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European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee (7th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 14th March 2018.

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Photo of Baroness McDonagh Baroness McDonagh Labour 3:45 pm, 14th March 2018

My Lords, my noble friend Lady Kingsmill and I have been trying to get in on this group of amendments since the beginning of the debate. Unfortunately, the noble Baroness had a meeting with the Bank of England at 4 o’clock, and as the chair of a bank, she could not fail to go to it. I sought advice from the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and she suggested that I should read the noble Baroness’s words into the record. I shall then make my own comments on Amendments 155 and 191.

On behalf of my noble friend Lady Kingsmill, I support Amendment 199. Many noble Lords have spoken eloquently about this amendment, which seeks to preserve our current relationship with the EU should Parliament decide not to approve the withdrawal agreement and ask the Government to go back to the negotiating table. The Brexit process has been characterised by uncertainty. We simply do not know what the final deal will look like, under what circumstances we will do business, be consumers, travel and work. We do not know what our future relationship with Europe will be, and Article 50 sets the clock ticking for when we would need answers to those questions.

This amendment seeks to ensure that the withdrawal deal put to Parliament is not a choice between a poor deal or no deal, whereby the UK would crash out of the EU and revert to WTO terms. Noble Lords have spoken about how that would be hard for our economy and for trade and services. It would, and it would also be hard for people. It is this last point, the rights of EU citizens, which I would like to touch on today. Negotiations are about the balance between what is gained and what is lost. Some of that will be quantifiable in financial terms but it will also be about culture, opportunity and identity.

My children have grown up as proud citizens of the UK and Europe. They do not question that you can be both, or that being one means diminishing the other. They have never had to question that they can travel, study, work and live across borders, and that their qualifications and skills are recognised. For them, Europe is a place of opportunities, not obstacles. When the UK leaves the EU, it is not just that generation which will lose a part of their identity and a sense of belonging, it is the UK as a whole.

I am an immigrant, brought to this country as a child from New Zealand. When I was 18 and a new undergraduate at Cambridge, I applied for a British passport to travel to Switzerland for a walking holiday with friends. I was refused on the grounds that I was not British because neither my father nor my grandfather was born in the UK. I was shocked and felt very insecure. Eventually, I obtained a New Zealand passport. On my return to the UK after my holiday, I was required to go to the purser’s office on the ferry and was questioned about my commitment to the UK by a police officer not much older than myself. I eventually received the stamp in my passport giving me indefinite right to stay. I think I have done pretty well since then.

A week ago, the House heard informed debate on amendments that sought to put the rights of EU citizens into the Bill. I welcome the fact that an agreement was reached in principle in December on EU citizens’ rights as part of the phase 1 agreement. However, as noble Lords raised last week, there remains uncertainty and anxiety for EU citizens about their position, in particular in the event of a failure to reach a withdrawal deal. Even if EU citizens’ rights are clarified in the withdrawal agreement, what if the rest of the withdrawal agreement is not a good deal for the UK and Parliament votes against it? What happens then? In those circumstances, until we are certain and ready and prepared for a successful positive future relationship with the EU, surely we should retain the status quo and relationship we have. Surely, we owe it to the EU citizens here and the generation who will have their British-European identity severed to extend Article 50 until the best deal can be reached. That is what this amendment seeks to ensure.

Speaking for myself, I support Amendments 151 and 199. I find myself in the very unusual and discombobulating circumstances of agreeing with most noble Lords on the other side of the Chamber. If noble Lords were present at this morning’s debate, they would appreciate that we are in danger of breaking out into unity across Benches and parties.