Power to notify withdrawal from the EU

Part of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 13th March 2017.

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Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green 6:00 pm, 13th March 2017

Under your instructions, Mr Speaker, I am going to be brief. I want to deal specifically with the first amendment—I thought the second amendment was well dealt with by my right hon. Friends the Members for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) and for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper).

We have heard a lot in this debate, and we heard a lot in the other place, about the emotional end of what it is to give EU citizens some kind of reassurance, and I myself am publicly on the record as saying I would like to have done that by this point. However, I remind people that we also have UK citizens. The ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats, Mr Clegg, rightly went on about his own family, but I have a sister who has lived and worked in Italy pretty much all her life, and she has retired there. It behoves this place not to dismiss the concerns and worries of such UK citizens quite as lightly as they were dismissed in the other place and have been dismissed here today. I actually heard it said from the Opposition Benches that the reason we should not be so concerned about those UK citizens is that many of them are older and, therefore, pensioners, so they are less important. That is wrong, and I encourage the Government to stick to their plans to deal with the two issues together.

However, the thing about the amendment is that it is not actually what all this emotional argument is about. For those who want to guarantee these rights, this is not the amendment for doing so—it actually does the exact opposite, and that is for two reasons. First, it does not reassure EU nationals over here. I have had conversations with various EU nationals, and they do not feel in the slightest bit reassured by the idea that we are going to call the Government back three months after we have triggered article 50 to ask them what they plan to do. That is no reassurance, and it does not give EU nationals their rights, so we are not voting to reassure them at all.

The second element is that the amendment actually damages the Government’s position in the negotiations. Let us imagine there has been no agreement about what to do with UK citizens. On the three-month mark, the European Commission knows full well that the Government will be dragged back to the House to explain publicly what their plans are, regardless of the negotiations. I can think of nothing worse than to bind their hands in the worst way possible and make sure that UK nationals do not get reciprocal arrangements.

My point tonight is that, whatever the realities of what people want, neither amendment satisfies the requirement to protect EU nationals or to give this Parliament a meaningful vote without damaging the prospects for the Government’s negotiations. I urge the House not to vote for the amendments, and I remind those on the Opposition Benches who talk endlessly about parliamentary sovereignty that, for the 25 years I have sat in this place, all the arguments about the EU have been dismissed on the basis that we were not allowed to amend a single European treaty.

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