Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Conservative, Forest of Dean 5:30 pm, 13th March 2017

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that.

Let me now deal with the two Lords amendments that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is inviting the House to disagree with. The first one relates to EU nationals, and I have listened carefully to the debate we have just had on it. I believe I heard Ms Ahmed-Sheikh suggest to the Secretary of State during it, from a sedentary position, that he could put people’s minds at rest by accepting the amendment. I fundamentally disagree with that.

If we read what the amendment actually says, as opposed to what people have asserted it says, we find that all it says is that the Government should bring forward proposals within three months to deal with people who are legally resident in Britain. I think this is faulty for three reasons. First, the inclusion of “three months” puts in place an arbitrary time limit, which will be decided by judges if people challenge it. This may happen in the middle of the negotiation process that the Secretary of State is going to carry out to secure the rights of British citizens and it could well disrupt that process.

The second and more important point is about the fact that the amendment refers to those who are “legally resident” in the country today. Two groups are involved here, and I would like to be more generous to one and less generous to the other. The first group comprises those whom we have discovered perhaps did not understand EU legislation, which says, “You are legally resident here if you are a student or you are self-sufficient only if you have comprehensive health insurance.” Many people fail that test; I think it would be sensible for us to take a generous approach when legislating for people to be able to stay here, but the amendment, as drafted, does not suggest we do that. I think the Government could be more generous to EU nationals who are making their lives here than the amendment proposes—I think that would be welcome.

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