EU Withdrawal Agreement

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of Stuart McDonald Stuart McDonald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Immigration, Asylum and Border Control) 4:33 pm, 18th December 2018

I will start by trying to perform something of a Christmas miracle by striking a note of consensus for just a moment. I am sure that hon. Members from across the House would want to join me in marking International Migrants Day. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] It was not that painful, then. It is a day for thanking our migrant family members, friends and neighbours for everything they have brought into our lives, and for committing ourselves to ensuring that all who have made this country their home can live full and happy lives, free from anti-migrant prejudice and discrimination.

In that spirit, I thought I would use my speech to take a slightly different tack and suggest how the Prime Minister might just be able to salvage one meaningful thing from ongoing talks with Brussels—something that could bring a bit of peace of mind to the 3 million EU migrant friends and colleagues we have here, as well as the 2 million or so British people living across the EU, and a way to save us from a completely wasted month. If the Prime Minister wants to do something meaningful that I think would have widespread support in the Chamber, she should seek to ring-fence the agreement on citizens’ rights, so that even in the doomsday scenario of no deal on everything else, those rights would be protected. I do not for a minute think that that would be easy, and it might be that it cannot be done, but it is worth a try, because not trying means that all the 3 million have to rely on is a unilateral promise from the UK Government. Not trying also means that the British in Europe risk losing rights unless Governments in the 27 other member states each unilaterally pass legislation to replicate their status before April.

Of course, the Prime Minister says she has already committed to ensuring that EU nationals can remain here in the event of no deal—the Secretary of State and the Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee referred to that earlier—but there are three problems with leaving it at that. First, it is no help to the British in Europe. Secondly, the Government’s published arrangements for EU nationals in the event of no deal are a watered-down version of the citizens’ rights in the withdrawal agreement. Why is that? There is no justification for the difference in treatment. Thirdly, and most fundamentally, a unilateral promise from the Prime Minister can be here today and gone tomorrow. We have seen all sorts of Government promises ripped to shreds in recent weeks.

Even if the Prime Minister sticks to that commitment, it does not bind her successors. Those citizens’ rights can be repealed in the blink of an eye, perhaps even through a change to the immigration rules. Who knows? We could end up with a Government daft enough to commit to reducing EU migration by something like 80%, if recent reports are in the right ballpark. It may be that a target-obsessed Prime Minister decides that the only way to meet that goal is to clamp down further on the family reunion rights of the 3 million.