own citizens, and that is what we will do.
Is it not obvious that the forced deportation of millions of EU citizens is something that no sane or fair Government would contemplate doing? Given that no Government would do it, all we see from the Minister is that the Home Secretary has an incredible “negotiating position” and is causing untold fear and misery for many people in our country. It is time the Government gave clarity on this issue.
I am sorry, but I entirely reject the assertions the right hon. Gentleman makes. We have been very clear on confronting the division in our society, and in actually doing the work and setting out the best possible outcome for EU citizens, as well as British citizens, and that is the job we will get on with.
I was glad to hear a moment ago, in one response from the Minister, that foreign residents are not to be treated as pawns in the negotiations, but I have to say that that was not the impression I had from his opening statement. Protecting their rights is the only ethical position that can now be taken. What is more, the longer the uncertainty about this question persists, as my right hon. Friend Sir Eric Pickles pointed out, the greater the risk of the economic downturn and the economic consequences. The Minister has been sent to do a holding operation today. Will he now take back from this urgent question debate the clear message that waiting until
I note my right hon. Friend’s contribution, and I would reassert the comments I made about people not being bargaining chips. We are talking about people’s lives here, and we fully appreciate and recognise the personal significance that this has. I do say to him, though, that it is appropriate that we look at this in the round, with all the complexities and all the unintended consequences that might arise from making statements now. It is appropriate to consider it in that way and to get the best outcome.
There are unintended consequences in not making a statement now and allowing this issue to drift. There are children in schools, whose parents are French or Polish, who are in tears because they fear that they may have to leave. Extremists are exploiting this for “Go home” campaigns and repatriation campaigns that are vile, and the Home Secretary is just giving them succour. The Minister has been sent out here to waffle, while the Home Secretary, once again, has gone to ground on something that she could sort right now. Parliament is sovereign; we could sort this before the recess. Why do we not have a motion through this Parliament, which every one of us could sign up to and support, to say we will respect people’s rights if they are settled here and contributing to our country already? That is the fair thing to do.
We do have the certainty of knowing that there will be no immediate change, so people should not be fearful. Equally, others should not try to stoke up anxieties in the way that, I think, has been done in some contributions. It is important that we get this right and that people can continue in the way that they have done. Again, this process of leaving the EU is likely to take a number of years, and there will be no change while we remain a member of the European Union. People need to have that confidence and certainty. We will certainly confront any division, any hatred and any racism that we see, and the police are already taking action on that.
While I understand the immediate logic of my right hon. Friend’s position, he does need to understand that our partners are not going to be in a position to make a reciprocal commitment, because 27 nations have to agree a position in the negotiations. This is an area in which the uncertainty needs to be brought to an end as soon as possible. Since it is inconceivable that we would not grant retrospective rights, should we not get on with it immediately?
My hon. Friend is right in saying that it is important that we look at the reciprocal rights and at how we do this at an EU level, rather than with individual member states. I think that is the right approach to take. However, it is important to view this in the round, viewing the role and responsibilities of British citizens who are in other European countries, and ensuring that the actions we take do not have unintended consequences for them.
I find it hard to comprehend: the Minister keeps talking about not using EU citizens as bargaining chips, but then talks as if that is exactly what he is going to do. I also have to declare an interest: my husband is German, he has been a GP in this country for 30 years and, along with others in the community, he is anxious. The Minister says there will not be an answer for several years. In what way should people feel reassured? We caused the problem; we should set the example, and then other countries will respond in kind—just give them the reassurance.
I commend and congratulate the hon. Lady’s husband on the contribution he has made to the NHS, as have so many other EU nationals. Again, it is important to underline the fact that EU nationals who have been exercising treaty rights for a period of five years are entitled to permanent residence under existing rules. That is why we need a calm approach to these issues, underlining the existing arrangements that EU citizens will continue to benefit from, as well as looking at what those arrangements will need to be in future. That is where the negotiation plays such an essential part.
Is not my right hon. Friend making a bit of a meal of this? Why do we not just do what this House clearly wants to do—to grant the rights to these people? Could not that be implemented very quickly if we repealed the European Communities Act 1972? Does he not accept responsibility for gross negligence in not having any contingency plans?
I am afraid that there are significant legal complexities glossed over by my hon. Friend in outlining those solutions. A range of quite complex, multi-faceted issues arise. I have already highlighted things like benefit rights, access to public services, and employment rights, and there are others as well. It is not as simple as some have set it out to be. That is why we need to work through this carefully to get the best outcome.
There are 36,000 EU passport holders in the London borough of Westminster—almost one in eight of the population. This week I have been flooded by emails from people concerned about the jobs they do, the businesses they run, and the future of their children’s education. Does not the Minister understand that “not immediately” is simply not good enough? People are making decisions about their lives, their businesses and their children: they need reassurance, and they need it now.
Of course I understand the points that the hon. Lady very fairly makes. I do not think there is much difference between us on getting to that objective. That is why I make the point that I do about the certainty that people have now, and therefore working towards giving that certainty and assurance as part of the discussions at EU level. I absolutely understand the point that she fairly makes. That is precisely why this needs to be a priority as part of those discussions with our European partners, so that there is certainty for their citizens here, as well as our citizens in those member states.
Does the Minister agree that we should hold ourselves to a higher moral standard than trading off one group of immigrants against another, and immediately unilaterally declare a new immigration status of EU-acquired rights that would give people the right to reside here if they had been here for less than five years, at the same time as advertising to those who have been here for longer than five years that they now automatically have the right of permanent residence, so that as many of them as possible can avail themselves of that right?
I have already, in response to an earlier question, explained the position in relation to permanent residence. Those rights are there. Obviously we will retain and respect all existing rights while we remain a member of the European Union. My hon. Friend makes a number of points about potential solutions. Ultimately, that will be a matter for the next Prime Minister.
“it is we who hold the stronger hand if we retaliate, because so many more of them”—
“them” being EU citizens—
“are living here”?—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Vol. 773, c. 1563.]
For two specific categories—the 10,000 EU doctors, just under 10% of the staff, who work in the NHS, and EU students who have just embarked on their studies—can the Minister give any guarantees that they will be able to continue?
On the right hon. Gentleman’s first point, I entirely agree—those comments are simply not acceptable. On his second point, yes, we know that about 50,000 EU citizens are working within the NHS. The contribution that they make is absolutely essential. I underline the points that I have made about the certainty that they have now in relation to existing EU rights, and working towards a position where we can give clarity moving forward.
Some 55,000 members of our NHS workforce qualified elsewhere in the European Union, as did 80,000 members of our equally valued care sector. They need security, not just now, but in the long term, because the workforce crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS. In addition to welcoming the extraordinarily valuable contribution that those people make to our health and care sector, will the Minister take back the clearest possible message from this House that we need long-term security now?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for underlining the contribution that EU and other citizens make in providing care in the NHS and in the care sector for our elderly. Obviously, as part of the negotiations, we want to ensure that there is an assurance. It exists now—I stress that again—but I acknowledge the priority she has given to it.
My right hon. Friend Ms Stuart led the campaign that got us into this mess. May I take up with the Minister something he said about the British people living in other European countries? I declare an interest as president of Labour International. We have heard from lots of people who live in Spain and elsewhere who are very concerned about their future. Can the Minister end the uncertainty for those British people—many of whom could not vote in the referendum because they have been abroad for longer than 15 years —that they will not be forced out of Spain, France or elsewhere, by ensuring that the British Government make a quick, early statement on security for citizens of those countries here?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point well on the bigger implications and broader issues that we absolutely have to acknowledge in making decisions. That is why we need to act with care, consideration and thought, to ensure that we consider the rights not only of those from the EU who are here, but of British citizens overseas, who will be feeling equally uncertain. We need to think about both in our discussions.
As Ms Stuart, who asked the urgent question, will know, nobody on the official leave campaign raised the prospect of sending people away and deporting people. The issue has been raised by the Home Secretary and it is a catastrophic error of judgment for someone who wishes to lead this country even to suggest that those people who are here legally, who are working and who have families and are settled, should be part of the negotiations. She has made a big error of judgment and that message needs to go back to the Home Secretary today.
I am very sorry, but I think that my hon. Friend has completely mischaracterised what the Home Secretary said. She was merely saying that people come and go: some people who work here may go back to their home countries. That is the fluidity that we see in labour markets and in the movements of people between different countries. That is what the Home Secretary was referring to. We want to work to ensure that the rights of those who are here are guaranteed, and that will form part of the negotiations.
The Minister’s answer to the question seems to be, “Trust me: it’s all in hand.” Is it any wonder that the family of my right hon. Friend Andy Burnham and thousands of other families up and down this country cannot trust the Government, given how they have handled the immigration question for years? May I ask the Minister to do a little better than saying, “Just trust me”, and to say whether he has made representations on this issue to his opposite numbers in the French or Spanish Governments?
The issue is being treated seriously. It is not about multilateral negotiations but about getting it right and assessing all the complexities that I have already highlighted this afternoon. That is the appropriate response. As the Prime Minister has said, we need to look at the issue very carefully and it will be for the next Prime Minister to act.
Knowing the contribution that EU nationals make to Torbay, I welcome this afternoon’s far more positive portrayal of their contribution to society, particularly by one or two Members who have not done that over the past couple of months. Does the Minister agree that, in order to reassure them, we could make it very clear that, unless there is a retaliation within the European Union against British passport holders, we will guarantee their rights in the UK?
I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. We want to make sure that EU nationals who are already here can stay in Britain, but we also, as I have already stressed, need to guarantee the rights of British nationals living in EU member states. That needs to be a priority of our negotiations.
On exactly that point, can the Minister explain how it can possibly be likely to prejudice the rights of UK nationals in the EU if we do the right thing—if we do the moral thing—and uphold basic human rights by extending the rights of EU nationals here? Does he recognise how out of touch he is on this issue, and will he take that message back to the Home Secretary in no uncertain terms?
Of course, I understand the point that the hon. Lady makes about wanting to act. We need to be careful about the unintended consequences and other implications of things that we do now, up front, to ensure that we get the best possible outcome for British citizens overseas. It is about looking at this in the round to achieve the best outcome. I think she and I both agree on that, but we differ on how we should go about it.
I understand the concerns that have been expressed today. My mother is a Danish national who has lived in the UK for more than 50 years. My right hon. Friend has set out that there are complexities here. However, can he reassure the House that this is an urgent priority and that plans are being developed urgently, not only in the Home Office but by the EU Brexit unit that has been set up recently by the Prime Minister?
Yes, I can. My hon. Friend makes reference to the new unit that has been established, and this is certainly seen as an early item in that work.
Is the Minister aware that his remarks and the remarks of the Home Secretary have created real insecurity among a number of people, who are now seeking to become British and who are perfectly qualified for British citizenship? The Minister is about to make hundreds of thousands of pounds of profit from those applications. What is he going to do right now to cut the cost of becoming British, or at least to make it happen faster and more efficiently, for the many European citizens who will become British because they are so unsure of their own future?
I do not accept that my comments or the comments of the Home Secretary have in any way added to the uncertainty that the hon. Lady has pointed to. The Prime Minister said clearly that nothing changes while we remain a member of the European Union. Obviously, we need to make decisions for the future, and that will be for the next Prime Minister.
Interestingly, throughout the referendum campaign the Government did not indicate what their position would be on the matter. Since the result, they have demonstrated nothing other than that they are completely unprepared for this and every other issue. EU nationals are part of our communities, and our children share classrooms and friendships with them. The Secretary of State for Education stated in an answer to oral questions just before this urgent question that she believes that EU nationals and their children should be allowed to remain in this country. Does the Minister agree with his colleague?
As I have indicated, I believe that we need to work to make sure that people who are here can stay in the UK. Securing that needs to be part of the negotiations. That is part of those discussions, as is the position of British nationals overseas.
The Minister’s statement condemns large numbers of constituents of mine who are married to foreign nationals, expecting children with foreign nationals or employed in factories here and abroad with foreign nationals to great uncertainty. If he will not accept the will of the House today, will he give a clearer indication of the timescale than simply, “It is a matter for the next Prime Minister”?
The right hon. Gentleman will know that there are a number of issues that flow through from the decision that has been made for the UK to leave the European Union, and this is but one of them. I entirely recognise the points that he and others have made, but this is how we are able to get the best outcome for European citizens here and British nationals overseas, and therefore it is part of our detailed, considered work. As I have indicated, it is certainly a priority aspect of that work.
What does the Minister say to my constituent Teodóra Bokonyi, one of the 1,183 EU nationals to whom I wrote last week, who is in full-time education in Scotland and has two years of study left before she gains her degree? What pre-Brexit legal advice was sought by the Government, and will he share that advice, so that I can advise my constituent on how best to be safe and secure in following her studies in the UK?
I wish the hon. Gentleman’s constituent well with her studies, which should continue, and she should have no fears in relation to the current situation, as I have highlighted. We do not share legal advice. That has been the well-founded position of many Governments over the years. I want to assure people that nothing is changing now and the process could take a number of years. I wish her well with her studies in Scotland.
Thank you very much, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question, although it is somewhat bizarre to see the Brexiteers on both sides of the House weeping crocodile tears. What am I to tell the 15% of my constituents who are EU nationals, hundreds of whom have written to me to express their dismay and, given the racist attacks like that on the Polish centre in Hammersmith, fear? Many of them are thinking of going to another country. If they do, it will be we, not they, who are the poorer for it. We need certainty, and we need it now.
I utterly condemn attacks on any citizens in this country as a consequence of their nationality, faith, creed or colour. They are completely unacceptable and do not represent the country that I or this Government believe in. This House has unequivocally condemned such actions. There have been ministerial visits to the Polish centre. I recognise the points that the hon. Gentleman makes. Clearly, nothing is changing now and it is the negotiations that will provide the ultimate certainty. We want to ensure that the UK remains an open and attractive place for people to come to, to live, work and study. For my part, that is the approach that I will continue to advocate.
In the disgraceful absence of the Home Secretary, can the Minister offer any reassurance beyond “not immediately” to my constituent, Alex Westley, and his French-born wife, Morgan, who fear that her long-term future in the UK cannot be guaranteed? Morgan came to Scotland in good faith. She has built a life here and is contributing to Scottish society. Surely, common decency dictates that she and the millions like her deserve guarantees of their long-term security?
I entirely understand the point the hon. Gentleman makes and the assurance he seeks. Nothing will change immediately, as the Prime Minister has stated clearly. I want us to get to the position where EU nationals who are already here can stay in Britain, but that needs to be part of the negotiation.
Yesterday, I was stopped in the street by a constituent who is an EU national whose children were born here. The family are from Denmark, but the children do not speak a word of Danish and the older child is due to start school next term. Does the Minister understand that the Government have an obligation to uphold the best interests and welfare of children and that this uncertainty is putting parents in an impossible position?
As I have said in response to other questions, I understand the position we face as a consequence of the UK’s decision to leave the EU. As I have indicated, no immediate changes will happen while we remain an EU member state. Clearly, we want to be in a position to give the guarantees that the hon. Lady’s constituent seeks. That will be a core part of the negotiations that will follow.
In a written parliamentary question in January, I asked the Home Secretary to outline the contingency plans her Department was making for a leave vote. In the reply, the Minister gave no assurances. Is it not clear that on this issue, as with every question thrown up by the leave vote, the Government have done absolutely no contingency planning? The consequence in this instance is that people who are making decisions about their education, their jobs and their families have no assurances whatsoever from the Government. Is the Minister not ashamed of that position, and does it not reflect the cavalier approach of this Government since they were elected last year?
No. I do not accept the characterisation that the hon. Gentleman seeks to proffer. I say to him very clearly that the security and guarantees that he and his constituents may be seeking require the positive outcome of the negotiations with the European Union. That is the absolute focus of this Government with the establishment of the new unit in the Cabinet Office. It will be for the new Prime Minister to take that forward.
Since this Government have shown themselves to be woefully inadequate in setting the right policy and doing the right thing by EU nationals, will the Minister consider devolving these powers to Scotland, which has a Government who can lead and will do the right thing?
Following on from the question from Ms Ahmed-Sheikh, can we be clear that the Secretary of State for Education confirmed at the Dispatch Box that the children of all EU nationals would continue to be educated in British schools? Will the Minister tell us whether that will go up to the age of 18, or 21, or does he not have clue, as with the rest of his answers?
The Secretary of State for Education made her comments this afternoon and clearly he will need to direct further comments to the Department.
It is frankly unbelievable that no contingency planning had taken place in respect of a leave vote, not just on EU citizens living and working in the UK but on UK nationals living and working in other EU member states. Given that those people are disproportionately older and retired, and EU citizens living and working the UK tend to be younger, in work and paying tax to the Exchequer, what kind of bargaining chip does the Minister think he has?
This is not a question of bargaining chips at all, as I have said very clearly throughout my contributions this afternoon; rather, it is about looking at this issue in the round, with all the implications there are. It is not right to suggest that every EU national here fits the categories that the hon. Gentleman described. We have the self-employed, those who are employed, retained workers of self-employed persons, those who are retired, jobseekers, students, the self-sufficient and family members. These are complex issues that require careful consideration. That is what we need to do.
If the Government are unwilling to guarantee the future of EU nationals living here what assessment have they made of the impact on public services of the exodus of EU nationals and the potential return of hundreds of thousands of retirees from abroad?
As I have already indicated, we want to be in a position in which EU nationals who are already here can stay in Britain. As I have already made clear, there is no change to the current arrangements or situation. We want to work quickly to see that these issues are resolved, but I again repeat that that needs to be part of the negotiations.
May I put on the record my absolute disappointment with the Minister’s statement today? On an issue that appears to command consensus among those who campaigned both for leave and for remain, it beggars belief that the Home Secretary yesterday and the Minister today cannot give the reassurance that the millions of people in this country need that they can stay here and have the rights that they deserve, and it is notable that not one Member of this House has so far agreed with the Government’s position. These people are our teachers, our doctors, our entrepreneurs; they are also our taxpayers. They deserve that reassurance. The tone the Minister would then send to other European nations would in my view be the kind of tone we need to keep relations with our allies and protect the rights of our British citizens abroad.
I absolutely appreciate and recognise the huge contribution that EU citizens make to our economy and in so many other different ways. They enrich our country. There are difficult challenges to face now as a consequence of the decision that has been taken for the UK to leave the European Union. I have been very clear, as has the Prime Minister, that EU nationals’ rights remain unchanged while we remain a member of the European Union. Clearly, we are working to ensure that the negotiations are successful in giving those guarantees to ensure that those who are here are able to stay.
The Minister keeps evading our inquiries on the whereabouts of his boss. What is so important that the Home Secretary cannot attend this urgent question, which in large part has been occasioned by her comments to the press? Does the Minister understand that many thousands of our fellow citizens are fearful and anxious for their future and that his procrastination serves only to fuel rather than to allay that anxiety?
I respond to issues relating to migration and our immigration system, so it is entirely appropriate for me to respond to this urgent question. I note and appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s point about uncertainty for European citizens in the UK, as well as for British citizens overseas. That is why I have been clear that there are no immediate changes. I have sought to give that assurance, and it is unfortunate that many contributions have sought to stoke up some of those uncertainties, when the Government have been providing clarity and assurance on the process that will need to take place to give the sort of comfort that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Ms Stuart has a brass neck for bringing this urgent question to the House, and the Minister has a brass neck for saying that EU citizens will not be used as bargaining chips, because that is exactly what he is doing. His boss, the Home Secretary, has a brass neck for making comments and then not coming to the House. I have continually heard the phrase “strong government”, so will the Minister find the strength to find his boss, do the right thing and make a decision for EU citizens?
The hon. Gentleman makes his point in his own way, and I will make mine in my own way. We recognise and respect the contribution that EU citizens make in the UK, and equally we must ensure that the rights of British citizens overseas are protected. We will take that combined approach to get the best possible outcome for both.