Parliamentary oversight of negotiations

Part of Informal European Council – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 6th February 2017.

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Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 7:15 pm, 6th February 2017

I gently say to the hon. Gentleman, with whom I have worked in the past, and who I hold in some regard, that, bluntly, it is invidious to play the interests of one group of desperate people off against the interests of another group, and there is a danger of that emerging from what he is saying and the terms in which he puts it. Because as Hilary Benn, the Chairman of the Exiting the European Union Committee, on which I also serve, reminded us, this was the evidence that we heard from British nationals currently living in other parts of the EU; this is what they want us to do, because they see that it is in their interests that we should do this. They see this move as the best, most immediate and speediest way in which their position can be given some degree of certainty.

The real importance of this move is the atmosphere that it would create. We cannot ignore the atmosphere that we have found in many of our communities since 23 June, and the spike we have seen in hate crime; and we must also think about the atmosphere in which the Prime Minister is going to open the negotiations after the triggering of article 50. The atmosphere will be so much better—so much improved—if we are able to say, “We enter this as a negotiation between friends and neighbours, and as such we offer you this important move for your citizens as a mark of our good faith and our good will.”

I also want to deal with one matter that was raised in the Select Committee, and which has been touched on today: the opportunity of EU nationals to secure their position by means of the permanent residence card. I say to the Minister of State, Department for Exiting the European Union, Mr Jones, that he should be talking about this to his colleagues in the Home Office, because there are enormous difficulties with it. [Interruption.] I see the Minister for Immigration is sitting on the Treasury Bench, too, and he will be aware that some 30% of the—expensive—applications that are necessary for permanent residence cards are currently refused. The evidence brought to the Select Committee was that this involves, I think, an 85-page form. The sheer volume of supporting documentation required for these applications is enormous. The level of detail that is asked about the occasions over the past five, 10, 15 or 20 years when people have left the country even on holiday and then returned, and the evidence required to support these dates, is unreasonable and is putting an enormous burden on those seeking this small measure of reassurance in the short to medium term. This needs to be revisited.

The unfairness of the situation came home to me when I saw a constituent on Friday, who brought to my office the letter she received in 1997 from the then Immigration and Nationality Directorate. She was told:

“You can now remain indefinitely in the United Kingdom. You do not need permission from a Government Department to take or change employment and you may engage in business or a profession as long as you comply with any general regulations for the business or professional activity.”

Nobody told my constituent in 1997 that 20 years later she was going to have to produce tickets to show that in 2005 she took a two-week holiday in Ibiza, or whatever, but that is the situation in which she now finds herself if she is going to achieve that small measure of security for her and her family.

The challenge facing our country at this point is how we go forward in a way that allows us to bring the 52% and the 48% back together. Our country faces an enormous challenge, and it is one that we cannot meet with the support of only half of our population; we need all our people to be able to pull together. This would be one small measure that would allow the Government to bring the two sides together to get the best possible deal for all our citizens, whether they are British by birth or British by choice.