European Union Citizenship

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:33 pm on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Plaid Cymru, Ceredigion 3:33 pm, 7th March 2018

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes an important point about unnecessarily limiting the horizons of UK citizens. That is the point I am trying to make, and I wholeheartedly agree with him.

As I mentioned, this is perhaps not a legal issue but more a question of political will. The will of the public—in particular, their support for such a measure—is quite clear. As my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon mentioned in his opening remarks, according to research led by the London School of Economics and Opinium in July 2017, of those Britons asked, six out of 10 wanted to keep their EU citizenship after Brexit, and they particularly wanted to keep the rights to live, work, study and travel within the EU. Support for the retention of those rights is particularly strong among 18 to 24-year-olds, of whom 85% want to retain their EU citizenship in addition to their British citizenship.

In October 2017, a further report was published by the LSE on youth perspectives and priorities for the Brexit negotiations. Focus groups revealed widespread fear and frustration. Prime among young people’s concerns were questions regarding the loss of their EU benefits, including their ability to gain access to educational programmes, opportunities to work and travel in Europe, and rights that they have once they are there.

Ceredigion, the constituency that I have the honour of serving, was one of the handful of Welsh areas that voted to remain. Indeed, prior to the referendum, Ceredigion was widely reported to be one of the most Europhile counties in the whole United Kingdom. To put it bluntly, my constituency did not support leaving the EU and most certainly did not give any Government a mandate to deny its citizens the rights and freedoms that membership of the EU ensures, or, as Jeremy Lefroy said, a mandate to limit their horizons and opportunities in comparison with citizens of other European states.

As has been mentioned, the question of the future status of the rights bestowed on UK citizens by EU membership will not disappear; rather, it will grow in both prominence and importance as negotiations progress. A lot has been made of the clarity, or lack thereof, of EU law on the status of the rights of UK citizens after we have left, but I wish to draw attention to international law. European law and its founding treaties may offer a clear interpretation one way, but the reverse is equally clear in international law. If anything, the 1969 Vienna convention on the law of treaties means that it is incumbent on both the UK and the EU to address this matter of future status urgently, for even if article 70(1)(b) of the convention is interpreted in such a way that the withdrawal of a member state from the EU extinguishes the rights of individuals created by the founding treaties, international law would still require that a treaty is agreed on the future status of such rights.

Associate European citizenship is a model that the UK Government could adopt and pursue. As well as affording UK citizens the ability to continue to enjoy the rights and freedoms they currently do, it would safeguard the dormant rights of younger generations, and, perhaps most importantly of all, grant generations yet to be born the same opportunities from which those of us present here today have been able to benefit.