Uk’S Withdrawal from the EU

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:32 pm on 27th February 2019.

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Photo of Alberto Costa Alberto Costa Conservative, South Leicestershire 5:32 pm, 27th February 2019

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for selecting my amendment (b). As all Members will probably know, I have been a loyal Conservative Member. I have never rebelled and have scarcely spoken out of turn. I believe and continue to believe that, as Members of various political parties, we are at our best when we stick together and promote the political policies upon which we were elected. However, when an amendment attracts such broad consensus across the House, including from the leaders of every Opposition party and, importantly for me, the support of right hon. and hon. Friends across the Brexit debate on the Government Benches, a sensible Government must accept that reasonable amendment. I am therefore grateful that the Government have acted reasonably in accepting my amendment in full.

My amendment does not deal in goods or services, backstops or borders, but people—living and breathing, skin and bone. That such an amendment is needed is in itself a sad state of affairs. The rights and freedoms of over 1 million UK citizens in the EU and over 3 million EU citizens in the UK should never have been used as a bargaining chip during the negotiations for our withdrawal from the European Union. That such rights were placed on the table in the first place was wrong.

While I welcome the Government’s unilateral undertaking, it does not go far enough, and we need to do more. I have backed the Prime Minister’s deal and will continue to, but with the spectre of uncertainty hanging over the heads of over 5 million people, it is right that this House has positively coalesced around a good message to send not just to the country and to EU citizens, but to President Donald Tusk and the European Council, which is carefully listening to our proceedings.

The time for ring-fencing these rights was at the outset of the UK’s decision to leave the EU, and it is now imperative that the Government do everything they reasonably can to seek consensus from the European Council and get a legal mandate for the European Commission to carve out those rights. The Prime Minister said yesterday that the EU Commission does not have the legal authority. I spoke to Professor Smismans, professor of EU law at Cardiff University, this morning, and he said it is correct that the European Commission has not been mandated to negotiate a separate agreement on citizens’ rights, but that the European Council can revise that mandate at any time. There is no legal hurdle at all.

I would like to hear from the Government exactly what measures the Prime Minister will take to ensure that this amendment, which has been adopted by the Government, is complied with. Will she be writing a letter to President Donald Tusk? If so, when will she write it? What other measures can the Government take to ensure that the Council gives that mandate to the Commission to carve out citizens’ rights as quickly as possible?