EU/British Citizens’ Rights

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:24 pm on 18th June 2019.

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Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 1:24 pm, 18th June 2019

I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend Alberto Costa. It is testament to his passionate defence of the rights of EU citizens and UK nationals that the amendment he brought before this House was passed unanimously—a rare feat. I congratulate him on his work.

I thank my hon. Friend for organising a recent meeting with representatives from British in Europe and the3million to discuss their proposal to seek a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part 2 of the withdrawal agreement in any scenario. The Secretary of State was grateful for the opportunity to hear their views and the views of my hon. Friend on that matter. As my hon. Friend will be aware, we have written the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to report those views, particularly to make it clear that in a no-deal scenario adopting the citizens’ rights agreement is far superior to 28 unilateral solutions. I have also had representations from the devolved nations of the UK indicating their support for that approach. For example, Mike Russell, the Scottish Government’s lead Minister on EU exit recently wrote to the Secretary of State to set out the Scottish Government’s support for adopting the citizens’ rights agreement.

The Government have been steadfast in their commitment to protect the rights of EU citizens. They are our friends, colleagues and neighbours, and we want them to stay. We are already implementing our no-deal offer to EU citizens in the UK, and the EU settlement scheme opened successfully on 30 March, with over 750,000 EU citizens having now applied. The Secretary of State wrote to the EU to seek its views on adopting the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement in any scenario, and Michel Barnier responded on 25 March. Last night, the Secretary of State issued a response to Michel Barnier, reporting recent conversations with my hon. Friend for South Leicestershire, the3million and British in Europe, and asked for officials to be able to continue to work together to explore how best we protect the citizens’ rights in all scenarios.

In the response, the Secretary of State reaffirmed that adopting the citizens’ rights part of the agreement as a UK-EU solution will offer the greatest protection for UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. That is due to the importance of rights, such as the agreed social security co-ordination provisions, that cover areas such as reciprocal healthcare and the accumulation of pension contributions, which require a reciprocal agreement to provide the best level of operation. The Secretary of State wrote to my hon. Friend this morning with a copy of that letter, which was deposited in the Library and published on gov.uk.

Finally, I want to reaffirm that citizens’ rights have been a priority throughout the negotiations, and it is an area that both the Government and this House take extremely seriously. As such, the best way to guarantee those rights, both for UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK, is for this House to approve a deal.