Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of David Lidington David Lidington Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 2:12 pm, 27th February 2019

I do not think that I can go into details on the legislation at this stage. It would depend a bit on what the outcome of the negotiations with the European Union itself had led to. If it were secondary legislation, clearly there are the normal constraints on amendments. Equally, if it is secondary legislation, it is sudden death in both Houses; both Houses have a veto over secondary legislation. The section 13 provisions do give the House a safeguard that there is always that additional opportunity to bring forward and vote on concerns that the House feels are being overlooked.

Let me turn to amendment (c). I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Sir Oliver Letwin for indicating that he thought that this amendment would not now need to be pressed to a vote. If the House will allow me, in the light of his comments, I do not propose to go into detail about this amendment, but if it is brought up further in the debate, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State can respond to those points when he winds up.

I now want to refer to amendment (b) in the name of my hon. Friend Alberto Costa. On citizens’ rights, he has succeeded in an endeavour that some might have thought was impossible in persuading both the Leader of the Opposition and my hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg to share the honours as lead signatories to an amendment. All Members of this House are aware of how vocally and passionately my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire has campaigned on the issue of citizens’ rights for many months now. This is an area that the Government take extremely seriously. We have consistently put citizens’ rights first in our negotiations. It was one of the very first parts of the withdrawal agreement to have been agreed and had negotiations completed with the European Union. Of course, the best way to guarantee those rights, both for our citizens in the EU and EU citizens here, is to vote in favour of the deal, as my hon. Friend did in January.

But there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding no deal. That is why the Government have already committed that the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK will be protected in any scenario. EU citizens resident here by 29 March would be able to apply for the EU settlement scheme to secure their status. The Home Office has already granted more than 100,000 applications under that scheme and such people will continue to have access to social security and healthcare as before.

Also lying behind my hon. Friend’s amendment is concern about the rights of UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU. In the absence of a deal, this would be a matter for the EU and its member states. Despite the welcome progress made by some member states, there are other areas where the offer to UK nationals, in our view, falls short. Access to healthcare is a particular concern. The Government, led by the Foreign Secretary, are seeking solutions to address these issues through bilateral contacts with member state Governments at the same time as seeking a common EU-wide approach. We should not, though, underestimate the challenge in reaching a joint UK-EU commitment, as the amendment calls for, to ring-fence the agreement on citizens’ rights. The European Union has been very consistent in saying to us that its legal mandate is clear that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and that its view, if these issues were not addressed in the withdrawal agreement, is that there are significant legal problems for the EU in protecting these rights since, in those circumstances, some of these issues would fall within the competence of member states and not of the EU institutions.

Despite those challenges, we do share with my hon. Friend the common goal of protecting the rights of citizens in the event of no deal. So in view of the fact that our political objectives are the same, the Government will accept his amendment today, and following this debate—assuming that the House endorses the amendment —we will take up with the Commission the arguments embodied in it to seek clarification of the EU position on ring-fencing the citizens’ rights parts of the withdrawal agreement and to see whether it can be persuaded to change the position that it has adopted hitherto.