Brexit: European Union-derived Rights - Motion to Resolve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:39 pm on 4th April 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Exiting the European Union), Shadow Spokesperson (Cabinet Office) 6:39 pm, 4th April 2017

My Lords, in moving this Motion I shall not go through all the arguments which led to a majority of 102 when we discussed this issue before. It is clear that the House felt that neither EU citizens here nor UK citizens abroad should pay the penalty of our withdrawal. We said that we would continue to make the case.

As Sadiq Khan said of London, where a third of the EEA nationals—some 1 million—live, Europeans who live and work in London are Londoners and should be given “a cast-iron guarantee” of their right to stay post-Brexit. These Europeans work in every part of our community. As the unions such as Unison have said, clarity is needed as early as possible because any decrease in the number of EU citizens working here would have a huge impact on our public services, especially in health and social care. One in 15 nurses in England is European, although already the number registering is declining to only a quarter of those in the same period of 2015. We have also lost twice as many doctors as in 2015. The RCP and the BMA blame this on the lack of assurances for EU nationals.

In social care, Europeans comprise 6% of the English workforce—some 84,000—of whom 90% do not have UK citizenship. We should remember that of the 3 million EU citizens only 10% are married to British nationals, which gives them some hope of being able to stay. Other concerns arise for those whose spouses are non-EU. In academia, at the Francis Crick Institute—he of course won his Nobel Prize for the double helix with that immigrant Mr Watson—44% of its staff and 56% of its post-docs are from the EU.

I want to make three points today: on transparency of negotiations; on urgency; and on the EU 27’s priorities. On the first, we have already seen that there is going to be no secrecy. Predictably, we saw the Tusk letter on TV before the ink had dried so our Motion will not expose any secrets. It will simply allow what is in the public domain to be discussed in your Lordships’ House.

Secondly, on urgency people really cannot put their lives on hold for two years while awaiting the outcome of talks. They need to know now whether to take jobs and choose schools for their children, or make plans to leave. We are seeing European citizens turned away by mortgage lenders because of uncertainty over whether they can stay, while some employers are asking proof of permanent residency before workers get more than a fixed-term contract. Certainty is also needed for business. The British Chambers of Commerce has called on the Prime Minister to confirm that EU residents can remain after Brexit, with its director-general pointing out that some firms are already losing staff due to the avoidable uncertainty. The CBI president has said that its number one issue was to tell all 3 million EU workers that they can stay, or else their exodus will bring business to a halt. Likewise techUK, which is reliant on EU entrepreneurs, wants confirmation that EU citizens will be able to stay.

Thirdly, there is the stance of the EU 27. As Joseph Muscat, Malta’s Prime Minister and the EU’s chair, has said, the two sides need to remain friends. We can help if we meet their priorities wherever possible; the position of our respective nationals is one such area. Their chief negotiator Michel Barnier wants negotiations to begin by removing the uncertainty over the rights of citizens in each other’s countries. For the European Parliament’s Brexit lead, Guy Verhofstadt, it is an absolute priority and needs to be the first issue in the negotiations. He says that citizens should not become bargaining chips. In Malta, Donald Tusk prioritised people caught up in this process as the first duty, stressing the need to settle the status of EU citizens in the UK. The EU’s draft guidelines highlight reciprocal guarantees as a priority for the negotiations.

Meanwhile, a helpful Politico survey of the wish list of each of the 27 showed, for example, Austria putting the rights of its 25,000 citizens here as the top priority, as did Bulgaria for its 60,000 citizens. The future of 80,000 Latvians is key to their Government’s Brexit strategy. It is the first item for Romania, for Slovakia with its 75,000 Slovaks and for Lithuania’s 200,000 citizens, who are 8% of its population. Budapest wants a mechanism that would give automaticity to renewing the work permits of Hungarians while Warsaw’s main concern—admittedly, alongside money—is the 800,000 Poles. Even in Spain, where alone among the 27, more Brits live there than its citizens live here, Madrid favours a quick reciprocal deal.

Evidence that we take these issues seriously will help our negotiations—not if forced by a vote in the House but rather as a willing gesture from the Government. How much better it would be as a signal to those 27, and to provide comfort to the 3 million, for the Government to accept our request, which is simply to report back on how the issue is unfolding.

The Motion in the name of my noble friend Lady Smith seeks to get the Government off a bit of a hook. It was Mrs May who promised a vote at the end of the process but with little thought, it appears, as to its legal status. Our amendment, moved so effectively by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, had a majority of 98 but with 634 Peers voting—the highest ever in any Division in your Lordships’ House throughout its long history. The Government should have heeded that but it was overturned in the Commons, on the grounds that it was not a matter that needs to be in the Bill. Perhaps not, but it is a matter for now because without legal clarity we risk being in a difficult position in 18 months’ time when the promised vote comes before us in both Houses.

I am in no position to judge the opinion of the three knights or the warning of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, at Second Reading, nor to answer the question of my noble friend Lord Grocott: what happens if the two Houses disagree? But I know that I would not want to be the Minister steering this through its final stages without robust legal certainty. So our advice is not to leave this until we are actively giving serious consideration to the draft withdrawal agreement, when our concentration will be on that. Let us set up a parliamentary route as to how the Houses will vote ahead of the European Parliament’s consent vote to ensure that the Commons have the veto, not us, and to give legal certainty to the vote. It cannot be right for the European Parliament’s vote to be entrenched in law but ours to be merely on the Prime Minister’s words, with no legislative back-up.

Neither Motion this evening requires any new government position. We are taking the Government’s policy on both issues. In her letter to Donald Tusk, Theresa May wrote that,

“we should aim to strike an early agreement about”,

EU citizens’ rights. It was also her decision that there would be a vote in both Houses on the outcome of the negotiation. We seek simply to ensure that this House, and in one case also the Commons, is involved in the discussion of how the Government implement their stated plans. I beg to move.