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Motion A

Part of European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill - Commons Amendments – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 22nd January 2020.

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Photo of Lord Oates Lord Oates Liberal Democrat 5:45 pm, 22nd January 2020

My Lords, I regret the Government’s decision to reject all the amendments, in particular the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has just spoken to and the amendments that my noble friends moved.

I am sorry that in another place the Minister, when addressing the EU citizens amendment, failed to make any arguments at all. Indeed, so devoid of them was he that he resorted to a whole load of canards and non sequiturs. I could go through them at length, if I thought the Government were in any way moved by arguments on this, but it is clear to me that they are not. Sadly, and without any coherent reason at all, they have rejected an amendment which would have improved the Bill, alleviated the severe anxieties of EU citizens who are currently being refused documentary proof of their right to settled status, and ensured that the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary kept the promises they made to EU citizens during the 2016 referendum campaign.

Our amendment did not seek to interfere with any rights under the settled status scheme, nor did it do anything to thwart or delay Brexit. The proposals were not radical: the provision of documentary evidence of status is exactly the system that exists for non-EU holders of indefinite leave to remain. Our proposal for a declaratory system was simply aimed at preventing the Government and EU citizens becoming embroiled in a bureaucratic quagmire after June 2021.

As a result of the Commons’ failure to heed these modest requests, the conditions have been created for a great injustice to be visited on tens, perhaps even hundreds, of thousands of EU citizens. Millions of EU citizens will continue to face deep anxiety about their status as a result of the inexplicable decision to refuse to provide them with documentary proof. This is not an arcane debating point. This decision will have a real impact on people’s lives. Every member of the Government and every one of its supporters should, frankly, be ashamed that they are party to a casual abandonment of a solemn undertaking made by the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary to EU citizens during the course of the referendum. I am sorry that it has been abandoned so casually.

EU citizens in this country—and UK citizens in the EU, who are concerned about how the UK’s approach at home will impact their position in the EU—can be assured that, despite the set-back today, we will not give up the fight for good sense on this matter to prevail. Although our amendment has not gone through today, we will seek further legislative opportunities to ensure that it does so in future.