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 Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 1:24 pm, 18th June 2019

I start by paying tribute to Alberto Costa, who has won respect on both sides of the House and in the country for the way in which he has championed the cause of EU citizens in the UK and of British citizens in Europe. We were pleased to back his cross-party amendment on 27 February.

The hon. Gentleman is right to be worried that, as Conservative Members apparently prepare to crown a leader who seems willing to take the country to a no-deal Brexit, EU citizens face new uncertainty. Many of the disastrous consequences of a no-deal Brexit have been spelled out, not least by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who has talked of the deep damage it would do to our economy and our living standards. It would have helped if the Prime Minister had not spent so long talking up a no-deal Brexit as a viable option, but insufficient attention has been paid to the consequences for citizens’ rights. Lives have been thrown into uncertainty by our current situation.

It did not have to be like this. If instead of making bargaining chips of EU and British citizens, as the hon. Member for South Leicestershire pointed out, the Government had accepted our motion back in July 2016 to provide a unilateral guarantee to EU nationals in the UK, we could have quickly secured reciprocal agreements to protect the rights of Brits in the EU27. Those agreements would have stood ring-fenced, insulated from the calamity of the Government’s withdrawal agreement.

It was clear in December 2018, when the Government backed off from their vote on the deal, that this issue would have to be addressed, so why did it take the action of the hon. Gentleman and the vote of this House to secure that action from the Government? After Michel Barnier wrote to the Secretary of State on 25 March, why did it take three long months for him to reply?

It has taken this urgent question to bring the issue back to the Floor of the House. Why did the Government not report back to the House sooner? The deep uncertainty facing the 3 million EU citizens in the UK and the 1.2 million Brits in Europe, who are by far the biggest national group affected by Brexit, is of huge importance, so why are the Government not treating it with that urgency?