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

My hon. Friend rightly calls on us to ratchet up the pressure, and I assure him that we will. I also assure him that, whoever takes forward the leadership of our party and our country, will feel pressure not only from him but from Back Benchers on both sides of the House to continue pressing on this issue. Of course, we made a commitment to him and to British in Europe that we would respond to Mr Barnier before the next European Council on 20 June. I am glad that we have been able to deliver on that commitment today.

As hon. Members on both sides of the House will know, the European elections were held between 23 and 26 May and Government activity had to respect the purdah period imposed because of those elections, but it is right that we pressed forward swiftly after that to ratchet up the pressure on ring-fencing, as my hon. Friend said.

Meanwhile, I assure my hon. Friend that there is a large citizens’ rights team in my Department that is working closely with colleagues in other Departments, including the Home Office. The team has been working tirelessly to ensure that citizens are given the certainty they need to plan for life once the UK leaves the EU. Our no-deal policy paper confirms that EU citizens resident in the UK by exit day can apply to the settlement scheme to secure their status in a no-deal scenario. As I mentioned earlier, the settlement scheme, which launched on 30 March, has had over 750,000 applications. Almost 700,000 of those applications have been concluded, with none being refused.

The UK pushed hard in negotiations for reciprocal voting rights, but as my hon. Friend knows, they did not form part of the withdrawal agreement. We have set out that we will seek to agree bilateral deals with all member states to secure those rights for the future. We are pleased to have now made significant progress on bilateral agreements, having signed agreement with Spain, Portugal and, today, Luxembourg. The Secretary of State signed the latter just a few hours ago, and we hope it will set a strong precedent for reaching agreements with other EU neighbours and friends to protect the right of UK nationals to continue voting in local elections.

We are very aware of my hon. Friend’s key point. His amendment enjoyed the unanimous support of the House, of all parts of the United Kingdom and of all parties from all parts of the spectrum of opinion on Brexit. We remain committed to delivering on citizens’ rights, and we are focused on making sure that we reach an overall agreement to secure an orderly EU exit for the UK, but we remain committed to executing the will of this House and we eagerly anticipate Michel Barnier’s response to our letter on ring-fencing.