Brexit: European Union-derived Rights - Motion to Resolve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 4th April 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Lister of Burtersett Baroness Lister of Burtersett Labour 7:15 pm, 4th April 2017

My Lords, being a member of the Brexit club, I support both the Motions but will speak to just the first one.

The Prime Minister’s welcome assurance to President Tusk, that,

“We should always put our citizens first”,

will, I hope, as she stated, act as a guiding principle in the negotiations and the legislative programme stemming from the repeal Bill. I hope, too, that this principle will embrace the rights that our citizens enjoy—broader human, equality and environmental rights as well as employment rights to which the Government have committed to safeguarding.

As we have already heard, the first Motion concerns the rights of our fellow EU citizens who have made the UK their home, and also has implications for UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU. We know from the many emails we have received how insecure they now feel and also how insecure many of their loved ones who are British citizens feel. We have heard from my noble friend Lady Hayter and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, what it means to have that sense of insecurity.

As well as insecurity about their future, there is another aspect, which I do not think was mentioned during the debates on the relevant amendments to the Article 50 Bill but which was raised by the EU Committee’s excellent report on acquired rights. The committee expressed the fear that,

“Question marks about the rights of EU nationals to live in the UK may be fuelling xenophobic sentiment”.

So long as this uncertainty about their status remains, the danger is that they are seen as second-class citizens—the foreign other—rather than as our fellow workers and neighbours, contributing to this country. It is therefore right and proper that resolution of their situation is a priority in the negotiations, and I hope that the first Motion will be accepted as supportive of the Government’s own goal in achieving this.

It has been suggested that the xenophobia unleashed by the referendum result arose in part from the threat that some people have felt to their identity in the face of rapid EU migration in some areas of the country. As I said at Second Reading of the Article 50 Bill, I and many others have felt the loss of European citizenship as a blow to our identity. Since then, there has been talk of some form of associate European citizenship which would, at the very least, enable us to still call ourselves European citizens if we so wish and to move freely within the EU, with appropriate rights for EU citizens wanting to visit the UK. This has been proposed by Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, and has been the subject of a new European citizens’ initiative. The President of the European Commission has said that he has not shut the door to the idea. I hope that our Government will, likewise, keep an open mind. Would it not represent a tangible expression of the “deep and special partnership”, to which the Prime Minister and Brexit Secretary have frequently referred in recent days? I would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on this idea.

Last week, the Brexit Minister stated on the “Today” programme that he sees it as a “moral duty” to give EU citizens in the UK certainty and to take away any anxiety they have about their situation. I hope and trust that the Government will accept this Motion in recognition of that moral duty.