European Union Citizenship

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:06 pm on 7th March 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Matt Warman Matt Warman Conservative, Boston and Skegness 3:06 pm, 7th March 2018

It is a pleasure to be called so early in this debate and to be given a window into the world of my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke. It is a privilege, and I am enjoying it very much. Hywel Williams opened this debate by saying that his party has been shaped by the issue of Europe, and I say to him that it takes one to know one. The Conservative party has also been shaped by Europe, and my constituency has perhaps been shaped to a greater extent by Europe than almost any other.

I was pleased to hear the hon. Gentleman focus not on EU citizens’ rights in this country, but on the reciprocal rights for UK citizens. However, I am afraid that I will disappoint him to some extent, as others have, by focusing on the rights of EU citizens, although not entirely, because it is only fair to rebut some of what has been said recently. The Government brought in the Modern Slavery Act 2015 to combat some of the issues that have just been talked about, and we brought in the controlling migration fund at triple the level of the migration impact fund that was praised by Nick Thomas-Symonds. We should therefore not be ashamed of what we have achieved for the rights of migrant workers.

I should acknowledge the thoughtful issues of identity that the hon. Member for Arfon opened the debate with, because although my constituency may indeed have voted to leave the European Union more resoundingly than any other, it has to some extent been shaped by citizens of the European Union perhaps more than anywhere else. We have streets in Boston that are populated with shops that would otherwise be empty and are entirely focused on our new eastern European communities. That means that we are uniquely attuned to the issues of identity that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Let us think about why a constituency like mine voted so strongly. It was not a rejection of those EU rights nor of EU citizens as individuals. I do not wish to re-run the referendum again—not least because I was on a different side from my constituents—but it was not a rejection of those individuals. It was a rejection of a migration policy that had not worked for a constituency such as mine and of an approach that had been taken, in the minds of many of my constituents, by Brussels over many years that did not reflect the best interests of the United Kingdom as a whole.

When the hon. Gentleman talks about identity, I hope he bears it in mind that far more of my constituents have married into the communities that have arrived than is the case elsewhere. They have often formed relationships and have children in school—schools where pupils have one parent from England and one from a European Union country. That sense of identity is uniquely altered by the migration policy he talks about, and it means that my constituents have, if not a unique, perhaps a greater desire than others to be able to visit Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and all those countries with which we benefit from reciprocal rights.

None of my voters voted for British driving licences to no longer be valid on the continent or for us no longer to have the reciprocal rights we have enjoyed for so long. We, as a country, have had a full and blossoming relationship with Europe, and we would all acknowledge it is in the interests of both Europe and the UK to secure many of those things for the future. We should pay tribute to the negotiating position the Prime Minister set out last week in a pragmatic, sensible bid to try to secure some of the rights that the hon. Gentleman talked about.

We should also acknowledge that people voted in the referendum for a different set of circumstances after we leave, which inevitably means that we have to consider what those differences might look like. The Minister is right to say that the starting point has to be that we will no longer have precisely those rights in law when we leave. It is in tune with the Prime Minister’s pragmatic approach to say that we have to acknowledge that that is the case, and we have to ensure that we get the best possible outcome at the end of these negotiations.