I thank Hywel Williams for his typically thoughtful comments, and also congratulate him on having managed to get through his entire speech with a very difficult throat—which I thought improved as time went on.
I welcome this opportunity to debate the Government’s policy on EU citizenship after the UK leaves the European Union. EU citizens in the UK make a significant contribution to our national life and we want them and their families to stay.
From the very beginning, the Prime Minister has been clear that safeguarding the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU was her first priority for our negotiations. We have now delivered on that commitment and have reached an agreement with our EU partners on citizens’ rights. The agreement was set out as part of a joint report issued on
The agreement will protect citizens who have been exercising free movement rights at the time of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. All family members living lawfully with a qualifying citizen at this point are also protected, and close family members can continue to join qualifying citizens on EU law terms after exit. We have agreed with the EU that we will introduce a new settled status scheme under UK law for EU citizens and their family members covered by the agreement. Those who have already had five years of continuous residence in the UK will be eligible to apply for settled status. Others will be able to remain in the UK to build up their five years’ residence.
The scheme, which will open for applications by the end of 2018, is being designed and built from scratch. The application system will be streamlined and user-friendly, and will draw on existing Government data to minimise the burden on applicants to provide evidence. We are engaging with stakeholders who represent EU citizens in the UK, as well as separate diaspora groups in the UK, to discuss and understand their needs for the settlement scheme. I thank those who have already participated and shown willingness to engage, particularly the EU ambassadors who have beaten a path to my door to explain how they can assist. Our next priority is to turn the December agreement into binding legal text for the withdrawal agreement.