UK Nationals: Consular Support

Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons on 4th February 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

What steps he is taking to strengthen consular support for UK nationals overseas.

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Our consular staff help more than 20,000 British people abroad every year. The support is tailored to the individual circumstances of each case, and prioritises those who are most in need. We constantly strive to improve our support, and use customer feedback to improve our services and staff skills.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I very much welcome the assurances that this Government have given to the 3 million EU nationals who will continue living in the UK after the transition period, but we have heard far less about the rights of the 1 million UK citizens living in the EU post Brexit. What work is the Department doing to help preserve those UK citizens’ futures?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

Protecting citizens’ rights in the EU is absolutely a priority for the Government. The withdrawal agreement provides certainty for UK nationals living in the EU about their rights going forward. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is proactively engaging with EU member states to ensure full and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

Do the Minister, the Secretary of State and the Government believe that UK citizens deserve the right to consular services and support enshrined in law?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

There is currently no legal right to consular assistance. Domestic law would not improve the outcomes for our most complex cases. Even if there was a right to assistance, the Government’s ability to provide it would remain dependent on other states respecting that.

Photo of Hannah Bardell Hannah Bardell Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development Team Member)

I thank the Minister for his answer, but with respect I disagree. In December last year, the all-party parliamentary group on deaths abroad and consular services and assistance—which I founded and chair, and of which many of the Minister’s colleagues have been members—published its report, with 92 recommendations. We took evidence from more than 60 families from across the UK whose loved ones died abroad in suspicious circumstances or are being incarcerated against their will, and they said that they feel they are being let down by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. With Brexit set to make international co-operation harder and this Government’s cuts resulting in the reduction of more than 1,000 diplomatic staff, UK citizens deserve better. Will the Secretary of State or the Minister meet me to discuss enshrining into law—

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I have already agreed to meet her, as did my predecessor, but neither offer has been taken up. On 23 January, the consular murder and manslaughter team held a workshop bringing together key stakeholders, including Murdered Abroad, the Help for Victims homicide service, the Ministry of Justice, the Metropolitan police and the Chief Coroner’s Office to focus on always improving our support for bereaved families. I participated in that meeting. We will always strive to improve the service that we provide to those who have loved ones murdered abroad.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

One of the consular cases most on the minds of people in this House is that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. Does the Minister agree that western countries need to work together to call out the vile practice of hostage-taking by countries such as Iran? Article 4 of the NATO treaty says if that one country is invaded, all have to treat it as if they have been invaded. Should we not do the same when our innocent citizens are taken hostage?

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Assistant Whip, Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (Joint with the Department for International Development)

I applaud my right hon. Friend for his question and the work that he did on this case when he was Foreign Secretary. The Prime Minister met Richard Ratcliffe on 23 January. We continue to make strong representations to send a clear signal in this case that Iran’s behaviour is totally wrong and unacceptable.