I beg to move,
That this House
recognises the contribution that nationals from other countries in the EU have made to the UK;
and calls on the Government to ensure that all nationals from other countries in the EU who have made the UK their home retain their current rights, including the rights to live and work in the UK, should the UK exit the EU.
It is nearly four months since the EU referendum, and the long-term status of non-UK EU nationals living in the United Kingdom is still unclear, just as the Government are still without a plan or a negotiating strategy for the Brexit that they accidentally delivered. The status of millions of our fellow workers, friends and neighbours is uncertain. That is simply not good enough. Despite repeated requests, the Government have refused to guarantee, in the long term, the rights of EU nationals who have made their home in the United Kingdom. In the meantime, in England and Wales hate crime has soared and xenophobic rhetoric is common in the mainstream media and, sadly, sometimes in the mouths of Ministers.
I thought that the Government had clearly said that they had no wish to make anybody leave unless there were evictions from the continent. Is the hon. and learned Lady saying that continental countries are going to evict British citizens?
The whole point of this motion is that human beings should not be used as bargaining chips in negotiation. If the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues think that the United Kingdom has so much to offer the European Union in its negotiations, why do they insist on using human beings as bargaining chips?
Does the hon. and learned Lady agree that many of the people we are talking about provide vital services and work in our public services? For instance, 6% of doctors working in the Welsh health service come from the EU. We face a crisis in that a third of our doctors may retire in the next few years, so we will need those people and additional qualified individuals to work in our health service. If the Government’s rhetoric is translated into policy, it will have a detrimental impact on the delivery of health services in my country.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. The statistics are very similar in Scotland, where about 6.7% of staff in the NHS are EU nationals. The net result of the refusal to guarantee the long-term status of EU nationals, and of the xenophobic rhetoric and hate crime across the United Kingdom, is that many EU nationals are living with considerable stress and worry. We all receive letters from them as their constituency MPs. Damage has been done to the British economy and, importantly, to our international reputation.
My hon. and learned Friend will undoubtedly have read the disgraceful comments in some quarters of the press this morning by a Tory MP who suggested that some child refugees should have to undergo dental checks to confirm their age before gaining passage to the UK from Calais—as if those children had not been through enough. Leaving aside the fact that those children have a legal right to family reunification here—
Order. Neil Gray will resume his seat. We will be with him in a moment. There is a point of order from Mr David T.C. Davies.
I am the Conservative MP who has just been referred to. This is not a matter that is before us today. I wanted to speak about EU migrants, being married to one myself. If Neil Gray wants to raise a completely unrelated matter, will I be able to answer that in the speech that I hope you will call me to make later on, Mr Speaker, even though it has nothing to do with this debate?
Order. I did not judge the remark to be disorderly, although it needs to be made briefly. I did not and do not think it was disorderly, but I give David T. C. Davies the assurance, which he is entitled to seek, that he will have an opportunity in his remarks to respond as he thinks fit. No one should deny him that opportunity. Briefly, Mr Gray; let us hear it.
Does my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry agree that such disgraceful, xenophobic rhetoric is unhelpfully fuelling the xenophobic attacks that we have seen across the country since the Brexit vote?
I very much agree with my hon. Friend. It is incumbent on all of us in public life to be mindful of the language we use, particularly when we are talking about refugees who are children—the definition of a child being someone under the age of 18.
I will make some progress. Those of us who have actually been to Calais, met some of these child refugees—some of them are young men, but they are still children—and seen them separated from their families and in tears found the comments to which my hon. Friend referred deeply distasteful.
I am going to make some progress.
Tomorrow, the Prime Minister will attend her first European Union summit in Brussels. I very much hope that it will not be her last. Britain’s position on EU migrants will be a central issue. Now is the opportunity for the UK Government to do the right thing, so the Scottish National party calls on this House today to recognise the contribution that EU nationals have made to the UK. We also call on the Government to ensure that all EU nationals who have made this country their home retain their current rights, including the rights to live and work in this country, should the UK exit the European Union.
I asked the Home Secretary how an EU citizen demonstrates that they have lived in the UK for five or more years, how citizenship is claimed after six years, which Department will be responsible for confirming the right to remain, what citizenship they will be able to claim, what certification of these rights will be provided and what the estimate is of the costs of going through this process. In reply to that parliamentary question, I was told:
“The Home Office has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period.”
Is it not time we got our act together as a country and gave people who have given their lives and their taxes to this country the security of knowing that they can remain?
Order. These are all very serious and worthy interventions, but they suffer from the disadvantage of being too long. This must not continue. We must try to restore some sort of order to this debate. I do not want to embarrass him unduly, but if Members would model themselves in terms of brevity on John Redwood—or on Ms Stuart—they would serve the House well.
I could not agree more with Mrs Moon. Is this not symptomatic of the complete failure of various Departments to answer any questions arising from the strategy they will presumably need to adopt as a result of the result on
I will give way in a moment.
To pick up on the hon. Lady’s point, I am delighted that Scottish National party Members have the full support of Labour party colleagues for the motion. We are very happy to work with them as part of a cross-party, progressive alliance, which I am sure will include some Government Members, to protect the rights of EU nationals across the UK.
Briefly, I completely agree with the first part of the hon. and learned Lady’s motion, which I have read very carefully, in which she recognises the contribution made by EU nationals, but does she not accept that the first responsibility of the Minister for Immigration and the Prime Minister is to British citizens, more than 1 million of whom are in European Union countries? Their rights must be protected, but her motion is silent on their interests.
It is of course open to the right hon. Gentleman to bring forward such a motion. This motion is about protecting the rights of EU nationals in the United Kingdom, which the United Kingdom Government are in a position to do.
My husband is a UK citizen based in Germany, where he runs a very small business. He was horrified by the tone of his Government in looking after his rights as a person who is working and has established himself abroad. He said to me, “Do they not understand that threatening Europe is not the best way to open negotiations?” I merely said, “No, they don’t.”
I could not agree more with the hon. Lady. As I have said, if, as we are constantly told by the Brexiteers, having trade agreements with Britain is such a fantastic option for the other 27 member states of the European Union, why must the Government keep individuals up their sleeve as bargaining chips?
Absolutely. I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The purpose of the motion is to make sure that we do not get into the very unfortunate position of having people living, working and paying taxes in the United Kingdom who have lesser rights and status than others. That would be deeply invidious and, if I may say so as a Scottish nationalist, I would have thought it was contrary to the British tradition.
Equally, there will be British citizens working abroad whom we do not want to suffer from having any lesser rights. Would the hon. and learned Lady go into the negotiating chamber armed only with the glow of the good will and the moral high ground as against the hard-headedness of her interlocutors in the negotiations?
I am very happy and very proud to say that I and my Scottish National party colleagues would never go into the negotiating chamber using individual human beings as bargaining chips.
I am going to make a little progress, and I will then give way.
I use the phrase “bargaining chips” advisedly, because it is a source of shame to this House and to the United Kingdom that the Prime Minister and several of her Ministers—including the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and, I am particularly ashamed to say, the Secretary of State for Scotland—have hinted at using EU nationals living in this country as bargaining chips. Indeed, at the Conservative party conference, which we all so much enjoyed watching on television, the Secretary of State for International Trade went so far as even to compare European Union nationals with “cards” in a game.
The hon. and learned Lady is talking about European Union citizens being used as bargaining chips. Does she recall that in 2014 Nicola Sturgeon threatened to strip EU nationals of their right to remain in an independent Scotland? As reported in The Scotsman newspaper, she said:
“There are 160,000 EU nationals from other states living in Scotland, including some in the Commonwealth Games city of Glasgow. If Scotland was outside Europe, they would lose the right to stay here.”
Who is being used as bargaining chips there?
May I in the gentlest and friendliest way counsel the hon. Gentleman against taking advice, first, from the Conservative party in Scotland, and secondly, from The Scotsman newspaper, which is frankly not what it was when I was a girl?
I will just finish responding on that point.
There is absolutely no question that the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, or her distinguished predecessor, my right hon. Friend Alex Salmond, ever threatened EU nationals with not being part of Scottish society. Our policy has been clear for many, many years: we want an independent Scotland in the European Union, with equal rights for all living in Scotland. We are quite clear on that. This debate is about making the UK Government be clear about having equal rights for all across the United Kingdom.
I have listened to the hon. and learned Lady’s speech with care. She has been pressed time and again to say whether she would defend the rights of citizens of this nation who are living abroad, and time and again she has refused to do so. I will give her one more opportunity. Would she stand up for Britain and British citizens and their rights around the globe?
Yes, of course I would, but I am not going to be sidetracked on an issue that is not the subject of this debate. If the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues were so agitated about this aspect of the argument, they were free to table an amendment, as my hon. Friend Mike Weir said. I am delighted to hear that they are so concerned about the welfare of British citizens in Europe, which has been put at risk by the Brexit vote, but I would like them to extend the same concern to EU nationals living in the United Kingdom. That is what the motion is about, and no amount of obfuscation from Government Members is going to sidetrack me.
Does my hon. and learned Friend not agree that we can negotiate in two ways—positively or negatively? If, on
I am now going to try to make some progress, as I have taken a lot of interventions. I will be very happy to put Government Members right on a few points later, but at this stage I want to make some progress.
We would not expect the 1.2 million UK citizens who live in other EU countries to be treated as bargaining chips, and we would not expect the Governments of other EU countries to preside over a shocking rise in xenophobic hate crime, so the UK Government must accept their share of responsibility for what is going on in this country at the moment and stop fuelling division.
I entirely share the hon. and learned Lady’s sentiment that we all want to reassure people who are here, so we must be careful not to arouse a sense of insecurity among them. I do not know of any Member of this House in any party who wishes to remove EU nationals who are now lawfully here and making their lives here. I have never met a European politician from any country—and I have met quite a lot of them—who wishes to remove British nationals who have settled down there, as Dr Whitford pointed out. We are having a rather artificial debate here. Would it not be best if this were all sorted out at the summit tomorrow, with the leaders quickly agreeing among themselves that neither side would seek, in any negotiations, to remove nationals lawfully living in their respective territories?
I always listen to the right hon. and learned Gentleman with great care, because he has made an amazing contribution to the debate about the European Union over the years. However, this is not an artificial debate. I hate to disillusion him, but a Conservative and Unionist party colleague of his in Scotland, a Member of the Scottish Parliament, suggested recently in a press release sanctioned by the Conservative and Unionist party that EU citizens living in Scotland should not have the same right to participate in civil society as others—for the record, that person was referring to a French national who lives in Scotland and was previously a Member of the Scottish Parliament—so it is a very real concern.
I will take more interventions later, but I would like to make some progress as I am conscious that many other Members want to speak.
Scotland is an inclusive and outward-looking society. We recognise the immense contribution that migrants make to our economy, society and culture. We firmly believe that similar views are held by many throughout the rest of the United Kingdom. We appeal to the UK Government to listen to the voices from across the UK of those who do not want EU nationals living in the United Kingdom used as bargaining chips in the Brexit negotiations. This union of nations should be better than that.
I think we can agree that Mr Clarke is right to say that no one in this House would want to see EU nationals who are living and working here expelled. The point is that there are people out there who have been emboldened by the current political climate who want to see EU nationals living here expelled, and worse. The sort of signal that the hon. and learned Lady is calling for, and which I support, would be very powerful in saying that the views of those people are wholeheartedly rejected by all right-thinking people.
I intend to make some progress.
I will say a little about the valuable contribution that EU migrants make to our society across the UK. As we all know, about 3 million EU migrants live in the United Kingdom, about 173,000 of them in Scotland. Data produced during the EU referendum show that, contrary to popular myth, EU migrants to the UK make a net contribution to the economy. Indeed, the EU citizens who come to live and work in Scotland are critical to key sectors of our economy. More than 12% of the people who work in the agricultural sector in Scotland are EU migrants, and 11% of people who work in our important food, fish and meat processing sector are EU citizens. There are two major universities in my constituency, Edinburgh Napier University and Heriot-Watt; they would be gravely affected by a decrease in the number of EU nationals choosing to study, research and teach in Scotland.
The hon. and learned Lady is making a wonderful case for the contribution that EU nationals make to Scottish and British public life; we must be much more confident in making that case. Does she agree that we should consider not just about the contribution that they make, but in which particular sectors, such as the one she is about to come to in her speech? For example, 25% of the staff of the Edinburgh University King’s Buildings, our world-renowned science institute, are EU nationals. They need the certainty that they can stay so that Edinburgh can stay in the top 100 universities around the world.
The hon. Gentleman and I are privileged to have students and academics from three very fine universities spread across our adjoining constituencies. I am sure that, like me, he spent the summer meeting those academics and students. Shortly after the EU referendum I was informed by the principal of Edinburgh Napier University that within days of the referendum she had been advised of potential staff members from other EU countries withdrawing from job offers at universities across Scotland. When I met her academic staff and those from Heriot-Watt University over the summer, they expressed similar concerns about how the quality of their teaching and research could be undermined if the position of EU migrants in Scotland were not guaranteed. I have no doubt that that is the same across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
How EU citizens feel about remaining in the UK is a really important point. I have not heard a single Member on the Government Benches say that they want anyone to leave at all. The issue is being raised only by the SNP and the Labour party. I very gently say to her that she should be aware, when she makes such cases for political reasons, of the concern that she sows—concern that should not be felt by any EU citizen in this nation.
I cannot speak for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents or the mail that he receives, but SNP Members are all receiving a considerable weight of mail and emails from concerned EU citizens. I am sure that Members on the Opposition Benches will speak to the same later in the debate. This is not fearmongering—and believe you me, Madam Deputy Speaker, we in the SNP are experts on fearmongering having been on the receiving end of it during the 2014 referendum.
I am not going to give way; I will make some progress. This is a valid issue about which many constituents are very concerned. We would be failing in our responsibilities if we did not raise it, no matter how embarrassing it is for those on the Government Benches.
I want to get back to the contribution that migrants make to our economy. Jonathan Edwards has already mentioned the NHS. As he said, 6% of doctors in Wales are EU migrants; it is just under 7% of doctors in Scotland. The British Medical Association and the Scottish Government say that 5% of the total NHS workforce were born in other EU countries. Put bluntly, our NHS would struggle to cope without them.
There are very valid concerns that pushing EU nationals to leave because of uncertainty about their future would have a devastating impact on the NHS, the hospitality and agriculture sectors, higher education and science, all of which rely heavily on labour from the EU. I also share the concerns raised by the Trades Union Congress, which has said that the longer we leave EU workers uncertain about their future, the greater the likelihood that they will leave, creating staffing shortages that will particularly negatively affect our public services. That will serve only to increase the concerns felt by those who voted to leave the EU in order to increase resources for public services—and there is not much sign of that happening, is there?
Talking of uncertainty, as the hon. and learned Lady was just then, may I ask her about the last few words of the motion? Why does it say
“should the UK exit the EU”?
Why is it “should”?
The reality is that 17.4 million people voted for this country to leave the European Union and we are going to leave. There is no “should” about it; that word should surely be “when”.
I do not think I can answer the intervention better than my hon. Friend Gavin Newlands, but the hon. Gentleman will be aware that in Scotland, by a huge majority, we voted to remain a member of the EU. The SNP will do everything in its might to ensure that the wishes of the Scottish people are respected.
The hon. and learned Lady makes a very powerful case. Am I right in saying that all she is seeking to do in this debate is ensure there is clarity? Mr Clarke said that nobody in this House would like to see any EU national leave the country. Would it not be the best possible course of action at the end of the debate if the Minister were just to say that these rights are granted?
I could not have put it better or more succinctly. I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman.
I mentioned earlier the phenomenon of the rise in hate crime across England and Wales since the referendum. Home Office statistics published just over a week ago show that hate crimes have soared by 41% in England and Wales. I suggest that this is a symptom of the negative and xenophobic rhetoric used by some—not all—in the lead-up to the referendum. This has had a major effect in legitimising hate crime on the part of a small but violent and vocal minority.
Many of us were very concerned about some of the rhetoric that came out of the Conservative and Unionist party conference in Birmingham the other week. This is not just a concern of the SNP. Concern has also been raised by other Members and by international human rights bodies. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe’s European Commission against Racism and Intolerance have all expressed concern about the spike in hate crime in England and Wales.
Does my hon. and learned Friend agree that this situation requires leadership and a Prime Minister who will advocate in the best interests of every single individual in this country, EU national or otherwise? Will she share with me support for the First Minister’s statement on inclusivity and the need for leadership in this debate?
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for giving way again. Again, I emphasise that she is making a compelling speech. Do the Government not have to look at the will of this House, which in July voted by 245 votes to two to do the very thing for which her motion asks? Rather than making xenophobic speeches at the Conservative party conference, they should abide by the will of this House and do what this House has voted for already.
The hon. Gentleman rightly refers to the debate on this issue on
Returning to the international concern about what is going on in the United Kingdom at the moment, the Polish ambassador gave evidence yesterday to the Lords EU Justice Sub-Committee. He said that he had
“noticed an increase in xenophobic behaviour” in Britain since the Brexit vote. He expressed concern about the uncertainty being caused to Polish nationals living in the UK. So there we have another non-SNP voice talking about the very concern that has made us bring forward the motion today.
I am pleased that we have not seen any increase in hate crime north of the border, but we must always be vigilant to ensure that hate crime is made unacceptable across the whole of the United Kingdom.
I have been a remainer for a very long period of time. I have come to the Chamber and listened very intently to what the hon. and learned Lady is saying. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke said that nobody disagrees with what she is saying, and no one in this House disagrees with protecting EU nationals as well as we protect our British citizens. From one remainer to another, may I just ask why—I would have voted for it—you did not put this in your motion?
The hon. Gentleman definitely, in everything he has just said, did not mean me. He has got the point without my saying anything further.
The motion is as framed advisedly. If Conservative Members felt it could have been improved, it was open to them to bring forward an amendment. We would have looked at it carefully, as we always do. I am now going to make a little bit more progress. I am conscious that I have taken a lot of interventions and I want to wind up fairly soon.
I want to say a little bit about what the Scottish Government have been doing since the referendum. Members will recall that immediately after the referendum result the First Minister moved very quickly to give EU citizens in Scotland reassurance that
“the Scottish Government is pursuing every possible option to protect Scotland’s position in Europe and, by extension, the interests of the people from across the European Union who live here.”
Indeed, at an event unprecedented in my constituency in August, the First Minister held an open question and answer session with EU nationals. I can tell Conservative Members that it was extremely well attended by EU nationals living and working in my constituency and in other parts of Scotland. They had many concerns and questions for the First Minister about their status in the United Kingdom following the vote. At our conference last weekend, the SNP passed a motion condemning xenophobia and prejudice in all its forms, making it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that international citizens are welcome in Scotland. In her closing address to the SNP conference in Glasgow on Saturday, the First Minister talked of the “uniting vision” of
“an inclusive, prosperous, socially just, open, welcoming and outward-looking country” and contrasted that with the xenophobic rhetoric of the UK Government. The difference between the SNP conference and the Tory conference could not be starker.
I am very well aware that the desire for inclusivity, openness and being welcome and outward-looking is not the preserve of the SNP and the Scots. It is shared by many people across these islands. It is about time that Conservative Members lived up to the good aspects of British tradition and the good aspects of our reputation abroad, and stopped undermining them by encouraging the sort of xenophobia we have seen in recent months as a result of some of their rhetoric. [Interruption.] I am absolutely delighted to get such a reaction.
I am very grateful to the hon. and learned Lady for giving way. Nobody is suggesting that anybody is going to be ejected from the United Kingdom. She is simply setting hares running. Does she understand and admit that there is a layer of complexity that she has completely ignored? If she is giving rights to people, which I think we would all accept, what effective date is she going to choose? What then happens when people go outside the UK and seek to return? All these things are also relevant to British nationals, on behalf of whom the Government have to negotiate.
I must admit to deriving some satisfaction from the fact that my speech is touching such a raw nerve with those on the Government Benches. What I would say to Conservative Members is that actions and rhetoric have consequences, and these are the consequences of some of their actions and rhetoric.
My right hon. Friend Alex Salmond has often said that Scotland’s problem is not immigration but emigration. We in Scotland would like immigration powers to be granted to Scotland in recognition of the differing needs across the United Kingdom, and the fact that in Scotland we require immigrants to help boost our economy and skills, particularly in remote areas. Both Australia and Canada pursue sub-national immigration policies that respond to the needs of skills and expertise across the variant regions within their states. Now is the chance for the United Kingdom to do likewise, but I shan’t hold my breath.
To be fair, even many leavers during the campaign, said:
“there will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK.”
“I think it would be good for the British Government to take the initiative, say that we will protect EU citizens’
rights, and then expect the same for UK citizens in the rest of the EU to be similarly protected.”
So there we have the answer to the question raised by Government Members. She went on to say:
“One of the duties of politicians is to be humane and when we deal with people’s lives, I think to show that we are open, we are a welcoming country, that we simply decided to leave a political institution called the European Union, that doesn’t mean we are ignoring people’s rights.”
It is not often in recent months that I have found myself in agreement with the right hon. Lady, but on this occasion she is right: if the British Government do the right thing, take the initiative and say that they will protect EU citizens’ right, they could hope for a reciprocal gesture towards British citizens abroad, about whom we are all so concerned. It is a question of basic humanity—human beings should not be used as bargaining counters.
To conclude, I do not believe that this failure to reassure the EU nationals living in the United Kingdom represents the best traditions of these islands. Much of what underlies that failure and, I believe, the rise in hate crime, is misinformation put about during the leave campaign. That is due also to a failure of leadership by the previous Prime Minister and many in the remain campaign to articulate the truth about the benefits that migration and EU migration bring to the UK. Sadly, that failure of leadership is being perpetuated by this new Government, as they spin rudderless in the tailwind of Brexit.
Now is the time to put things right, so today, the SNP—with the support of others, for which we are very grateful—calls on the Government to provide a cast-iron guarantee for EU citizens who have made the UK their home; to reject and to continue to work on tackling the rise of xenophobia, which has been confirmed by the Home Office for England and Wales; to recognise that the UK-wide blanket approach to immigration policy is not working and disregards the national, regional and demographic differences across the UK; and, most of all, to reassure all those who choose to make Scotland and the UK their home, that their rights will be honoured, that they are welcome to remain here and that their vital contributions are valued by all of us. Until that commitment is given, people will have the sort of worry and uncertainty that leads them to flock to events such as that organised by the First Minister in Edinburgh, and to write emails to all of us on a regular basis.
There are many limits to my capabilities, and one of those is the inability to be in two places at the same time. I apologise if I have to dash off at the conclusion of my remarks to give evidence to the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, but the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will wind up the debate and pass on any comments particularly directed at me.
My job this afternoon is to reassure the House of our aspirations to protect the interests of EU citizens living in the UK and to counter some of the scaremongering that we have just heard. When I read the motion on the Order Paper, I was concerned and thought that there was a typographical error whereby the word “should” had been substituted for the word “when”. The fact of the matter is, as the Prime Minister has made clear, that Brexit means Brexit, and we are determined to carry out the wishes of the British people to leave the European Union. The negotiations that take place will be to secure the best possible deal.
As the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said in the Opposition day debate last week, the Government are determined that
“Parliament will be fully and properly engaged in the discussion on how we make a success of Brexit.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 326.]
I am therefore pleased that the House has the opportunity to debate this aspect of our future relationship with the European Union.
There are over 3 million European Union nationals currently living in the UK. They make a vital contribution to important aspects of our economy and public services, not least in the NHS and care sector.
I thank the Minister for providing us with the figure of 3 million. However, some EU nationals will have arrived without passports, and those coming from Romania or Italy would have travel documents in order to enter the United Kingdom. How is the Minister’s figure a genuine one, given that he could not know precisely how many people are here?
That is certainly one aspect of the negotiations that we would need to explore. Indeed, the security aspects of some of these travel documents are not as robust as passports that have the biometric data that is so important to ensure that people’s identity is clear when they are crossing borders.
I am not raising the issue of identity, which is, of course, important but a separate issue. My point is that when an EU national comes here—for example, a Romanian or an Italian—with a travel document instead of a passport, it is not stamped. EU citizens do not get their passports stamped. Is the Minister basing the 3 million figure on those who have acquired national insurance numbers, namely those in work, or is it based on some other data? That is what I want to know; it is not a security issue.
The right hon. Gentleman is right. The 3 million figure can only be an estimate, particularly as exit checks have been introduced only recently. Although we might know who has come into the country, historically we were not aware of who had left. There are a number of ways of compiling the figures, including national insurance numbers, but there are other ways, too.
I think I have made the point previously that the only quote I have seen that has in some way threatened EU nationals was one from The Scotsman dated
Let me make the point, after which the hon. Gentleman can have his try.
At a session of the Health and Sport Committee in Holyrood, Shona Robison, Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport, said that in response to the Brexit, the Scottish Government were looking at including additional questions on the workforce survey to try to gather more information about whether people are EU nationals or indeed where they come from more generally, and that that would be helpful. Following that, Sarah Gledhill, a Scottish Government official, confirmed that they were looking at adding additional questions to workforce surveys as a matter of urgency. Who is using whom as a political bargaining chip?
I think workforce planning is a fantastic idea. On the quote from The Scotsman, I have the article with me. It is a very small article. The point that the then Deputy First Minister was making was that if Scotland were to be pulled out of the EU against its will, the rights of EU citizens might, of course, be put at risk. Lo and behold, having been pulled out of the EU against their will, the rights of EU citizens are being put at risk! The Minister could end this today. Can he guarantee that the rights of EU citizens will be protected, and will he stop pandering to the attitudes of the United Kingdom Independence party, which wants to use people as bargaining chips?
Let me see what I can do. As Madam Deputy Speaker knows, my middle name is “Reasonable”, and I think we need to be a bit more reasonable and not indulge in scaremongering. Many EU citizens watching this debate will be unnecessarily concerned about some of the rhetoric that we have just heard.
The Government have been clear that they want to protect the status of EU nationals resident in the UK. As the Prime Minister has made clear, the only circumstances in which that would not be possible were if British citizens’ rights in other EU member states are not protected in return. The Government have provided repeat assurances on this point, and their position has not changed. I am sorry that the SNP has not included that reassurance in their motion.
Let me make a little progress, if I may.
I want to make it absolutely clear that the Government have also been clear that the timeframe for resolving this issue is to address it as part of a wider negotiation on the UK’s exit from the EU, to ensure the fair treatment of British citizens—including those from Scotland, by the way—living in other EU countries. Over 1 million British citizens have built their lives elsewhere in Europe, and they are counting on us to secure their future. We simply want a fair deal for both EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in the EU. That is a sensible approach, and it is the one we will take. As the House is aware, the Government have committed to invoking article 50 by the end of March 2017, once they have clear objectives for the Brexit negotiations.
This is becoming increasingly baffling to me, I am afraid. I understand that the Minister is proposing to ask us to vote against the motion, but what he has just said confirms that the motion coincides exactly with the committed aim of the Government, which is to seek to ensure that all EU nationals who are living and working here now can be reassured about their status. If we let the motion go through, the chances of some proposal from the continent that British nationals should be expelled is almost nil. Of course we might have to revisit the thing, but even then we would not want to take reprisals against wholly innocent people who are contributing to our economy here. Should we not get on to the next motion and stop splitting hairs in this way, given that we are all agreed on the objectives?
My right hon. and learned Friend has made a perfectly reasonable point. The only problem that the Government have with the motion is that it does not go far enough, in that it does not include the rights of British citizens living in other EU member states, which we would demand to be protected in return. It is impossible for us to support the motion, because that reassurance is not contained in it.
I fully appreciate the importance of giving certainty to EU citizens who have built a life here in the United Kingdom. As I have already said, they should be reassured that we are working on the basis that we want to protect those people’s status in UK law beyond the point at which we leave the EU.
As the Minister knows, I am very fond of him—[Interruption.]. It is true; it is a guilty secret. However, I am genuinely wondering why he has not responded to the question asked a moment ago by his right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke. Why are we still debating this issue, given that the Government clearly agree with the motion?
I have made crystal clear, I hope, that the motion does not go far enough because it does not extend the protections that SNP Members want for EU citizens here in the UK to British citizens, including Scottish citizens—people from Stranraer, Montrose and Edinburgh—who are living and working elsewhere in the EU and who require reciprocal protection. That is all we are saying. If the SNP Members had included that in their motion, we would have been more than happy to support it, but this is a fatal omission.
There is another reason why I think that my hon. Friend is right to be both reasonable and cautious. As a former Immigration Minister, knowing the difficult challenges that he faces, I suggest that one of the important things that the House must do in order to deliver certainty is use very clear language. Many immigration matters go to court. Referring to people who have made their home here does not make clear whether they are people who have been here for five years, 10 years or five minutes. That description also excludes the thousands of EU nationals who fall within a group that I do want to leave the United Kingdom—the thousands of EU nationals who currently reside in Her Majesty’s prisons having committed criminal offences, and whom I want the Government to be able to remove from this country at the end of their sentences.
This matter is complicated. It is not straightforward. I urge my hon. Friend to continue to be reasonable and careful, in order to get this right and provide the certainty that is necessary. The position is not as simple as Joanna Cherry makes out.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The issue is much more complex than it is sometimes painted, and we need to engage in the negotiations with that in mind.
We intend to reach an agreement as soon as possible, but the fact remains that there needs to be an agreement, and I strongly believe that it would be inappropriate to lay down unilateral positions. Indeed, it would be irresponsible to do so. In the meantime, as the Government have made clear on numerous occasions—and I will repeat it again today—until the UK leaves the EU, there will be no changes in the circumstances of European nationals in the UK. They will continue to have to have the same rights under EU law that they had before the referendum.
As I have said, however, this issue is also about British citizens living and working in other EU member states and exercising their treaty rights. The Prime Minister has made clear that, through the negotiations, we are seeking to secure the best deal for Britain, and that deal rightly includes protecting the status of British citizens who are living, working and studying elsewhere in the EU. It is disappointing that the motion makes no reference to those British citizens. The Government are therefore unable to set out a definitive position now: that must be done following an agreement with the EU. Those EU nationals who are worried about their current status can have the Government’s complete reassurance that their right to enter, work, study and live in the UK remains unchanged. They continue to be welcome here.
I share the Minister’s aspiration to protect the rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, but may I suggest that the best way to achieve that end would be to make a commitment to EU citizens living here, thus creating an atmosphere in which positive negotiations on other matters might take place?
I am sure the right hon. Gentleman agrees that, while this will be a negotiation of the willing on both sides, other complex issues, such as those identified by my right hon. Friend Mr Harper, will need to be worked out. Immigration is a complicated matter. However, I hope that, following what I have said today, EU citizens who are living and working here, exercising their treaty rights and contributing to the industries of our country —and we know that they make a fantastic contribution to, for instance, agriculture and the hospitality industry—will be reassured that we will seek to protect their status, while at the same time seeking to protect the status of UK citizens living and working elsewhere in the EU.
The Prime Minister has said in numerous statements that there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of EU nationals. In addition, let me draw the House's attention to the recent confirmation by the Department for Education that EU students applying for places at English universities or further education institutions in the 2017-18 academic year will continue to be eligible for student loans and grants for the duration of their courses.
Given that it is in the interests of all interested parties to protect the rights of their citizens once the UK exits the EU, we are confident that both EU and British citizens will be protected through a reciprocal arrangement following discussions. As I have said, I want to be able to conclude this matter as quickly as possible once negotiations begin, but there is a balance to be struck between transparency and good negotiating practice. Any attempt to pre-empt our future negotiations would risk undermining our ability to secure protection for the rights of British citizens living in the EU, and that is why we are unable to support the motion.
The Minister is now well established in his new role, but let me take this opportunity to welcome the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Mr Walker. I look forward to working with him and the rest of the team in the years ahead.
I am grateful to the SNP for bringing this issue back to the House. For the avoidance of any doubt—and, if Mr Hollobone were still in the Chamber, I would say that this applies particularly to him—I should make it clear that Opposition Members accept the result of the referendum. We simply want to ensure that our departure from the EU takes place on the best possible terms for the UK. As one of my colleagues said during last week’s Opposition day debate, the British people voted to come out; they did not vote to lose out. Providing guarantees for EU nationals now is part of securing the best deal for the UK. That is why we made it the topic of an Opposition day debate just two weeks after the referendum, and why we support the motion moved so ably today by Joanna Cherry.
Back in July, as now, it was clear that the Government did not have a plan. They had no plan for what Leave would look like, and no plan for the 3 million EU nationals who are living, working and studying in our country. During that debate, however, one of the leading leave campaigners rightly pushed for certainty on the issue. He said:
“I would like to put on record what I think has been said already—that countless times the Vote Leave campaign gave exactly this reassurance to everybody from EU countries living and working here, and it is very, very disappointing that that should be called into question. I think it is absolutely right to issue the strongest possible reassurance to EU nationals in this country, not just for moral or humanitarian reasons, but for very, very sound economic reasons as well. They are welcome, they are necessary, they are a vital part of our society, and I will passionately support this motion tonight.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 612, c. 939.]
Let us give credit where it is due. After making that contribution, Boris Johnson not only talked the talk but walked the walk, as did the overwhelming number of Members who voted for the motion to guarantee EU nationals the right to remain here. I hope that now that he is Foreign Secretary he is making the case even more strongly, because I guess in his new role at the Foreign Office he is learning the art of diplomacy. [Interruption.] Yes, he may have some way to go; I appreciate the Prime Minister is not yet entirely convinced. What he will know by now is that the way in which the Government have turned EU nationals living here into bargaining chips for the Brexit negotiations, or, as the Secretary of State for International Trade put it,
“one of our main cards”,
is not only deeply unfair to those concerned, but is severely undermining our reputation with the very people with whom we want to be entering into negotiations next spring, not to mention the damage it does to our economy. Put simply, it is not in our national interest.
It is absolutely wrong for the Government to suggest that we cannot guarantee the status of EU nationals here—many of whom have been here for decades—without a reciprocal arrangement for UK nationals abroad. The Government are effectively asking people—doctors in our NHS, business owners and entrepreneurs, teachers in our schools—to put their lives on hold and wait until March 2019 to find out what their future holds. But many will want certainty for themselves and their families.
The following question then arises: if he were in the Government, what guarantees would the hon. Gentleman give to British citizens living in the EU regarding their rights? What possible guarantees or safeguards could he give them?
By giving those guarantees to EU nationals living in this country, we set the marker, and we give the best guarantees to our citizens living in the rest of the EU by making that stand now.
I think it would be much better if Ministers did not see EU nationals in this country as bargaining chips, but instead saw them as citizens contributing to our economy and society, as the Foreign Secretary said in the debate in July.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Foreign Secretary and diplomacy, so may I ask a question that might test his? Does he agree with his party leader, and presumably his party’s policy, that Labour wants to continue having free movement even after we have left the EU? That is the position set out by his leader. Can he just confirm to the House, because we want clarity and certainty, if that remains his party’s position?
The shadow Secretary of State made that very clear last week. The right hon. Gentleman misrepresents Labour’s position. I do not know whether he was present for the debate, but he might usefully read Hansard. Opposition Members accept that there will be adjustments to the arrangements and believe in reasonable management of migration.
I congratulate my hon. Friend most warmly on his appointment to his new post; I am sure that he will find it very challenging. The Opposition’s position is very clear, and it is the common sense position, which is a double guarantee: we want to see British citizens keep their rights in the EU, and we want to give EU citizens their rights to stay here. No EU country has said that it wants British citizens to leave the EU. Does my hon. Friend agree?
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is unfortunate that some of the cavalier comments by Ministers have put this issue on the table.
As I was saying, EU nationals want some certainty for themselves and their families, and, if we do not offer it, many of them will only find it by leaving the UK. That is unfair to them, but it is also a loss to our country.
The Opposition do not believe in cutting off our nose to spite our face. We want unilateral and immediate action from the Government to guarantee the status of EU nationals who contribute so much to our society, and we do not believe that that will undermine the Government’s ability to secure the status of UK nationals living in other EU countries, because we believe that they, too, are an asset to the communities in which they have set up home.
If the Government position is not playing too well with our partners abroad, it is not going down well here at home either. Polling for British Future conducted immediately after the referendum shows that an overwhelming majority of both leave and remain voters take the same view: that EU nationals should be allowed to remain. Some 84% of people, including 77% of leave voters, want existing EU nationals to stay. A letter to The Sunday Telegraph back in July calling for guaranteed rights for existing EU nationals brought leave and remain supporters, Migration Watch UK and migrants’ rights groups together.
Last week this House made it clear that simply repeating “Brexit means Brexit” will not wash. It will not wash for this House, and it will not wash for people up and down the country. The uncertainty it is creating is having its impact on our economy. So we welcome the Government’s commitment to share their plan for Brexit with Parliament, albeit following pressure from both sides of the House, but there are some issues that cannot wait, and this is one of them.
People who have made their lives here deserve better. Withholding rights from EU nationals here until rights for UK nationals abroad are guaranteed sounds logical enough until we look into what it means in practice. It means that decisions to invest or expand businesses are being scrapped because EU nationals do not want to wait until 2019 to find out if they are welcome and public services are strained further as EU doctors, nurses and teachers uproot and move somewhere they are welcome and can plan for their future. In the meantime the status of UK nationals in other European countries is no more secure since Brexit negotiations are ongoing.
In his statement to the House last week the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union said that
“five out of six migrants who are here either already have indefinite leave to remain or ?will have it by the time we depart the Union.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 615, c. 48.]
Leaving aside the arrogant assumption that EU nationals will just wait around and hope that they will be okay rather than go somewhere that they know they will be welcome, what will concern EU citizens who heard that statement is that indefinite leave to remain is not handed out automatically on the basis of length of residency. It has to be applied for, and applying for it is costly and onerous, and there are no guarantees. Perhaps the Minister can today clarify whether that is really what our offer is to those helping run our public services and contributing to our economy—“stick around for two years and you might be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain.” That is simply not good enough: it is not good enough for them, and it is not good enough for our country.
We are grateful to the SNP for bringing the issue back to the House, and we repeat the call we made in July, which this House endorsed, which is that the Government should provide immediate clarity to EU nationals who are taking decisions about their future now.
Order. Time is limited and many Members wish to speak. I will impose an initial time limit of eight minutes, with the proviso that it might well have to be reduced.
I will endeavour to keep my comments pithy—I do not have a lisp. First, I thank Joanna Cherry for being so unwilling to take interventions from my hon. Friends during her speech, because so many of the points I had scribbled down for my speech were being brought up by colleagues that otherwise I would have nothing left to say.
I had intended to begin by saying that I assumed that the motion was driven by genuine concern, rather than a desire to play simple party politics. Unfortunately, however, as the hon. and learned Lady’s speech progressed, I found it less easy to maintain that position, because, time and again, I heard examples of this important issue being used as a Trojan horse to simply cast unpalatable accusations at my party. [Interruption.] Jenny Chapman says from a sedentary position, “Look in the mirror.” I look in the mirror every morning when I shave, and what I see is a black face looking back at me. When hon. Members start accusing Conservative Members of being xenophobic, I ask that they reflect on those comments before they start accusing—[Interruption.]
Order. Comments are to be reflected upon and discussed; they are not be made from a sedentary position. If the hon. Member for Darlington wishes her comments to be noted, she should stand up and make them. If not, she should not make them.
Time is limited, so I will make some progress. The most important point—this has been brought up numerous times by my hon. Friends, but it has been ignored and left unanswered by the motion’s proposer and those Labour Members who support it—is that British citizens currently living in the EU have had no confirmation about their future status. I remind Members that it is not from the British side of the negotiating relationship that we hear words such as “punishment”. It is from voices at the Commission—EU members—that we hear that Britain needs to be punished. I have spent a lot of time scouring the internet, but I am yet to find an assurance from the EU that British citizens can expect protection as part of the negotiations.
The hon. Gentleman casts an aspersion that members of the Commission are threatening British citizens in Europe. Has he actually seen, read or heard that, because nobody else has? We started it: we voted to leave, so we are the ones who have to start the solution.
No Government Members or likely members of the negotiation team have been using words such as “punishment”. We should respect the decision of the British people and enter the negotiations—this has been said by Members on both sides of the House, to be fair—with a desire to get the best outcome not only for the British people and our friends and colleagues in the EU, but for British people living in the EU and EU nationals living in Britain. Our collective desired outcome is to come out of the negotiating period with a relationship that works for the EU, us and all people living both in the EU and in the UK.
An estimated 1.2 million British nationals live in the EU, and at the moment their status has a question mark over it. Yet we heard nothing from SNP or Labour Members, despite the numerous opportunities they were given, about whether any effort has been made to secure the status of those British nationals. My right hon. Friend Mr Harper, who has unfortunately left the Chamber, was right to say that the British Government’s first responsibility is to the British people. While there is a question mark over the status of British nationals living in the EU, unfortunately it is not legitimate for us to say, unilaterally, that we are going to secure the rights of EU nationals. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Darlington speaks again from a sedentary position, saying, “Humans as bargaining chips.” She accuses the Government of doing that, but fails to use the same phraseology when talking about the people negotiating on behalf of the EU.
We want—this has been said from the Dispatch Box on numerous occasions—to maintain, as closely as possible, our excellent relationship with EU nationals in the UK. We value their commitment.
I am short of time, so I am afraid that I am going to make progress. As the son of a migrant, I absolutely recognise the incredible value to the UK of immigrants from EU countries and wider afield. This Government have said on many occasions that the value of migrants will be recognised, both now and moving forward.
I am the daughter of an immigrant. Does it not cause the hon. Gentleman great concern that, since the EU referendum, there has been an exponential rise in hate crime in England and Wales? That is not the position in Scotland.
I do not have access to the detailed figures or the time to answer that question fully, but I would be more than happy to have an extended discussion about the validity of those figures. With the best will in the world, I find it hard to believe that there have been no racially motivated crimes north of the border.
The hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh South West, who proposed the motion, kept saying that people were being used as bargaining chips. That fundamentally misses the point that everything we do in politics, including every policy position and every negotiating position we take with the EU, is about people. Politics is about people—always has been, always will be. Every decision that we make through this negotiation will have an impact on people. Yes, our collective attitude towards migration polices has an effect on people, but so do our policies on trade and agricultural subsidies. All those things have a real effect on people. To single out one element of a future negotiation and say that we should unilaterally close it down suggests a naive at best and cynical at worst attitude to our negotiating position. I want the negotiations to be successful for both Great Britain and the EU, but that will not be possible if Great Britain takes unilateral decisions. It has been confirmed from the Dispatch Box that if our EU partners provided a resolution on this issue, it would go away immediately, yet I have heard nothing from them.
Our Government need to have the flexibility to negotiate the best possible deal for the British people. I encourage hon. Members who support the motion to put as much energy and passion into speaking to people on the continent with whom they may have influence about clarifying the position of British nationals in the EU. The whole issue would then be taken off the table and we would end up in the position that I think Members on both sides of the House want—namely, that of having a positive attitude towards the negotiations, with the ultimate goal of giving as much clarity and reassurance as possible both to EU nationals living here and to British nationals living in the EU. I call on Members to reject the motion.
The simple reason we should make the move is that it is the UK that has voted to leave. It is we who have caused the insecurity, whether for our citizens in Europe or for EU nationals here, so it is incumbent on us to make the move to try to deal with that. As for the idea that people are not having problems, I have constituents struggling to get loans or mortgages for businesses and for houses. It is ridiculous to say that they are not concerned; they absolutely are. The idea that they should spend two years in limbo is frankly appalling.
Obviously, with my health background, I can say that we know that our health and social care system completely depends on EU nationals. We have more than 50,000 such doctors and nurses. The Minister was berating Shona Robison about trying to collect the data in Scotland, but we do not have data for Scotland. The 130,000 is for England, because we never considered it at all relevant where someone who was settled in Scotland came from and therefore never asked. Now, we need to know how many people might have an issue, whether it is that they will get thrown out or that they will get fed up with the insecurity and leave.
The other question is how we think we will attract more. One in 10 medical jobs in England is empty; we have massive rota gaps. How easy do we think it will be to attract EU doctors to come and fill those posts in the coming years when the message they get is that they are not terribly welcome and that, if they come, they might be asked to go home because they came after—
My hon. Friend talks about how EU nationals might feel about coming here in future. Does she share my concern and that of my constituents that this goes right back to the debates in this House on the European Union Referendum Bill, in which we even froze them out of having a vote on the issue? The message is not good, and they might decide to turn their backs on this new Brexit Britain.
Absolutely. So much of this is about not technicalities but the message we give outside this place. As my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry said in winding up her speech, it is also about Britain’s reputation. Britain previously had a reputation for fairness. Look at the second or third generation of immigrants, who have made their home for generations in this country. Now we say, “You might not be able to stay,” or “You might not be able to come.” The best way to secure the place of British nationals in Europe is for us to be gracious.
James Cleverly asked what we have done to try to make the position secure. I am on the all-party parliamentary group on Germany; we raised this issue both when we met the ambassador here and when we visited Berlin, and they were incredulous that we would even think that they would ask British nationals to go away. They said, “Should we make a move?” It is our move to make because the UK has created this situation.
We cannot survive without these people in the NHS and, in particular, the 80,000 who work in social care. If they apply because they are anxious for British citizenship, it will cost them almost £1,500 per head, per member of their family, to do so. That is quite a lot when someone might not even be earning the minimum wage. If the final position is that they are eventually treated the same as non-EEA citizens, it will cost £4,000 per head, including the NHS surcharge, which, despite working in it, they might actually have to pay to access it. To say that these things are trivial and that these people should be reassured is, I think, naive.
There is already an impact on medical research and academia. When I was at the graduation of my local university just a week after Brexit, they had lost a senior researcher from mainland Europe who was almost at the point of stepping on the boat. He said, “Why would I move my children to an English-speaking school? Why would I disrupt and move my family when I might get sent home in two years?” The idea that this is having no effect and that people should just cling on to soft reassurance is childish. We are the ones who need to make the first move and we should make that move. Future agreements can be negotiated, but everyone settled here on
The APPG visited Berlin and it was very interesting. I picked up a couple of points. Peter Altmaier, second-in-command to Angela Merkel, was quite shocked that we use the term EU migrant. He said that they would never use that term; to them, migrant means someone from outside Europe. It would be like our being described as Scottish migrants, or Irish migrants, within the British Isles. It seems abhorrent.
This is the nub of the issue with the Brexit vote. The Germans are quite happy to describe people from outside the EU as migrants, but not people from within the EU. It was that exclusive club that I think led many ethnic communities in Britain to the out vote.
Frankly, this is an immigration arrangement from Europe. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that having stirred up the anti-immigrant view that led to leave we are going to say that we will not take EU nationals but that we will take many more people from all over the world, he is deluding himself.
Another point came up when members of our group said that Europe had to change free movement, so that we could stay in the single market. Where were we sitting at that moment? We were sitting in what had previously been East Berlin. We need to understand that for all Germans and east Europeans free movement of people comes from the heart; it is not a technical problem. They do not realise that we do not understand that. Twenty-seven years ago, there was a wall through Berlin. The last person trying to get over it was shot just a few months before it came down. Angela Merkel could not travel west until she was 36 years old.
I am sorry, but I am running out of time.
In our debate in July, I mentioned that my husband Hans is a GP who has worked in our NHS for 30 years. At first, he did not really think that this concerned him, because he thought that it would all disappear, but four months on it has not. The problem is that these people are finding it terrible. The Minister said in that debate that anyone who had been here about five years could apply for right to remain, and when I mentioned my husband he said, “Oh, he can definitely stay.” My husband has printed out Hansard and is keeping it in his passport to prove absolutely that he has his personal reassurance. The Minister also said in that debate that we would have to consider what rights and benefits they have and which of our public services they can access. My husband, nearing retirement after 30-odd years in the NHS, is really concerned that he might get to stay but might suddenly have to pay for the healthcare he has been delivering for 30 years. And we are told that we are the scaremongers.
The story of my husband’s family is this. His father was German; his mother was Polish. They met during the war and were not allowed to marry. They had a child who was taken away from them. They were lifted and interrogated by the Gestapo. His father was imprisoned and his mother was turned into a forced labourer. Long before this debate arose, my husband used to say, “I can’t believe that in one generation I have been allowed to marry who I like, settle where I like and carry out the profession I chose.” I cannot believe that in one more generation we could lose those rights and take them away from our young people.
It is with some sadness that I rise to contribute to the debate, because where I can I, as a fellow Celt and a Welsh MP, look to support much of what my friends the Members from Scotland do. I was a happy remainer until the referendum and my constituency, Cardiff, voted by 60% to remain, but now I am working with my constituents to remain with the best bits of the European Union. Most of them, and especially me, are convinced that we are leaving and that is that. We get on with it.
I represent the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. Much has been said about how much the medical profession relies on people coming in from all over the world, not just the European Union. I wonder whether Scottish National party Members have thought about the impression that their language and rhetoric in today’s debate are creating. I have just heard Dr Whitford use the term “thrown out”. That kind of language is not coming from those on my Benches. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke made the point that we are agreed on much of this. My right hon. Friend Mr Harper and the hon. Member for Central Ayrshire said that people who lived here before
I am rising not to support the motion but to say that I am working to ensure that the EU nationals in my constituency, in Wales and in the United Kingdom know that they are welcome. They make a terrific contribution to our economy, our communities and our society, and we want to keep them there, but we are also rightly trying to protect the interests of British people in the EU as well. As a Welsh MP, I am protecting Welsh people across the European Union. They have settled all over the place. I hope that hon. Members from Scotland will support me in that, but I have been saddened to hear their rhetoric in this debate.
The hon. Gentleman talks about the language being used in this debate. I should like to ask him whether he was at the Tory party conference. My wife is an EU national, and she already feels as though she is a second-class citizen because she does not get a vote from the UK Government. After she had listened to the speeches at the Tory party conference, she said to me, “I am no longer welcome in the UK under this Government.” How does the hon. Gentleman answer that?
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman was tuning into the Conservative party conference. I was indeed at the conference, with many EU nationals from my constituency and from my team in this Parliament. I have EU nationals working for and with me. This is absolute nonsense. It is scaremongering and it is terrible. The scaremongering is coming from those on the Opposition Benches and it is deplorable—
Is this about bargaining chips? No it is not.
I fear that SNP Members are trying to rerun the arguments of the referendum. I was with them on many of those arguments during the referendum, but I am afraid that we lost. I know that it is the ambition of SNP Members to ignore referendum results until they get them right, but speaking as a Welsh Member, I do not take that view. We must now respect the will of the British people.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, during the independence referendum in Scotland, the leader of the Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland, Ruth Davidson, told the voters of Scotland that the only way they could guarantee their continued EU membership was to vote to remain part of the UK? Does he agree that that is now a broken promise?
Absolutely not. Ruth Davidson is a politician without parallel in Scotland and I am incredibly proud that she leads our party up there. I was up there during the independence referendum, campaigning alongside her. I could happily chuck in many quotes from the Spanish Government echoing my point about Scottish membership of the European Union, but that would do nothing for my constituents. Much of this debate will do nothing for the EU nationals in my constituency who are seeking leadership and certainty from this place. We are hearing that from the Government, but not from Members across the House who want to use this issue as a political football. That is deplorable.
I want to quote some Government Ministers at this point. The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has said:
“We always welcome those with skills, the drive and the expertise to make our nation better still. If we are to win in the global marketplace, we must win the global battle for talent”.
How much more welcoming could anyone be towards EU nationals, or indeed towards the world, than that? The Home Secretary has said:
“I believe immigration has brought many benefits to the nation. It has enhanced our economy, our society and our culture. That is why I want to reduce net migration while continuing to ensure we attract the brightest and the best”.
This is what my constituents put me here to do. This is the Government I am supporting and I am delighted to do so. The Prime Minister has said:
“Let me be absolutely clear: existing workers’
legal rights will continue to be guaranteed in law—and they will be guaranteed as long as I am Prime Minister”.
I can assure the House that she will be Prime Minister of this great country for many years to come and that those workers’ rights will be guaranteed. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury made a speech to representatives of the UK financial services industry recently, in which he said of the negotiations that, as long as we get a comparable relationship with other EU nations, there will be no question but that EU nationals who are already working here will be able to stay. The nub of the question is that we must achieve a reciprocal arrangement with our EU neighbours.
I am grateful to my Welsh colleague for giving way. He has quoted various Ministers, and indeed the Prime Minister, on the subject of people working in this country. What does he have to say to the EU nationals living in my constituency who are pensioners? They have had no such reassurances from Ministers or from the Prime Minister. He keeps talking about the workers and the brightest and the best, and I am sure that everyone welcomes the fact that such people are working in this country, but I am not scaremongering when I say that my constituents who have retired and who are living here have had no assurances from those on the Government Front Bench that they have the right to remain here.
I personally want them to remain here happily spending their money in our economy, but what about the British pensioners in Spain who are spending their money in the Spanish economy? This is the point: there must be a reciprocal arrangement. If British pensioners in EU states can be protected, we will protect the EU pensioners in this state. That is the nub of the issue.
This has been a sad debate for me, as a remainer and now a committed leaver. I want to work constructively across the House to protect the best bits of the European Union while getting the best possible agreement for British citizens who currently reside in the EU, be they pensioners, workers, students or those doing research. However, it is clear that this whole issue is being hijacked by Opposition Members to provoke needless outrage, and that does not help anybody. I hope that the speakers who follow me will try to change the tone of the debate and help my constituents in Cardiff.
It is a pleasure to support such a consistent politician as Craig Williams—a remainer one day and a leaver the next! However, he made a strong case for a guarantee for EU citizens to remain in this country. The difficulty is that all those amazing quotes he has gathered—which James Cleverly, with all his internet shopping, was unable to give us—are actually worth nothing unless they are spoken from the Dispatch Box. The hon. Member for Cardiff North is right to say that Ministers and others have talked about the contribution made by EU nationals, but at the end of the day it is for the Government to make those statements here in this House or in written statements.
I congratulate Joanna Cherry on her powerful, eloquent and clear speech. In fact, all that she has sought is clarity, and all that we have heard from Ministers so far—the Minister for Immigration has left the Chamber, leaving it to the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, whom I congratulate on his appointment, to answer for the Government—is that it is all going to be all right on the night, but they just cannot say that in the House of Commons. All Members of the House have made the point that clarity is extremely important. If we have that clarity, it will be clear where we stand and there will be no need for the Opposition to keep bringing this debate back to the House every two weeks or so.
As a former Minister for Europe, I know that nothing at summit meetings is kept private. There is no question that any EU Head of Government has said to our Prime Minister either publicly or privately—if it was private, it would be public by now—that they want to remove British citizens from the EU. We heard today about the double guarantee. There is no question but that the SNP and the official Opposition would guarantee British citizens the right to remain in the EU if we had the power. All that we seek is the guarantee that EU residents in this country will be allowed to stay here.
Does the right hon. Gentleman recognise that we are the White Queen in these negotiations and that we have to make the first move? If that move is gracious, it will invite a gracious response.
The hon. Lady, who made a powerful speech, is right. It is possible for us to take that position, and the position of the other EU countries is also clear because nobody has said that they want to do any damage to British citizens abroad, so we can show leadership by saying what the deal is. That would clear the matter up immediately.
The problem with putting the matter into the negotiations is the disparity of numbers. There are 1.2 million British citizens in the EU and 3 million EU citizens here. We do not want people to say as part of the negotiations that we will have absolute parity of numbers. That is what worries me. The Minister nods. He will have the chance when he winds up the debate to state that there will be no question of our saying to the other EU countries that we will allow only 1.2 million people to stay. That is why it is far better to be clear about the rights of EU citizens now than to wait until the end of the negotiations.
There are three possible cut-off dates:
Mr Clarke asked the SNP whether it was necessary to keep bringing this debate to the House when the matter is actually all settled. I am sure that it is settled in his mind and my mind, but it is not settled in Government policy. However, we can have a settled Government policy. We just heard an excellent statement from the Immigration Minister that EU citizens who are studying in our country will be allowed to remain and get the support that they have had in the past. If a Minister can come to the Dispatch Box and make a clear statement of that kind to reassure EU nationals who are studying here, then it is simple for the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union to get up and make exactly the same statement about EU nationals who are resident here. The fact that the SNP included the word “should” in its motion should not stop the Government supporting it. They had the opportunity to enter into negotiations with the SNP, as we saw last week when they avoided another vote, which everyone thought was going to happen but which did not happen, thanks to the position taken by the Government. If we are trying to ensure that the fears of EU nationals are put to one side and that EU nationals are reassured, we can easily make such a statement today.
My next point relates to Mr Harper, a former Immigration Minister, who said in his intervention on the current Immigration Minister that we would also consider the matter of EU nationals in our prisons as part of the negotiations. That is news to me. I did not realise that that was going to be part of the negotiations. Over the past 10 years, successive Governments have been trying to send EU citizens back. They constitute 10% of the entire prison population and we have not been able to move them out. Are we suggesting that we will put the question of EU citizens in our prisons into the negotiating pot as part of the deal for allowing EU citizens to remain here?
We have an EU agreement whereby all EU Governments agree that they will exchange prisoners, so the current legal position allows that to happen. The problems that have stopped that happening are largely logistical and rather wrapped up in the bureaucracy of the Interior Ministries of different countries. At the moment we have reciprocal agreements, and EU countries have agreed to accept their own nationals to complete their sentence in their own country if they are returned as prisoners from other countries.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman is absolutely right. He probably negotiated that agreement when he was either Home Secretary or Lord Chancellor. There is therefore no need to put that into the negotiations because it is already there, although Poland has a derogation and the Polish situation will become live again only at the end of this year.
The Minister is in his first, well-deserved job in Government and can make a hero of himself to the Government Whips, because they will not need to keep bringing back debates on the European Union and the rights of nationals, to Worcester and to the EU. Rather like Craig Williams, he was a remainer but is now a committed exiter as a result of the decision on
Finally, the EU summit is tomorrow and the Prime Minister will presumably, since we are still members of the EU, be there. Some Members have suggested that Members of this House should begin the negotiations, which is well above our pay grade, but the Prime Minister is going to that EU summit tomorrow. The will of the House can be expressed today and the Prime Minister can begin the discussions on this particular issue tomorrow. I am sure that she will get a positive reply from the other EU leaders.
I echo the comments about how disappointing it is that the SNP chose to play a game of political football rather than to discuss the issues seriously. There is little in the motion that I would disagree with except for the word “should”, to which I will return in a moment. The motion asks us to recognise the huge contribution that people from other EU countries have made to this country. Of course we all recognise their contribution. That point has been made over and over again on these Government Benches, and inside and outside the House by people in both the remain and leave camps. Let me say it again: people from other European Union nations have made an enormous contribution to this country. They are very welcome in this country. They were welcome before the referendum took place, they are welcome now and they will be welcome after we exit the EU.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. I was going to mention that. I declare an interest in that my wife is Hungarian. My children are completely bilingual and have dual nationality. It is a cliché, but when I say that some of my closest friends are from eastern Europe, I mean that I go on holiday and share houses with them, which makes us pretty close friends. It is ludicrous even to suggest that people who are involved in the leave campaign—dare I say that I was the leader of the campaign in Wales?—have some kind of xenophobic or anti-EU agenda.
At the same time, we should also be making it clear that we welcome the contribution of professionals from countries outside the EU. I have dealt with many EU nationals who work in the NHS and the public sector in Wales, but I have also dealt with doctors from Egypt, businessmen from India and nurses from the Philippines, and they are also making a huge contribution to our economy. These people from outside the EU nations are also very welcome and will continue to be so. It is ridiculous to suggest that people from EU states should somehow be scared or worried about what is going to happen when we leave the EU, given that we already welcome and appreciate the contribution of so many people from outside it.
This Government have put compassion at the heart of their policy. We are spending more money on foreign aid than any other Government in this country has ever done and more than any other country in Europe is doing; we have ring-fenced NHS spending in England—Labour certainly has not done that in Wales; and we are dedicated to ironing out the inequality within the education sector. It is ludicrous in the extreme to suggest that anyone on any part of the Government Benches would ever want to round up people from other EU nations and throw them out—that is a fantasy and it will never, ever happen. Nobody wants it to happen and nobody has ever called for it to happen. I am just grateful for the opportunity to say that clearly once again.
Apparently, there have been issues with hate crime. May I say once again, as someone who was heavily involved in the leave campaign, that I, along with everyone I campaigned with, unreservedly condemn any form of hate crime towards anyone, be they from EU nations or outside, and whether it is because of their sexual orientation, the colour of their skin, their religion or their nationality; I, along with every person I have ever worked with on the leave campaign and with every person I have been involved with in politics, totally condemn that sort of behaviour. We should not run away with the idea that people from eastern Europe or from other European nations are constantly being hassled as they walk around; in my experience, which is considerable, that is simply not happening. I have been married for 13 years to somebody who moved here from eastern Europe and who has never been a victim of that sort of behaviour. I am not suggesting it does not happen, but I sometimes think there is a tendency to over-exaggerate.
Of course, but the statistics have increased because the Government have rightly said that they are determined to stamp out hate crime and are looking to police forces—
Let me answer the question and then perhaps I will give way again. The Home Office has rightly said that it is determined to stamp out hate crime and it is expecting police forces to produce figures and to seek out examples. Of course we also face the additional problem that social media sites such as Twitter make it easier for keyboard warriors to commit hate crimes—one has only to look at my feed today to see that that is the case.
I am very interested by what the hon. Gentleman has just said, as I think he is suggesting that the Home Office has changed the basis on which it calculates hate crime in the UK since the EU referendum. Would he like to tell us his source for that? Or perhaps the Minister will be able to help us with that later.
I have not suggested that; I have said that the Home Office is rightly determined to stamp out hate crime and it has asked police forces to be much more rigorous in getting the figures. The Home Office will be looking to use those figures to investigate this, and quite right too; there is nothing wrong with that. But what I find concerning is that the hon. and learned Lady and others seem to have tried to make a correlation between hate crime and Brexit, and the clear and worrying implication of what they are doing is to suggest that the 17.2 million people who legitimately voted for Brexit are in some way responsible for hate crimes. That is an absolutely outrageous suggestion and I hope that—
I hope that if I give way to her for the third time, the hon. and learned Lady will take this opportunity to make it very clear that those people who voted to leave the EU were exercising their democratic right to do so and do not, in any way, support hate crimes.
I was going to ask the hon. Gentleman this: how does he explain the 40% increase in hate crime in England and Wales since the referendum if it is not down to the vote? To what does he attribute this? How does he explain why there has been no such increase in Scotland? We would love to hear his wisdom on that.
I am not an expert on Scotland, but I can tell the hon. and learned Lady that the Government are absolutely determined to stamp out hate crime and are rightly demanding that police forces come forward with those figures, and I am very glad that they have done so. The problem she has is the same as a conundrum I faced about 17 or 18 years ago when I was on the losing side of the referendum on whether or not we should have a Welsh Assembly. That all went through on a very small vote and issues were raised about how the press had handled it. Those in the anti-Assembly campaign all sat down afterwards and thought, “What are we going to do? We should challenge this and get the Lords to chuck it out. It is outrageous. How dare they do this on the basis of a vote of about one in four of the population?” At that time, I was probably a little less older and wiser than I am now, and I was probably all for fighting the campaign and re-running the whole referendum. I am glad that wiser heads within the Conservative party prevailed and those in the anti-Assembly campaign said, “Hang on a minute, people have voted for this. It may only be one in four of the population in Wales and we lost out by only a few thousand votes, but the reality is that people have voted for it and we now need to let them get on with it.” What we did was to appoint to the National Assembly advisory group somebody who is now a Conservative Minister, Nick Bourne, who became a very good friend. He decided that he was going to get the Conservative party involved in this, to iron out the details of what was actually going on.
The motion’s use of the word “should” is what would lead me to vote against it; the rest of the motion is absolutely fine. We do recognise the contribution that is being made by EU migrants within the UK, and the Government are doing everything they can to ensure that their rights are respected post-Brexit. The whole point of what the Government are doing at the moment is to say to other EU nations and to the EU itself, “Look, we’ve got 3 million people here. We want to protect their rights. We want to ensure that their freedom to move around continues in every single way, but you are going to need to reciprocate in some way.” As someone who is married to an EU immigrant, may I say that I utterly support what the Government are doing and trust them to do exactly the right thing?
I gently point out that this is a debate on the EU and not on Wales. It is absolutely the case that people who voted leave are not racist or xenophobic, but unfortunately what that vote has done is give authorisation to people who are to feel emboldened, now they are in the majority, and we have seen these incidents across the country.
Everyone absolutely condemns any form of hate crime. The hon. Lady made a point earlier about Berlin and the Berlin wall, so let me say how strongly I feel about that. I have visited Sopron, where the Berlin wall really fell; the videos of people cutting through the barbed wire can be seen on YouTube. These were people from Berlin who had gone on holiday in that summer of 1989 to Sopron in Hungary. They snipped through the wire and walked into Austria because they had been told that they were not going to get shot at for doing so. It was there that the Berlin wall really began to fall and the socialist Government in East Germany finally realised that their blinkered view of how people should live their lives was not going to prevail because people do demand freedom.
We are not in the business of erecting a wall as a result of Brexit; we are in the business of taking down a wall—a much less violent wall but one that exists around the European Union—going out into the world and giving people the freedom to trade and to do business all over the world. That is what this is all about.
Let me finish by saying how delighted I am that the hon. Lady recognises the important significance of the Berlin wall coming down and the defeat for socialism, for that is what it was. I hope that she will join me in paying tribute to Lech Walesa, Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul and Mrs Thatcher, who did so much to bring about the end of socialism in eastern Europe.
Order. This has been such a lively and excellent debate, with so many interventions, that speeches have gone way over eight minutes. I am afraid that I therefore now have to reduce the official time limit to six minutes, but I am sure there will still be lively interventions.
I commend the words of my hon. and learned Friend Joanna Cherry when setting out the case as to why it is important that we give reassurance to European citizens across the UK. That case is even more focused in Scotland and, in particular, in the highlands, given the history there of struggling over many centuries to retain our population. Our issue is one of emigration and being able to retain young people and young families—being able to make the highlands a place where people will stay. We have done great work over the past decade or so to turn around the situation where people are leaving. I wish to read out two quotes from a report by Highland Council, the first of which is:
“An area at risk of depopulation needs to welcome those who want to make it their home.”
As a former leader of Highland Council, I am particularly proud that it also put forward this statement in the report.
“Highlanders have always warmly welcomed people from other countries who choose to live and work in our area and it will be important at this time to provide reassurance to EU nationals that this welcome continues and that we value their contribution to Highland life.”
Highland Council drew up this report and put out its statement on a cross-party basis—all parties and none. There was no scaremongering. The council just saw a need to reassure people, and I wholeheartedly agree with it on that.
I wish to talk about language. When we talk about the welcome that people have in Scotland and in the highlands, let me be absolutely clear that welcome means welcome. A French national came to my surgery recently. He had been living in our area for 30 years and spoke with a Scots-French accent. He was concerned that he might have to make changes. In our economy, we depend on EU nationals for our agriculture and fisheries, food industry, hospitality industry, the care industry and the NHS, and the tourism industry. One local hotel owner told me that, during the busy part of the year, 40% of his employees are EU nationals. We require these people. The new University of the Highlands and Islands depends on European involvement as well as the young people.
“The UK is one of the leading digital economies in the world. Part of the reason is because the UK is able to attract the world’s most talented individuals to fill jobs where the UK simply does not have the domestic skills base. Making it harder for tech companies to bring in the best and brightest is not the solution and will be a lose-lose situation for everyone—growth will slow as companies find it harder to recruit, meaning lower revenue for the Treasury.”
Clearly, there is a warning there.
I held a meeting in my constituency for concerned EU nationals. This was not about scaremongering, but about reassuring people. That meeting was completely sold out. It was packed to the rafters with people who were looking for some reassurance that they would be able to stay.
I wish to use my remaining time by quoting from a local woman of Polish extraction. Paulina Duncan is a UK citizen and a Pole. She said:
“Maybe I can summarise some of the comments I got from people when I initiated the discussion on the Poles in Inverness Facebook group over the weekend. I did it to find out what people think. I also went to the Polish delicatessen to chat to people there. Without any doubt, the common theme appearing in people’s comments was uncertainty and confusion about their future. There was also a lack of trust in the assurances from the Westminster Government. Generally, people would like something more than just words, being aware that words have no value and that they might be used as pawns during the negotiations.”
Those are the words of an EU citizen, not of Members in this debate. Paulina went on to say:
“Sadness and disappointment and maybe also disbelief is another common sentiment. One of my French friends, who came to Scotland as a student 15 years ago and has stayed here ever since, commented on how sad it was to see how inward looking Britain has become when other countries have so much healthier communities when they are more open.Some people consider returning to their countries, which is maybe what Theresa May has in mind. However, some have nowhere to return to as they have bought their houses here, their children were born in this country and never went to Polish school.”
This is about reassuring the people who live here—our friends, our neighbours and the people in our community. They are vital to our community and to our future. I urge the Minister to make a statement—an easy-to-make statement—to reassure EU nationals that they will be given the right to remain here, live here, work here and be valued as part of our society.
It is with some trepidation that I rise to speak in this debate; my constituency has seen, proportionally, more EU migration than any other in the country. Drawn by the UK’s relatively high minimum wages, literally tens of thousands of people have come from Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and elsewhere to Boston and to Lincolnshire more generally in search of better lives, more money and greater prospects. They were drawn here by the rights mentioned in this debate today. They may not be able to vote for us in this House, but, as I have said here before, we should all be keenly aware that those people are our constituents wherever they were born and whatever passport they hold.
Those new communities are in many cases home to model citizens; head pupils in schools in Boston are now from a diverse range of communities in a way that they were not in previous years. In schools, children show that children treat children equally, whatever their nationality. Done wrong, immigration, wherever it is from, leads to talk of “them” and “us”; done properly, “them” becomes “us”.
Boston’s agricultural economy relies on migrant labour from eastern Europe just as in previous centuries it relied on labour from the midlands, Ireland or Portugal. We have a lower rate of empty shops than the comparable national average because new communities come not just to work in our fields, but to set up their own firms, and to improve their lot. They come to do all that, and they are able to do all that, because of the rights that we are talking about in this debate. Done right, the town benefits from all of this.
When it comes to today’s motion, I hope that Europe will see the benefits that British people bring to the continent and grant them the right to stay after the UK leaves the EU, and then the UK can do likewise. In many ways, Boston and Skegness’s continued economic growth depends on that reciprocity. That basic equality seems to be uncontroversial; it should be straightforward.
I wish to talk a little bit about why there are parts of this country, my own included, where we have got migration badly wrong, making debates such as this too shrill, too partisan and frankly sometimes too difficult to attract genuine contributions. With hindsight, the expansion of Europe to far poorer economies than our own was inevitably going to draw large numbers of people to areas where labour was abundant and very often casual. The Government of the day bungled the figures; we did not see changes coming and we failed to invest in local public services to keep pace with demands for schools, hospitals, GPs, and even housing and roads.
Today, while Boston still needs the bypass that has been on the drawing board for 100 years, schools have caught up but the NHS has not, and that raises tensions and causes debates such as this. No longer required to have a job before travelling to the UK, many people were tempted by inaccurate representations of life in the UK, and found themselves doing desperately hard work in freezing fields before returning home to a rented room unfit for human habitation in which they were allowed to occupy the bed only when it was their turn. Boston’s work in tackling rogue landlords has been rightly lauded in this House, but migration has worsened a problem that the Government should have foreseen. The consequences of those poor housing conditions has led to tensions, such as street drinking, antisocial behaviour and violent crime. Some Bostonians ask what those add to an historic town that was once a port second only to London.
Fast forward to 2016 and Boston is called—wrongly in my view—the least integrated town in the country by Policy Exchange. That report is wrong because it does not measure recent work done on street drinking, rogue landlords, and community integration, but it is talking about a real problem. Some constituents have asked me why everyone should be allowed to stay.
The solution to these issues is not to blindly pretend that every aspect of Boston or Britain is either better or worse for migration. There are a host of opportunities that we must seize and a host of nettles that we must grasp if we are ever to make these debates more sensible. We should depoliticise debates such as this and treat people like people.
I want to close by reading a few comments that were posted on my own Facebook wall. I went to see a superb new agricultural development that will create around 100 new jobs. Underneath the photographs some of my constituents wrote: “We all know who will be filling the labour requirements here”; “We shall see how many locals get a job”; “They don’t employ English. I got told that when I went for a job, so I didn’t even get an application form so it won’t be local people.”
When we get immigration wrong, we divide our country, we divide our towns and we foster radical parties that bring out the worst in good people. We end up having debates such as this. There is no easy way to encourage integration, especially when predominantly young men work in my constituency’s fields, largely in groups from their own countries, and go out in their precious leisure time with little motivation to integrate. But if we are to sensibly conclude debates such as this, we should have a care to those concerns just as much as we do to the rights of migrant workers, whether we are speaking of a Briton in Spain or a Lithuanian in Boston.
It has been 118 days since the EU referendum—118 days of blunders, slap-downs, in-fighting and conflicting statements from this UK Government. It is a case of life imitating art, as this shambolic response from the UK Government is more akin to a plot line from “The Thick of It” than a co-ordinated response to a deeply challenging and serious situation. It would be laughable if the consequences of Tory Brexit were not quite so serious.
It might be 118 days of in-fighting and a failure to govern, but it has also been 118 days when 3 million of our citizens do not know what the future holds for them or their families. Since
But this is not a game and our EU-born nationals are not “bargaining chips”, “pawns” or “playing cards”. They are our wives, our husbands, our neighbours, co-workers, doctors, nurses, teachers and our friends. Instead of throwing fuel on the fire and making a very worrying situation for them even worse, this Government should be doing all they can to provide the assurance to the 3 million EU citizens in the UK that their future is secure here.
This debate says a lot about what kind of country we are. It might be an inconvenience for a few in the Brexiteer camp to think of the UK as a diverse country, but that is exactly what we are. We are better as a country because of the 57,000 NHS staff who were born elsewhere in the EU. Many sectors of our economy are world-leading not in spite of the EU workers, but because of their expertise and skills. Times Higher Education highlighted how UK universities are world-leading, and this is in no small part because of the excellent level of teaching and research that EU nationals provide.
The Prime Minister’s short-sighted refusal to provide our EU nationals with the assurance that they are entitled to represents a slap in the face despite their hard work and the contribution they have made to our society.
Not right now.
The UK Government may want to pretend that nothing will change, but the fact is that everything has changed for our EU nationals following the Brexit vote. Many are starting to think again about the country in which they have invested so much time and effort. Agnieska from the Renfrewshire Polish Association, whom I met a few weeks ago, shared her concerns and those of many members of her group not only about the result of the referendum, but about some of the divisive rhetoric since. However, she felt somewhat sheltered from this by living in Scotland, with the different approach taken by the Scottish Government.
It is not only the failure to give assurance that is problematic. The statements and speeches at the Conservative party conference caused many EU nationals to consider their future. The new Home Secretary seems to share her predecessor’s bleak vision of reducing migration to tens of thousands and sees Brexit as one means of achieving this, refusing to recognise that 78% of working-age EU citizens in the UK are in work, compared with around 74% of UK nationals. It is economic vandalism of the highest order for the Home Secretary not to give these hardworking individuals the right to live and work in the UK, all with the aim of achieving the right-wing holy grail of reducing immigration.
Adding fuel to the fire, the Home Secretary expressed her desire to implement a system which requires companies to compile lists of foreign workers which would be used to “ name and shame” those who employ large numbers of foreign workers. It is not the companies that should be placed in any wall of shame. The only person who should be ashamed is the Home Secretary for managing to propose a policy which even UKIP says goes too far.
Following a poisonous Brexit campaign, which has helped to create the environment in England and Wales for an increase in racially or religiously aggravated offences, a responsible Government would be praising and thanking EU nationals for the contribution that they make to our communities and assuring them of their right to stay. This UK Government have singularly failed to do so. The contrast could not be any sharper north of the border. Whereas the Prime Minister has remained silent and allowed her “hard Brexit” colleagues to describe EU nationals as “bargaining chips”, Nicola Sturgeon has shown compassionate leadership and adopted a positive and inclusive approach, and has repeatedly reassured those EU nationals who have made Scotland their home that Scotland is and will continue to be their home.
Economically, socially, culturally and morally the UK Government should do the correct thing today and offer a cast-iron guarantee to all those who have made the UK their home. That is a call that the Scottish Parliament, wider civil society, the business sector and EU nationals have all made to the Prime Minister.
Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and to reject the narrow-minded politics of the UKIP-Tory right-wing alliance. Those votes and those voters need to be respected, so the Government should stop playing games, end the xenophobia, lead for all our citizens, back this motion and categorically state to EU nationals that their future lies here and their residency status will be protected.
I have listened to the debate with considerable interest. I have found it particularly interesting—and slightly nauseating actually —to hear from Members of the Scottish National party, who drape themselves in a cloak of moral certainty, as if to cast aspersions on Conservative Members’ motivations and desire to foster good community relations. The Conservative Government and my constituents, who voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union, are not racists. May I repeat that for the benefit of SNP Members? It is not a racist campaign. This notion that, somehow, the Brexit vote was fuelled by xenophobia, that the people in the SNP are on the side of the angels, and that everyone who opposes them—everyone who has ever argued against them—is in a benighted cave of their own is completely ridiculous. Frankly, it is embarrassing; it insults the intelligence of people in this House for SNP Members to suggest that everyone else is xenophobic and that they alone are the guardians of moral virtue. [Interruption.] They may not have said it, but everything they have ever said on this issue implies exactly that: they seize the moral high ground and they proceed to lecture us, and those of us on the Government Benches have had enough of it.
Now, let me address the issue at hand. Nobody has suggested in the debate that migration is a bad thing in Britain. Many of the people who have spoken—myself included—are themselves the children or grandchildren of immigrants; they fully understand, and are fully conscious of, the benefits of migration to this country. The issue is simply a narrow one about the negotiation and the nature of the deal with the EU going forward. It is entirely legitimate for a Government, ahead of negotiations, to say, as the Government have done, that our aim is to guarantee and secure the rights of EU nationals in this country. That is what the Government have done, and it is entirely reasonable for them to have done that; in fact, nobody in the House, I think, would suggest that that was a bad thing.
The Government have said that that is the aim. Now, if it were to happen, for whatever reason—I am not prejudging this in any way—that an EU Government questioned the rights of British citizens working in their country, circumstances would of course have changed, and we could well be in a different situation.
Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether, if there were difficulties with a country, he is suggesting that the Government would take reprisals?
I am not suggesting anything of the kind. What I am saying is that, as my hon. Friend James Cleverly suggested, it is naive simply to give cast-iron guarantees at this point. I suspect that these guarantees will be given further along the line and that it is very likely we will reach a situation where everyone is happy and everyone can stay. However, at this moment—in October 2016—it would be a little premature, perhaps, to give those undertakings.
In Kingston, as in Spelthorne, foreign-born people are welcome. We very much value their contribution; we want them to stay. However, is my hon. Friend aware that not one EU Head of State has given the unilateral and unequivocal guarantee that SNP Members are asking for in the debate?
My hon. Friend is exactly right. I regret to say this, but if one has been following the foreign news reports of the statements made by Jean-Claude Juncker and other people, it is clear that there is an air of menace around. I am not saying that it is universally expressed, but there is a view that somehow the British people acted defiantly or insolently towards the EU and that we should be punished as a consequence of the vote on
Many of us, leavers and remainers, have great sympathy with the position expressed in the motion, but where we part company is with the final six words,
“should the UK exit the EU.”
Brexit means Brexit, and that is pure mischief-making by the SNP. That is why a lot of us will not be supporting the motion.
I have given way enough, and I want to proceed with the rest of my remarks.
Clearly, we are all in a mood of beneficence, good will and co-operation towards migrants from the EU and from outside the EU. The modern economy that we foster in Britain is dependent on a large degree of migration—we accept that. What we do not accept is the free movement of people unilaterally across the EU. Many Conservative Members do not think that is the right way to proceed. At this stage, before we have even entered into a negotiation, it would be premature to give the cast-iron guarantees that we all want to reach at the end. We all want to get to the stage where we can give these guarantees, but for as long as the rights of British citizens in the EU have not been guaranteed, it would be premature for a British Government to do so. [Interruption.] I can hear Alex Salmond chuntering from a sedentary position. He has spent many years in this House. He can ask to intervene in the customary fashion, if he wishes to do so, and I am quite willing to give way.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain the contrast between the 42% rise in hate crime in England in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and a 15% fall in similar statistics in Scotland?
I would not presume to talk about the earthly paradise otherwise known as Scotland. I am not going to make any statements about what is going on in Scotland, because I do not have the expertise, to do so. However, I do regret the assumption that somehow the Brexit vote was driven by xenophobia and racism, and that the right hon. Gentleman’s party is completely absolved from that.
This is not the hon. Gentleman’s responsibility, but he will remember the “Breaking Point” poster during the campaign—not the campaign that he was part of, but it was there for people to see. Does he believe that a poster like that, with Mr Farage in front of it, would tend to be the sort of thing that might incite hate crime?
For the record, I want to state that I denounced that particular intervention from Mr Farage.
Of course we accept the benefits of migration, and of course we want to preserve and guarantee the rights of EU migrants, but today, when the rights of British citizens in the EU have not been guaranteed, it would be premature to give the guarantees that SNP Members seek.
Yesterday evening, I found myself experiencing a very strange sensation that I had not experienced before, because when I started to read the motion tabled by the SNP, I found myself largely agreeing with it—that is, up until the last six words:
“should the UK exit the EU.”
Those six words betray the real reason this motion has been brought to this House—not primarily out of a concern for EU nationals living in the UK, but to continue the referendum debate once again.
I am not going to take an intervention yet.
It has become quite clear, as this debate has gone on, that that is what this is actually about. It is tough for SNP Members having been on the wrong side of public opinion three times in a row in a referendum. I would have thought that they had learned the lesson by now that they tend to be on the wrong side and that it is time to give up, yet they seem to be keen on even more referendums.
The fact is that we are leaving the EU. The British people have made a decision and given their very clear instruction to this place, and we will be leaving the EU. There is no “should” about it; it is a question of when we leave the EU.
As I have said, I largely agree with the spirit of the motion, apart from that bit and perhaps one other minor point. The 3 million EU nationals who have made their home in this country, and who are largely here contributing positively to our nation by working and paying their taxes, are very welcome and we want them to stay. No Conservative Member has suggested anything other than that we want those EU nationals to be able to remain in this country and to live, work and contribute to our economy for as long as they wish to. No one has suggested otherwise, and it is disingenuous to suggest that Conservatives have any other desire or motivation.
In my constituency, EU migrants make a huge contribution to our economy. They work in tourism, in bars, restaurants and hotels. They work in agriculture, often seasonally, helping to bring in Cornwall’s variety of excellent produce. They also work in the processing of our excellent seafood and dairy products. They play an absolutely crucial role in our society, and we want them to continue to be able to do so. The Government have made it very clear that that is their intention, but I absolutely support their position that we should not give a cast-iron guarantee on the matter until other EU countries reciprocate. We would be doing a disservice to the British citizens who live in other EU countries if we did so.
Let us remember that our first responsibility is to British citizens, and we should be looking out for their future and wellbeing just as much as anyone else’s. It is absolutely right that we continue that approach and seek those assurances because, as other right hon and hon. Members have pointed out, those assurances have not yet been given. I am absolutely confident that once we are given them, we will reciprocate and guarantee the future of EU nationals who live and work here.
Another point about the motion is that it refers to “all” EU citizens. As my right hon. Friend Mr Harper, who is no longer in the Chamber, pointed out earlier, there are some EU nationals whom we probably do not wish to keep. By breaking our laws, convicted criminals have abused the hospitality and the welcome that we have given them. It is absolutely right that once they have served their sentences, we should seek to return them to their country of origin. The world “all” is too open, because we do not necessarily want all EU citizens to remain.
I suggest that if those people have broken laws, it is for the Spanish Government to decide what to do with them at the end of their stay at the hospitality of the Spanish Government. The position in this country is absolutely right.
Much has been said by the SNP about the rhetoric that is stirring up uncertainty, but I suggest that such motions create uncertainty by raising the issue when the Government have made absolutely clear their intention and desire for EU citizens to be able to remain in this country.
I will not give way again.
By continuing this debate and continuing to stir up such uncertainty, we are actually creating and perpetuating uncertainty. It is absolutely right for the Government to hold the line that we continue to wait for a similar assurance from other countries and that, once it is given, we will be more than happy to reciprocate and guarantee the future of EU nationals and their right to stay in this country. For those reasons, much as I agree with the spirit of the motion, I will not be able to support it later today.
It is a pleasure to follow the powerful speech of my hon. Friend Steve Double. I, too, agree with the first part of the motion, because I certainly recognise and appreciate the contributions that workers from the EU have made in this country. Some key businesses and public sector services—many hon. Members on both sides of the House have identified them in their own constituencies—are vitally served by EU workers. In my own constituency of Bexhill and Battle, where the proportion of older people is particularly high, none is more key than our care home sector, and we would be in a very difficult position without those EU workers. Of 35 care homes inspected, only nine were rated good, and the rest required improvement or were inadequate, so where would such homes be without key workers from the EU?
I maintain that during the past six years the Government have provided the economic base for many workers to come to Britain and make a great success of themselves. More jobs have been created in the UK during that period than in the rest of the EU put together. Those individuals have come here with great aspiration and a desire to work, as well as endeavour and enterprise. It is in their DNA, and it is certainly in the DNA of my party and my hon. Friends on the Government Benches. In that sense, we certainly do not need any lectures on our support for EU citizens.
I have concerns about the second part of the motion in reference to the future, and I therefore certainly cannot support it. As colleagues on the Government Benches have pointed out, there is a typo in the motion: it says “should” the UK exit the EU, rather than “when” it does so. I did not vote to leave the EU, but in my view, now that the decision has been made, we need to embrace the opportunity and get on with it.
I made this point earlier, but I find it frustrating that there are so many debates in this House about the pitfalls, while we are holding up Ministers and preventing them from getting on with the job and getting it done. There is a certain irony in my position. [Interruption.] Alex Salmond is chuckling. He, like me, was in Strasbourg last week, where we were working with our European partners, only for us to come back to the House for a debate about Europe. We could have been in Europe, making friends and building relationships, which would be a better use of our time.
During the last week of the referendum campaign, I visited 25 schools, and I visited another 10 during my own party conference. Teachers and, indeed, pupils consistently asked me questions about the right to remain, to which I made the point that in time, once this is settled, should we leave the EU, I would imagine that the right to remain will absolutely be honoured. I certainly hope that it will be.
I should point out that people who have been here for five years already have the right to remain. Indeed, by the time we exit the EU, those who have come here relatively recently will have reached that five-year point. I therefore find much of this debate slightly false.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. When constituents who are concerned and need reassuring come to my surgeries—3,000 eastern Europeans live in my constituency —I make the point he has just made. Five out of every six EU nationals living in this country either already have the right to remain or will have it by the time we leave the EU. The 2.9 million EU nationals living in the UK today have nothing to worry about.
My hon. Friend makes a fine point. Like me, he is a lawyer. I am not sure how many of the 1.2 million UK citizens resident in the EU have the same right. To support those 1.2 million people, it is even more imperative to ensure that they have the same right to remain as, as he says, do the five out of six EU citizens working here.
My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke pointed out that no Government Members—indeed, this does not seem to be debated at all, except on Opposition motions—are calling for any rights to remain in the UK to be rescinded. Nobody on our Benches is using the words “bargaining chips”. I point that out because Gavin Newlands, whose speech I listened to carefully, used those words about five times. Such rhetoric is coming from SNP Members, not those on this side of the House. I ask Opposition Members to be a little more responsible with their language, because that sort of language is not being used by those of us on the Government Benches. We absolutely must ensure that we serve the rights of those from EU member states working in the UK, but we must give equal priority to serving those people from the UK living in the EU. I hope that the official Opposition and the SNP will start to talk in the same language and even things up.
In the minute remaining to me, I want to caution against using the EU referendum result in the separate debate on immigration. I recognise that 52% of the country voted to leave the EU, but nowhere within that was there a definitive mandate for curbing or controlling immigration. I know that many people—including colleagues on the Government Benches—will say that the immigration debate was implicit in the referendum, but from my perspective, all we know is that 52% of the UK voted to leave, so 48% voted to remain, and nothing more. Similarly, we do not know that a large chunk of the 52% were duped into voting to leave the EU; we know only that we are leaving, and that is that.
In a recent YouGov poll, two thirds of people stated that they wanted to see immigration reduced, somewhat busting my argument. However, when asked how much they would pay personally for it to be reduced, about the same amount said zero, and therefore that they would be willing to have the same number of immigrants in this country. I add that purely as a note of caution. I recognise that we are leaving the EU, but I return to my real passion for making sure that we protect the EU workers who have come this country and that we do not use the referendum as anything other than a decision to leave the EU.
The contribution of EU nationals to our country is difficult to overstate, which is why I do not disagree with a word of the first part of the motion. There are now 3 million EU nationals living in the UK. They are overwhelmingly in employment, living decent, law-abiding lives and enhancing British society. A fact that has sometimes been lost in the discussions about immigration over recent months is that the success of the British economy over recent years owes a great deal to the contribution of EU nationals. In 2014, more jobs were created in the county of Yorkshire than in the whole of France, and more jobs were generated in the UK than in the rest of the EU put together. EU nationals have helped to build that success, and in doing so helped pull our country back from the financial abyss we were staring into in 2010.
In Cheltenham alone, Polish nationals in particular have, in a short period, become part of the backbone of our community and our way of life. They are there working in Monkscroft care home, in Cheltenham general hospital, in the shops on the Promenade and in our bars and restaurants, and the overwhelming majority of them do so quietly, diligently and uncomplainingly. Their work ethic and “can do” attitude are an object lesson. They seek nothing more than the right to stand on their own two feet. The message that must ring out from this Chamber then is that those who have come and built their lives here are welcome, valued and respected.
In that context, it is—unusually, perhaps—hard to disagree with the SNP sentiment, but I fear that the motion appears to be political. I am sorry to say that it appears to be mischief-making at best and irresponsible at worst. I say that with some diffidence, because much of what comes from the SNP Front-Bench spokesmen bears listening to. I have concerns about the motion, however.
First, as my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick indicated, the fact is that by the time Brexit happens—I was a remainer—the overwhelming majority of EU nationals will have the right to remain in the United Kingdom because they will have indefinite leave to remain.
Let me just develop my point and then I will come to the hon. Lady.
Secondly, let us be clear: EU nationals are not going to be required to leave. It is not going to happen. I would not vote for it. The House would not vote for it. It would be morally bankrupt and economically ruinous. There is therefore a danger that the motion unnecessarily sets hares running. It stokes fear when none need exist.
The reality is that the duty of any British Government—this is plain as a pikestaff—is to protect the rights of their citizens. The SNP’s contributions have been disappointing because they have not acknowledged the fair point that 1 million British citizens living abroad want reassurance, too, because—guess what?—they have families, jobs and livelihoods that they do not want to lose. It is a fair point that no EU Head of State has provided our nationals with that reassurance, including Scottish nationals.
If the rights of British citizens living abroad were so important to the Conservative party, why did it not give them a vote in the EU referendum?
I am always grateful for interventions, but with respect that is a bit of a distraction. That is not what we are focusing on here. We are focusing on the rights of British nationals overseas and EU nationals in the UK. It is wrong for us to be sidetracked in that way.
The SNP is right that this has to be resolved. I am concerned—I am sure some of my colleagues are, too—about this dragging on. My right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke made a fair point about the Council summit tomorrow. I hope the opportunity will be taken to discuss the matter with Heads of State. Make no mistake, we are dealing with people here. It is incumbent upon Heads of State in Europe and our own Government to grasp the nettle and put the issue to bed, but, for the reasons I set out, I am not in a position to support the motion.
As I rise, I look across at Government Members who are probably thinking that I am a principal scaremongerer. I was the first on the SNP Benches to raise the issue of EU nationals in this House. I raised it before the referendum vote when, because of the leave campaign, two of my constituents, originally from Germany, Thomas and Elke Westen, said to me that such was their concern about the way immigration was being discussed they were leaving the UK. They did not want to be around for the vote. They had been denied a vote by the Government. They were allowed to have a vote in the referendum on Scotland, but not on the European referendum. They said that if there was going to be a vote to leave the EU they would choose to leave and go to an EU country. I have tried to do all I can to persuade them to stay, but in the past two weeks they have put their house up for sale, they are closing their business and they are seeking to move back. That is not scaremongering. That is recognising the real effect on human beings living in our country.
Throughout the debate there has been a refrain from those on the Tory Benches that there is nothing really to worry about. The Chancellor has just been questioned by the Treasury Committee about this exact point. He said he hoped there would be an agreement, but then went on to say that if UK and EU failed to reach such an agreement, then “under a migration scheme that was unilateral we would have choices to make about how we would choose to deal with those EU nationals in the UK. It would be a matter for the UK to decide.” It is hardly a wonder that people are frightened when that is what the Chancellor says.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that intervention. That harks back to the opening remarks of the Immigration Minister, who is no longer in his place. At one stage in his speech he was trying to provide reassurance and say there was no uncertainty, but he also said that he was not in a position to set out a definitive position. Why not? He went on to say that it was because it would not be good negotiating practice.
My hon. Friend correctly says that EU nationals were allowed to vote in the Scottish referendum, but did not get a vote in the EU referendum. Another symbol that the UK Government are throwing down is that they are now changing legislation so that British nationals living abroad get a vote for life. Does my hon. Friend agree that this is another clear national divide?
I agree entirely.
I want to move on to tackle a question raised by Government Members, who asked us whether we were not also concerned about the rights of British citizens living abroad. Well, I can tell them that I am. I will tell them who first raised this concern with me: Tracy de Jongh Eglin, who lives in the Netherlands. She contacted me some months ago. What worried her was that when the UK Government were saying “This is negotiable”, they were saying that it was not just EU national citizens’ positions here that were negotiable, but British citizens’ rights abroad, too. The UK Government are the ones who have created this insecurity for EU nationals here and for British nationals overseas.
When negotiations are entered into, uncertainty is automatically created. It cannot be otherwise, because negotiations involve the trading of positions. I have a question and I hope that the Minister will be able to answer it in his reply: what is it that he is willing to trade away in these negotiations? He must have something tradable in mind; otherwise, there would be no negotiations. Negotiations do not have to be “symmetrical” where the citizenship status here has to be negotiated with respect to people in a similar position elsewhere. It is possible to have asymmetrical negotiations, which would mean trying to secure the rights of British citizens by utilising economic levers, for example, so there is absolutely no moral justification and no negotiating justification for the uncertainty that this Government have created both for EU nationals and for British citizens overseas.
My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech. The motion is quite simple: it is about EU nationals retaining their current rights. When Conservative Members applaud the sentiment behind the motion but say they are unable to vote for it, what they are really doing is to send snarling signals to Europe of this House’s attitude to EU nationals retaining their current rights. They should not do that; they should vote for the SNP motion today. They should, for once, send the right signal from the UK.
I agree entirely.
It is not enough to say that we want people to stay here; it is more about allowing those people to have rights. The problem at the moment is that many of the rights that individuals hold in our society are rights that they have because they are EU citizens and fall under EU law. It is under EU law that they have a right to work here, the right to retire here, the right to a vote in some elections, the right to access welfare and the right to access health services. These are EU-guaranteed rights. We want to see those rights enshrined in law here.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but there is an additional right that is important while these negotiations are going on. It is the right to safety, particularly when we look at what has happened to the Polish community, which seems to be taking the brunt of all this anti-European sentiment. Surely they have a right to reassurance here.
The hon. Gentleman makes a wonderful point. I have been in discussions in my own constituency with a body called the migrant forum, the majority of whose members are of Polish extraction. They have been coming to me with concerns, wanting to find ways to gain reassurance. It is not good enough for some Conservative Members to say, “They should not be frightened and they should not be uncertain, but by the way, we are putting you into the negotiation pot none the less.” That is not reassurance. It is perfectly understandable that people are feeling uncertain and insecure about their rights.
My hon. Friend Dr Whitford put that point wonderfully when she talked about her own husband, a doctor and a fine man—I have met him—who has been working here for 30 years. With his background, he is not going to be easily scared or put off, but there is uncertainty in his mind as well as in thousands upon thousands of people’s minds.
I held a meeting in my constituency, and 40 EU citizens came along to talk about their anxieties. These are real anxieties, and the Government should do the right thing. The Minister should stand up now and guarantee all those people’s rights in our country.
I congratulate the Scottish National party on securing the debate. We have been dealing with a very important issue: the status of EU nationals living in the UK following the EU referendum and the decision of the British people to leave the EU. I am very glad that Parliament has had a chance to debate the issue in detail, and I commend Joanna Cherry and Roger Mullin for bringing it to the attention of the House. I am also delighted to face across the Dispatch Box, for the first time, Paul Blomfield. We have served together on Select Committees in the past, and I think that we share a number of very similar values. I look forward to working with him on future debates.
Having listened carefully to what has been said today, I would say that tone is important. As we were told by Drew Hendry, we should be here to provide reassurance, and I hope that I shall be able to provide some now.
We have heard a number of excellent speeches. It was great to hear from my hon. Friends the Members for Braintree (James Cleverly), for Cardiff North (Craig Williams), for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), for Monmouth (David T. C. Davies) and for Boston and Skegness (Matt Warman). My hon. Friend the Member for Boston and Skegness made some thoughtful comments about immigration issues, which were picked up by my hon. Friend Huw Merriman. That is, of course, a debate for another time. I think it important for us to focus today on the rights of EU nationals, and on the point that so many of my hon. Friends have made about the rights that we must secure for UK nationals as well.
Let me begin by making it absolutely clear that the Government want to protect the status of EU nationals who are resident in the UK. The only circumstances in which that would not be possible would be those in which British citizens’ rights in other EU member states were not protected in return, and, like my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, I find it hard—near impossible—to imagine that scenario arising.
As Members in all parts of the House have made clear today, EU citizens make an invaluable contribution to our country, and the Government welcome that contribution. Like my hon. Friend Alex Chalk, I recognise it from my own constituency. We all agree that steps must be taken to guarantee the status of the EU nationals who have chosen to build a life here in the UK. The House clearly feels strongly about the matter, and the Government will seek a swift solution when discussions with the EU begin.
That brings me to my second point. While it is a Government priority to address this issue as soon as possible, the fact remains that we need an agreement in order to do so. It would be inappropriate and irresponsible to set out unilateral positions at this stage. Just last week, the House voted on a motion which provided for parliamentary scrutiny of the Brexit process but included the provision that we should not do anything to undermine the Government’s negotiating position. The Government understand the importance of giving certainty to EU citizens who have moved to build a life in the UK, but we are not able to set out a unilateral position now, ahead of negotiations; that must be done following negotiation and agreement with the EU. Doing otherwise would risk adversely affecting our negotiating position, and hence the position of British citizens who have chosen to build a life, with their families, in other countries. My hon. Friends the Members for Braintree and for Bexhill and Battle made that point very clearly.
I will not give way for the time being.
Keith Vaz created an entirely new area of fear by talking about some kind of trade-off in terms of numbers. It was the first time that I had ever heard such a suggestion, and I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it is certainly not something that we have been contemplating.
The Government want the same fair treatment for British and EU citizens. That is a sensible position to take, and the Government are confident that they will be able to achieve their aim in agreement with the EU. We have already made it clear that this is a priority for negotiations. Only last week, the excellent Leader of the Opposition in Scotland was pressing the case on the open door of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.
This brings me to my final key point in this section: the status of EU nationals living in the UK will not change while the UK remains a member of the EU. It is important to remember that we remain a full member of the EU with all the rights and responsibilities of EU membership until the end of the article 50 process.
We have heard contributions from Members on both sides of the House and of this debate who are married to EU citizens, and I commend them for their statements. They raised real concerns about EU nationals and their status, but it appears to me that there is near unanimity in this House on providing reassurance. We should all be seeking to do that in our comments.
Does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that platitude reassurance is not real reassurance? Reassurance has been given to students; why not give it to resident EU nationals? Otherwise it will be three years from the vote until we know what is going to happen.
As I have already pointed out, during those three years it is the Government’s absolute intention to secure the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU as early in the negotiations as we can.
I think that is reassurance. Let me be clear that EU nationals and citizens can continue to live, work and study here in the UK under existing EU law. They will also be able to be accompanied or joined by family members. I know the whole House will agree that it is important that we make this clear and continue to provide reassurance to all our constituents.
We should not be trying to create an atmosphere of fear. We should set out the reassurances I have given and will continue to give.
In conclusion, EU nationals can have the Government’s complete reassurance that there is no immediate change to their right to enter, work, study and live in the UK as a result of the EU referendum. I reassure EU citizens in Scotland and up and down the country generally that we recognise the enormous contribution they make to our economy, our health service, our schools, our care sector and our communities. We will act fairly towards them as we expect other EU countries to act fairly to our citizens living there.
I will not give way again.
We have heard from all parts of the UK and all sides of the referendum debate today, and as we move forward we must seek to bring the whole country together. Given that the UK and the EU would like to maintain a close and friendly relationship, the Government are confident that we will work together and that EU and British citizens will be protected through a reciprocal agreement. Because this motion fails to acknowledge that, and because of its technical failings which were pointed out by my hon. Friend the Minister for Immigration, my right hon. Friend Mr Harper and my hon. Friends the Members for Braintree and for St Austell and Newquay (Steve Double), I urge Members on both sides of the House to reject this motion.
The House divided:
Ayes 250, Noes 293.