European Union Citizenship

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:44 pm on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Liz Saville-Roberts Liz Saville-Roberts Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Women and Equalities) , Plaid Cymru Westminster Leader, Shadow PC Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:44 pm, 7th March 2018

Diolch yn fawr iawn, Mr Dirprwy Lefarydd. It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend Ben Lake, and I thank my hon. Friend Hywel Williams for his introduction to the debate.

I start by stating the obvious. We are not subjects; we are citizens, and as such we are individuals who consent to the rule of Government. The Government rule in accordance with the will of the citizens. We are citizens and we are individuals, and Brexit has consequences for our lives as individuals whether we voted to leave or to remain. I echo exactly what my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion said: surely this debate offers an opportunity to heal divisions within our society and to respect both sides of the referendum vote divide, by respecting individuals and permitting them to choose.

As individuals, we stand to lose our heritage as European citizens—a heritage we might not even have been aware was in our possession, a family treasure forgotten at the back of the display cabinet and about to be discarded in the bitter acrimony of divorce. It is to my surprise that it has taken an Opposition day debate initiated by Plaid Cymru to focus in depth on the wide-reaching implication of the loss we face, and I would like to take the opportunity to thank Professor Volker Roeben and my colleague Jill Evans MEP, who have highlighted both the desirability and the legality of our rights as European citizens, and to thank the thousands who have signed Plaid Cymru’s petition in the past two days.

However—this needs to be emphasised, and we need to use the language of Brexit—Brexit must not mean treating individual citizens as vassals, under obligation to our political masters, who might strip us of our citizenship at their whim. It is worth all of us who are speaking in favour of this proposal emphasising that it is clearly permissible in international law. Citizens’ rights are not the Government’s gift to trade, according to the 1969 Vienna convention on treaties. While an EU member state is democratically free to terminate its EU membership, it cannot extinguish the individual status of citizenship, nor its associated rights, without the consent of the individual.

Is there a precedent for this? We have heard a number of precedents already, and I should like to focus on one. We have lived with it for so long that we possibly do not really appreciate or see its value. Following the creation of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State—now, of course, the Republic of Ireland—politicians debated the implications of how where people lived affected their rights as citizens. Irish citizens who reside in the UK while still remaining Irish citizens enjoy all the benefits of UK citizenship, including the freedom to take up residence and employment in the UK. Irish citizens can play a full part in UK political life, including voting in parliamentary elections and seeking membership of this House. The Republic of Ireland also offers citizenship to all residents of the island of Ireland, and people who are citizens of the UK are entitled to residency in Ireland without any conditions or restrictions. Unlike citizens of other countries, UK citizens are not subject to Ireland’s Aliens Act 1935. That means that a UK citizen does not need a visa or any form of residence permit or employment permit in Ireland. We are entitled to move to Ireland from any country, and we may move to Ireland to work or to retire.