European Union Citizenship

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:53 pm on 7th March 2018.

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Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Foreign Intervention), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:53 pm, 7th March 2018

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. This debate is so serious that it needs to be debated in a very reasonable, calm and rational manner, as we have seen in the House today.

Most people have been extremely supportive of what we are suggesting, but others have seen the campaign as a plot to undermine the referendum result, which could not of course be further from the truth. What we are proposing is that, as part of the negotiations, the British Government make the case that those of us who wish to keep our current rights are able to do so, while those who wish to renounce their rights would also be able to do so if they so wished. If the British Government are serious about healing the wounds of the referendum, I argue that they should pursue such an initiative with vigour, because it could unite everybody in every part of the British state.

The key point is that the rights we currently enjoy under the Maastricht treaty do not in any way challenge or undermine our rights as subjects of the British state. This point was made with vigour by my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion. They are additional rights, and any action by a Government to take away those rights is an extremely serious matter. It is therefore no wonder that this issue is now before the courts in Europe.

As someone who fundamentally believes in Welsh independence, I recognise that, following the political freedom of my country, there will be a requirement to protect the rights currently enjoyed by the people of our respective countries, as was of course the case following Irish independence. I think that answers the point raised by Paul Masterton—he is no longer in his place—in his intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Arfon.

In his article in The New European at the weekend, Professor Volker Roeben, who was formerly of the University of Swansea but now works in Dundee in Scotland—I am delighted to see him here—makes the case quite clearly that international and EU law should protect our current EU citizenship from Brexit. I understand that legal opinions differ and I readily admit that I am no legal expert, but he makes a compelling case. I would like to finish my speech by quoting him at some length. He said:

“Of course, a member state is free to terminate its membership for the future, but it cannot extinguish the citizenships that have already been created and the rights that have been exercised—these continue. This status cannot not be taken away neither by the European Union nor by one of its member states.

This is also the impetus of the international law of treaties laid down in the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. This international law will be binding on the EU, the UK and the remaining member states after Brexit. It governs in considerable detail the consequences that the withdrawal of a state from any treaty, including the Founding Treaties, entail.

One consequence is that the treaty ceases to bind, but the other is that the withdrawal must not have retroactive effect on the rights of individuals already created at the time of withdrawal.”

This results in a challenge to the European Commission and, as I readily admit, to the British Government. My understanding is that the European Parliament is far more understanding of the case than the Commission. If this is the case, then MEPs will have an important role in scrutinising the negotiating tactics of Mr Barnier and his team. At the end of the day, as Professor Roeben states, it is a matter of political will. I hope that, following this debate, Parliament will support the motion and mandate the British Government to negotiate a protection of the rights we all currently enjoy as European citizens.