As Hywel Williams mentioned earlier, I have personally discussed this issue with Guy Verhofstadt. I put it to him that we are negotiating with the Commission, so he needs to make that point to the Commission. If he wishes that to be part of the negotiations, it needs to be discussed in that context. After his meeting in Downing Street this week, Guy Verhofstadt said:
“I think it is possible in the coming days and coming weeks we make progress on this” issue for citizens
“and we can conclude on this…It should be fine that the citizens rights’
chapter is done, it is finished, it is concluded and everybody knows UK nationals and EU citizens know what their status is in the future.”
I welcome that statement.
Some colleagues have referred to rights that are not covered by the agreement we have reached so far—for example, the right of onward movement for UK nationals. The EU’s approach so far has been to say that it is not an issue that can be resolved in this phase of the negotiations, but we have had meetings on the topic with Members of the European Parliament, and I know that they are as keen as we are to secure that right. It is not something on which we have in any way given up.
Other colleagues, including Liz Saville Roberts, referred to the right to stand and vote in local and national elections. I stress that we wanted that right to continue—we would have liked it to be part of the citizens’ rights agreement—but the European Commission again ruled that it was outside the scope of the first stage of the negotiations. We have made a commitment to protect that right for EU citizens currently in the UK, and we want to that to be reciprocated. A number of member states already have provisions allowing nationals of a third country to vote in local elections, and we will continue to explore that with other member states bilaterally.
Anna McMorrin mentioned plans to legislate to enable UK citizens living overseas for more than 15 years to retain their right to vote. I am sure that, like me, she welcomed the Government’s support for legislation of this nature just the Friday before last.
As the House will be aware, we are seeking to agree an implementation period of about two years beyond the date of our exit. The purpose of such a period is to give people, businesses and public services in the UK and across the EU the time they need to put in place new arrangements that will be required to adjust to our future partnership. I want to be clear that, during this implementation period, we intend that people will be able to come to the UK to live, study and work, as they do now. We are discussing the precise terms of the implementation period with the EU and we aim to reach agreement by the March European Council.