I do not propose to speak for more than a few minutes. I have been wrestling with this matter for months, and in particular I have wrestled with it over the course of the weekend. This matter affects my constituents in South Leicestershire—and not just them—many of whom have come to see me to explain the problems, for example about children at school, which has been mentioned by other hon. Members.
I was the son of Italian immigrants in Glasgow in the 1970s, and I remember how it felt to be the only son of an immigrant in a classroom full of Scottish people. I do not want any EU national child across the United Kingdom to feel the way that I felt at times in school in the 1970s. However, there is more than simply anecdotal evidence that the situation now caused by Brexit is affecting the wellbeing of families. Such concerns have been raised by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, a fellow east midlands Member for whom I have nothing but the utmost respect. As I have argued with colleagues in the Chamber—we should be saying it far more loudly—EU nationals have contributed an enormous amount to the success and wellbeing of our United Kingdom, as did my parents over 50 years. I want to hear Members say that daily.
It was often said during the EU referendum that there was perhaps a cost consequence to having the 3 million-plus people from every one of the member states who have integrated here. I always believed that that was utter rubbish. We have benefited as a country by having immigrants come into the United Kingdom. The fact is that we will continue to benefit, because when all of this is over, we will still continue to have EU migrants coming into this country. The difference will be that this Parliament and Government—Conservative, Labour or otherwise—will determine the immigration rules. I cannot possibly foresee a situation where a competent British Government would attempt to reduce immigration to levels that would damage our economy. That leads me to a point made in a newspaper recently by an hon. Friend of mine about a promise made in the Conservative manifesto that we have not kept and cannot keep. We cannot get immigration down to the tens of thousands without damaging our economy.
However, I have decided to vote against the amendment on this matter. As I said at the outset, I have wrestled with this decision, because it affects my family personally. I will explain why I have decided to do this. Ultimately, it is because the deal that will be reached with the EU will be not just legal, but also political. It will be about personalities: about how the Prime Minister and her team get on with the other side.
Had I been Prime Minister last July, I might well have taken a different decision. However, I made a comment to the Prime Minister today in which I made it very clear that I am putting my entire trust in her and her Ministers to honour the promise that they are giving to the country about getting an early deal. I said to the leader of my party that it would be
“a decisive mark of her negotiating skills and leadership qualities as our Prime Minister.”
I believe that she will get a reciprocal deal that benefits citizens from Scotland, Northern Ireland, England and Wales who live in other EU member states, and that protects my own family and friends, my own constituents and other EU nationals across the United Kingdom.
That is why I will vote against the amendment. Ultimately, it is a political matter, and it is for the Prime Minister to demonstrate her leadership and negotiating skills in getting this right, and coming back to the Dispatch Box within months—I repeat, within months—of triggering article 50 with an early deal on which we can all agree and for which we can thank her, that will be to the benefit of all our constituents living abroad and the benefit of EU nationals living in our constituencies.