While we are confident about agreeing a good deal for both sides, as a responsible Government we will continue to prepare for all scenarios, including the unlikely outcome that we leave the EU without any deal in March 2019. We have reached an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights that will protect EU citizens and their family members who are resident in the UK until the end of the planned implementation period on
We are introducing the EU settlement scheme under UK immigration law for resident EU citizens and their family members covered by the draft withdrawal agreement. That will enable those who are resident in the UK before the end of the planned implementation period to confirm their status under the settlement scheme. Anyone who already has five years’ continuous residence in the UK when they apply under the scheme will be eligible to apply for settled status. Those who have not yet reached the point of five years’ continuous residence will be eligible to be granted pre-settled status, and will be able to apply for settled status once they have reached that point.
The Prime Minister has already confirmed that, in the unlikely event of no deal, all EU citizens who are resident here by
Unfortunately, the Minister did not give us the clarity that we need. Nor did she clear up the confusion from last week, which I had hoped she would do, especially at a time when there is considerable concern for EU citizens, as well as practical concerns for employers about what arrangements will apply in April, May and June next year if no deal takes place.
I welcome the Government’s commitment to respect the rights of those currently living here, who will be able to stay and work as now, but I am still none the wiser about what checks will apply to those EU citizens in the event of no deal. The Minister and the Home Office officials suggested to us that there would be additional employer checks, and also that free movement would be turned off in March. However, the Home Secretary has told the media that in fact there will be a transition period, and that there will be no additional checks for employers if there is no deal.
Will the Minister tell us whether there will be additional employer checks on EU citizens immediately after no deal—yes or no? Will she confirm that EU citizens will not have to provide anything other than a passport or an identity card in order to be able to work? Will she also tell us whether that will then apply until the completion of the roll-out of the EU settlement scheme, which is due to be completed in June 2021? If not, what on earth are EU citizens supposed to provide as proof of their right to work before June 2021 if the settlement scheme has not been completed?
The Minister and the Home Office have now said that there is no way of differentiating between EU citizens arriving here for the first time and those who have been here for many years. Will the Minister confirm that newly arriving EU citizens will also not have to provide anything other than a passport or an ID card, and that they will continue to be able to work under the same arrangements, also until June 2021?
Those are basic questions that the Home Office really should be able to answer. If the facts are not as I have put them to the Minister, she should be able to tell us what the alternative facts are, what alternative information and proof EU citizens are supposed to provide, and what alternative questions employers are supposed to ask. The clock is ticking, and there are only five months left. Surely the Home Office has a grip of those basic questions.
I thank the right hon. Lady for affording me the opportunity to clarify this point. Employers will of course continue to need to check passports or ID cards—as they do now for EU citizens, and indeed for British citizens, when making a new job offer. We will not be asking employers to differentiate even if there is no deal, and the right hon. Lady will of course be conscious that we are working hard to secure a deal. The Prime Minister has been very clear, as indeed has the Brexit Secretary, that we will honour our commitment to EU citizens and their family members, and more information will be set out in due course, with a specific statement on citizens from the Brexit Secretary, who of course wishes to make clear that people are incredibly important and should not simply be reliant on a technical notice.
My question is twofold. First, can the Minister give us the timelines under which she expects to be setting out further details? Secondly—this is important for London constituencies like mine, which have a high number of EU workers and businesses that rely on EU workers—can she confirm that this step will be taken in a spirit of understanding that recruitment will be made in good faith by employers and should the rules then be set in a different way to what they had anticipated, that will be borne in mind in relation to fines and any other action that can be currently taken against employers employing people illegally?
My right hon. Friend is right to point out the high numbers of EU citizens in her constituency and indeed employers’ reliance upon them. That is why it is important that we have a reasonable and sensible transition period that gives us time to make sure that any new immigration system sets out the requirements very clearly so that there can be certainty for individuals, and indeed for employers.
Is the Minister aware of the very real distress that this confusion over policy, which the Home Office had to correct, has caused to over 3.5 million EU citizens resident in this country—and not just to them, but to their families, dependents and employers? On a related matter, does the Minister remember her reply to a written question in June when she said that providing DNA evidence would be entirely voluntary? Yet the Home Secretary recently had to come before the House and correct that and apologise for the immigration and nationality department imposing mandatory DNA testing. So does the Minister accept that as we move towards leaving the EU this type of confusion over policy is simply not acceptable? It is not just the good faith of Government that she is calling into question, but it is people’s lives that we are playing with? Finally, does the Minister accept that it is simply not good enough to come before this House and talk about further information being provided in due course? There are five months to go and the clock is ticking, and we want no further confusions of this nature.
The right hon. Lady will of course know that the full Alcock report is in the House of Commons Library and it sets out very clearly the information regarding the parliamentary question to which she has referred. She also referred to the 3.5 million citizens already in this country: the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Brexit Secretary and indeed myself have been very clear that we want those people to stay, and by opening the EU settled status scheme, which we have done now in private beta testing phase 2, we are already putting in place steps that have enabled in the region of 1,000 people to confirm their status.
It is very important that the Government are generous and treat properly everybody who has come here lawfully up until the day that we leave, but does my right hon. Friend agree that it is also extremely important that, once we have left, we take back control of our borders?
Citizens need clarity, and many are here in Parliament today precisely because they have not had it—and, I regret to say, still do not have it. Unilateral guarantees are welcome, but do not provide a complete answer. Do the Government support a ring-fencing of the citizens’ rights provisions in the withdrawal agreement, so that they can be enforced under international law even after a no deal? Is that not the most obvious and best solution to pursue? Has that been discussed at all in negotiations so far? If not, would those unilateral rights be totally unprotected from unilateral change via the immigration rules, and how would pension rights be protected, and rights to access healthcare, or mutual recognition of professional qualifications? Finally, if there is a no deal Brexit, will the scope and the rights set out for the settled status scheme be just as they are now, or would there be changes—for example, will those short of five years still be able to obtain pre-settled status, and how will people be able to challenge Home Office decisions?
The hon. Gentleman is right. Citizens need clarity, and that is why this Government have set it out, not only in the citizens’ rights agreement but in the settled status scheme, which, as I have said, is now open in one of its private beta testing phases. Phase 1 went very well, and phase 2 is now under way. After a firebreak over Christmas, we will be opening it up in phase 3. To me, it is obvious that the best solution is to ensure that these rights are enshrined in UK immigration law, which is what we are going to do.
My right hon. Friend will know that around one in seven of my constituents are EU nationals. That is possibly the highest proportion in the country. In my experience, most of them are very appreciative of the guarantees given by the Government so far. Nevertheless, most of them had no reasonable expectation that they would ever have to clarify their immigration status. Will my right hon. Friend make it clear that we will treat those cases sensitively and individually? I have quite a few cases involving people who have been here for perhaps 20 years and have strong roots in this country, but who have spent some time abroad during the past five years, for example.
UK Visas and Immigration is already on-boarding significantly increased numbers of caseworkers for the European Economic Area casework that will flow through from the settled status scheme. It is important that individuals are given as easy a journey as possible through the process and, to date, 95% of those who have completed the settled status process have found it easy to do so. My right hon. Friend makes an important point, however. We want to be in a position to support individuals through the process, and to have a “computer says yes” attitude rather than a “computer says no” attitude. People will only have to demonstrate that they have been in the UK, which will in many cases be done best by sharing HMRC records with the Home Office.
If the UK leaves the EU in March with no deal, and if, as the Minister has told the House this afternoon, employers will not be required to make any additional checks other than asking for an EU passport, she has in effect told the House that free movement will continue after we have left the European Union. Will she now address the question that the Chair of the Select Committee asked her: how long will that situation continue? To many of us, it seems that it will have to continue until such time as an application process for settled status is completed, because only at that point will an employer be able to distinguish between someone who has settled status and someone who arrived the previous day carrying an EU passport.
As my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated, we are seeking a sensible transition period that will enable the Home Office to ensure that these cases can be caseworked. The Prime Minister has been very clear that free movement will end—[Interruption.] We will in due course set out the future immigration system, which will enable there to be further clarity.
Will the Government legislate, before our departure from the EU on
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. As I have said, free movement will end, and over the next few weeks we will set out the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill.
Order. This is rather unseemly. Members must not harangue the Minister. She is addressing the House with great courtesy; let us hear her answer.
My right hon. Friend and constituency neighbour makes an important point. At every opportunity, Ministers raise both with the EU and our counterparts in the EU27 the important factor of UK citizens lawfully residing in other EU member states. There is of course huge concern that we have made a generous offer to EU citizens, and let me be clear that we want them to stay here and that we regard them as part of our community. It is time for the EU to step up to the plate and say what it is doing for British citizens.
As I have said, the parliamentary timetable for the immigration Bill will be coming forward in the next few weeks. Our White Paper will set out the future skills-based immigration system, as the Prime Minister indicated at the recent Conservative party conference, which will be based on people’s ability and what they can offer to our country, not on where they come from.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that question. Deciding who can vote in UK elections is a Cabinet Office competence. EU citizens currently have the right to vote in local elections and that will prevail until there is a change in primary legislation. However, such matters are for future discussion and negotiation, and I cannot set them out today.
Before I ask the Minister a question, Mr Speaker, I want to bring something to your attention. There are many EU citizens in Parliament today who were keen to hear this urgent question, but they are being told that the Gallery is full and that they cannot get in to watch proceedings. The Gallery is obviously not full, so I wanted to make you aware of that to see whether we can get a message to the Doorkeepers.
The Gallery is manifestly not full, and it would be much better if it were full. I hope that it will speedily become full in conformity with the wishes expressed by the hon. Gentleman, which I think would be endorsed across the House.
Indeed, many of those EU citizens are here today because of the complete chaos and their worry about their futures, many of them having contributed to our society for decades. They are concerned about their immigration status, their right to work and their families here. Will the Minister admit that she gave incorrect evidence to the Home Affairs Committee the other day? Will she tell us how many EU citizens have already left the UK due to uncertainty around their status?
The hon. Gentleman is clearly a huge box-office draw if there are people outside still wanting to get in. He makes an important point—[Interruption.] If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, it is important to say, as set out by the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and, indeed, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union in his appearance at the House of Lords EU Select Committee on
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There will be individuals who come and go. Through the settled status scheme, we are seeking to give people every opportunity to evidence their time in the UK by working with other Departments to cross-reference HMRC or Department for Work and Pensions records, for example. It is important to make a scheme that is easy for people to go through and that encourages those EU citizens who have contributed so much to our country to stay here. We want them to stay.
The hon. Lady makes an important point, and the family reunion rights that have been set out in the withdrawal agreement are very important. We know that many EU citizens may have caring responsibilities or, indeed, children in a home country who might yet seek to come over. Those rights are enshrined in the offer we have made, and it is important that we continue to honour that offer and, indeed, work with those individuals so that they find going through the process as easy as possible.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend should declare an interest. Of course, EU nationals who are living here will need to go through the settled status scheme to make sure they have access to pension rights and settled status rights, as I have set out. Of course it is important that anyone who has been here for five years can apply for settled status straightaway, and those who have been here for less than five years will be able to apply for pre-settled status and can then apply for settled status once they have been here for five years.
Telling people that they are welcome just sounds hollow, given the terrible treatment meted out to Commonwealth citizens who were also once told that they were welcome but who did not have documents that they did not know they were supposed to have. What does the Minister think I should say to my EU constituents in Bristol West who, frankly, have no confidence at all in the Government’s proposals?
People who go through the settled status scheme will be given a digital status so they can evidence that they have been through the scheme. I am very conscious—I believe I said this to the Home Affairs Committee last week—that there will be children born between now and
Does my right hon. Friend agree that EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK continue to make a great contribution to our country? I sincerely hope that she agrees with me, because my father is one of them. He came here as an economic migrant just over 50 years ago, and he is not in any way unduly concerned about his status when we leave the EU.
I thank my hon. Friend for drawing on his family experience. One of the most important things we can do to demonstrate our commitment is to open a settled status scheme, and we have done that. The scheme opened in August for the first private beta-testing phase, and we are now in phase 2. There will be a third phase in January after a firebreak so that we can check that the scheme is working as we would want. I am delighted that we have already seen in the region of 1,000 people granted settled status.
My constituent Robin Adams is a British citizen and an EU citizen, as we all are at the moment. He is working as a lecturer in Sweden, and does not know whether he will be able to continue his work in Sweden or, if he returns, whether his wife, a US citizen, would be able to come back with him. He faces losing his home, his job and his family. What reassurance can the Minister offer him?
The hon. Lady will have heard my answer earlier, and there continues to be ongoing work with European counterparts and the EU to make sure that they offer the same clarity and simple status that we have offered for EU citizens who are living here.
The hon. Lady refers to her constituent’s US wife and, of course, under the Surinder Singh rules she will already be eligible to come here with him if they have been living in an EU state for a significant period of time.
It is an important principle, as has been set out repeatedly, that we wish to be an outward-looking trading nation post-Brexit. It is important, in my view, that we continue to allow EU citizens to use e-passport gates. Many hon. Members will have heard the Chancellor’s commitment in last week’s Budget to open up e-passport gates to further cohorts of nationalities. Of course, on day one of Brexit people will still be able to use their passport at e-passport gates as they travel into the UK.
I wonder whether the Minister can answer for me the question already put by my hon. Friend Paul Blomfield about the charges for EU citizens who have been trafficked here. What assessment has the Home Office made of the number of women trafficked for sex from Romania and whether we will now be charging them for the fact that they have been abused?
The hon. Lady raises an important and serious point about victims of trafficking or modern slavery, and the issue has been raised with me. We have already made an offer that children in care should not have to pay the fee, we are looking very closely at this issue and I thank her for raising it.
Will the Minister reassure me that she intends to take control of our borders—that was so important to so many in the referendum—while continuing to attract the brightest, the best and the needed? That is so important to employers in my constituency, especially agriculturalists, the tourism trade and the care industry.
My hon. Friend points out the importance of controlling our own borders and being able to bring forward, for the first time in more than a generation, an immigration policy that will enable us to determine who comes here based on their skills, not on their nationality. It is a really important point that we should continue to be able to attract the brightest and the best, and we will be setting out full details of the future immigration policy in a White Paper, and indeed an immigration Bill, coming very soon.
At the moment, many, many British people living in EU countries are very apprehensive about their future. They currently have EU citizenship rights, which they will lose if there is a no deal in March next year. What can the Minister say to reassure them? Is it not absurd that EU citizens in this country will have some protection, under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, but British people in the EU will have no protection whatsoever in the event of no deal?
I would like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that we are working hard to ensure that there is a deal, but he raises an important point, which I think I have addressed a couple of times already. This country has made an offer to EU citizens and we have made it very clear that we want them to stay, but the same cannot be said of some of our European counterparts. This matter is pressed with Ministers at every available opportunity, and indeed with ambassadors and the EU, because it is important that British citizens living in the EU27, the majority of whom are in France and Spain, are afforded the protections to which we believe they are entitled under the withdrawal agreement.
About a third of my constituents came from eastern Europe over the past 10 to 15 years. They should take heart from the settled status scheme, but they deserve clarity as soon as possible and they often look to their own embassies rather than to the UK state. Will the Minister work with those embassies to get information to these people as quickly as possible from those sources and, crucially, in their own languages?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. I have already met a number of ambassadors, particularly those from central and eastern European countries, impressing upon them the importance of communicating with the diaspora populations—and they do that. As I have travelled the country over the past few months and talked to EU citizens, particularly those employed in agriculture, I have been interested to find that many of them have already received communications on this subject and that they are very confident about how they should go through the settled status process.
I thank the Minister for her statement so far. She will understand the uncertainty in the agri-food sector in Northern Ireland, particularly in my constituency. The sector depends on and functions greatly because of EU citizens who have been here for years—they have worked, married and bought their homes here, and their children go to school here. Will she give the EU workers and the employers much-needed assurance?
The hon. Gentleman may not be aware that back in the summer the Home Office issued the employers’ toolkit, which gives them the ability to disseminate information to their employees and explains the process of the settled status scheme to them. As he will have heard, we have already opened the scheme to some small cohorts of EU citizens who are already living here. In the past few days, we have opened it up much more widely, so that EU citizens employed in NHS trusts and within the universities sector will be going through phase 2. It is important to us that we get the settled status scheme right and in putting people through it—those 1,000 people who have already gained status—we can provide evidence of the commitment we have made and demonstrate to others that it was a simple and straightforward process.
Is the Immigration Minister seriously saying that with just five months to go until we leave the European Union, the EU has not made clear what the rights of UK nationals will be in the EU on Brexit day? Given the huge contribution that UK citizens make to European countries, does she share my outrage at this callous disregard for the lives and futures of UK citizens who live in the EU?
I am conscious that in the time I have been the Immigration Minister we have got the settled status scheme up and running, having designed completely from scratch a whole new digital system. I wish that I could see a similar commitment made among the EU27 or in the EU Commission as a whole, because it is important that there should be confidence for those British citizens who live in EU27 countries.
Many EU citizens in Torbay will be listening to this debate and wondering what the future is for them. Does the Minister agree that they should be reassured that although the Government’s goal is to get a deal, if they do not, EU citizens’ rights will be protected, so they should dismiss some of the scaremongering that we have heard?
One of the most important parts of that guarantee is to demonstrate that we are already putting EU citizens through the settled status scheme. We have opened it up to a much larger cohort and, between now and the end of the year, in the region of 250,000 to 350,000 people will be eligible to go through the scheme. I should say that I do not anticipate our hitting that level of numbers, but we will be able to test the scheme at an enormous scale. It is important that we have made that commitment and we want EU citizens to stay.
Many of the EU citizens who live in my constituency live in rural and even remote areas. They may not be aware of the support and advice that is available, or they may have difficulty accessing it. What steps will the Home Office take to make sure that EU residents in rural communities are made aware of the support available?
My hon. Friend makes an important point about rural communities and remote areas. I referred earlier to the employers’ toolkit, and I am conscious that many EU citizens may get information from their employer. I reassure my hon. Friend that a large-scale communication plan will indeed come into play when the settled status scheme is opened more widely.
In the event of no deal, will free movement end on
The lives of hundreds of thousands of EU citizens in the UK have been blighted by this shambolic Brexit. Does the Minister agree that by ring-fencing EU citizens’ rights now and paying for their settled status applications, we might go some way towards healing the hurt that has been inflicted on them as a result of Brexit and by this Government?
I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman of the outcome of the referendum, when the British people voted for Brexit. The Government have a duty to uphold the British people’s wishes. As I have said this afternoon, the settled status scheme is already open in its testing mode and has already conferred on more than 1,000 people their settled status.
I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was listening earlier when I said that the Home Office has delivered a settled status scheme that is up and running. Telling EU citizens that there is now a process for them to go through where they can confirm their status is exactly the sort of reassurance that we must give to them. Sadly, that is something that we have not seen across the rest of the EU.
According to UK Music’s recent Measuring Music report, the UK music industry exports rose by 7% to a record £2.6 billion last year. With
I am delighted to celebrate the increased exports of UK music and the phenomenal work that our artists, their producers, their tour companies and so on have managed to achieve over the past few years. It is important, as I have previously said, that we have a future immigration system. We are setting out the parliamentary timetable in due course and a White Paper will be published very shortly, which will clarify these matters.
There are 1,500 EU nationals doing essential work for the Imperial College Healthcare Trust. In addition to having to go through the bureaucracy to get what they regard as second-class settled status, they would normally be charged a fee for that. The hospital trust itself will now pay at least £100,000 of that, which they have to do in order to retain these essential staff. Why should a trust, which is having real revenue and capital problems, have to pay that money? Why will the Government not pay that money?
I do not know whether the Minister is aware just how ludicrous it sounds to keep talking about bringing forward clarification “in due course” when we have just 20 weeks to go. She keeps repeating the fact that 1,000 EU citizens have so far gone through the settled status scheme, which I calculate is 0.03%. Will she tell us exactly how many people she expects to have achieved settled status before the end of March 2019?
I hope to be able to explain to the hon. Lady that, of course, the settled status scheme opened in private beta testing. When we introduce a new large-scale scheme of this type, it is really important that we do so in a controlled way, which is why it has been only small numbers to date. As she will have heard me say, we are opening it up currently to in the region of 250,000 to 350,000 individuals employed by NHS trusts or indeed by the university sector. We know that there are 3.5 million people whom we wish to go through this scheme, and it is therefore really important that we get the testing right, and, of course, the scheme will be open until December 2020.
As well as “in due course”, the Minister has also used the phrases, “as soon as possible”, “shortly”, “very shortly”, and “in the next few weeks”. Does she understand that those phrases are meaningless and just further undermine the confidence of people who are affected by our leaving the EU on
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary indicated that the White Paper will be coming forward in the autumn. The hon. Gentleman will be able to work out that we are in the autumn now, so perhaps he can have greater confidence that, when I say soon, I mean soon. However, he raises the 3.5 million EU citizens that we want to go through the settled status scheme to confirm the rights that we have offered to them. Of course, they have those rights, and that is not dependent on the future immigration system. We have opened the settled status scheme now to the testing cohorts and will be opening it more widely in the new year.
The Immigration Minister has confirmed that there will be transitional arrangements for EU citizens even in the event of no deal. How long will those transitional arrangements last? Last week, I was treated by a nurse from Romania who had been here for many, many years, but she has asked her landlord to reduce her tenancy to a six-month rolling contract because she is terrified—in her words—that she will be “kicked out”.
The Prime Minister, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have all made it very clear that there will be no removals of EU citizens; we want them to stay. They are welcome here and they play an important role not just in our communities, but in our health service, as the hon. Lady pointed out. The settled status scheme is open in its testing phase and we will open it fully in the new year, but it is really important that we convey a message to everyone that we want EU citizens to stay. Seeking to sow seeds of uncertainty and division is actually really unhelpful to them.
The right hon. Gentleman started his question with, “If Brexit happens”. Let me reassure him that Brexit is happening. Of course, the matters to which he refers will be set out in the future immigration system.
May I push the Minister for a simple yes or no answer? After March, in the event of a no deal, will EU nationals arriving in the UK for the first time be able to live and work without any additional checks in exactly the same way as EU nationals living here are now?