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

I am grateful for that intervention, and I wonder whether the way this operates in Ireland might be a model for an opt-in pattern for us to think about if we take this issue through to the next stage of making practical considerations.

Unlike other EU citizens, UK citizens may retire to Ireland without having to establish whether we have sufficient resources or are in possession of health insurance. In fact, if we are visiting Ireland we do not even need a European health insurance card to get healthcare services—only a passport or some form of identification to prove UK citizenship.

Interestingly, that did not happen without parliamentary debate and intervention 96 years ago, much of it initiated, interestingly, by the Conservatives and Unionists of that time. I quote from Hansard of 26 June 1922, when Colonel John Gretton—Conservative, Burton—asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies

“whether acceptance of the status of a citizen of the Irish Free State, under…Clause 3 of the suggested Constitution for Southern Ireland,” would deprive

“the person so accepting of his rights as a British subject in Ireland”.

To which Mr Winston Churchill—for it was he—replied:

“The answer is in the negative.”

Mr Gideon Oliphant-Murray, a Unionist MP from Glasgow, pressed the question:

“Is it not a fact that a citizen of a British Dominion is, ipso facto, a British subject?”

To which Mr Churchill replied:

“So will he be in the Irish Free State.”

Mr Oliphant-Murray:

“That is not the case.”

But Mr Churchill was having nothing of it:

“It is the case.”—[Official Report, 26 June 1922;
Vol. 155, c. 1663.]

If Winston Churchill felt the need to ensure that individuals should not be stripped of their wished-for citizenship in 1922, surely Conservative Members are honour-bound and loyalty-bound to respect the citizens of 2018 in a similar fashion. All it took was an expression of will on the part of the Conservatives and Unionists of the time and the rights to vote for the Westminster Parliament, as well as the rights of abode and work, were safeguarded. Political will was also brought to bear in relation to Hong Kong, with the British Nationality (Hong Kong) Act 1990 and the subsequent 1997 Act, which allowed non-Chinese ethnic minorities to acquire full British citizenship.

I raise these as examples of political need but also flexibility, initiative and a respect for the individual caught up in the crossfire of state game-playing. This is a matter of political will, indicative of what the Government respect—the simplistic legal interpretation of Brexit zealots, which just so happens to bolster an ideological adherence, or the quiet right of citizens to express their will in accordance with international law. I wonder whether the Government took the opportunity to raise this matter with Guy Verhofstadt when he visited yesterday, and who I note also supports our proposal.

This is not an abstract concept or a nicety of legalese. My daughter Lowri has been able to action her right to live and work in France and Spain without constraint, just as I, somewhat longer ago, was able to action my right to study alongside Irish students in Ireland. I speak for many, many of my constituents when I say that we are proud to exercise our rights as citizens of Wales and citizens of Europe. The state may present its citizens with a referendum and then seek to interpret the frankly uninterpretable result, but it may not strip us of our rights. How our laws are made may change, but that does not give this place the legitimacy to interfere with my children’s rights as autonomous individual citizens. What of those young people who were not of an age to vote in 2016? Who are we to say that they may not have the choice that was tacitly agreed in the newly forged relationship with Ireland back in 1922—the choice to opt into a layered citizenship that reflects their individual choice of identity, as Welsh, Scottish, English, and European?

Anyone with a grasp of the history of Wales will know that our country’s very name in English deliberately implies two things: first, that we are different—foreign. But the root of the word was used by the Anglo-Saxons not only to imply foreign, but to imply Roman associations. Wales’s links with Europe are indivisible from the name imposed on us. Not all of us will recall that we were citizens of Rome 1,600 years ago, but many of us would remain European citizens in the 21st century.