Moved by Baroness Hamwee
At end insert “but do propose Amendment 2B in lieu—
2B: Page 3, line 8, at end insert—“(5A) Regulations made under subsection (1) must make provision to enable UK citizens falling within the personal scope of—(a) the Withdrawal Agreement,(b) the EEA EFTA separation agreement, or(c) the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement, to return to the United Kingdom before
My Lords, I am moving an amendment similar to that moved at a previous stage but with a change to meet one of the points made against it.
It came as a shock to me to learn that there will be restrictions on, and conditions applying to, a UK citizen wishing to return to the UK with a non-British family. In Committee, I asked what the Minister would advise a couple with elderly parents in both countries, for both of whom they wanted to care. This rather follows on from the previous amendment. Following that, I received many emails describing many, varied families affected. They all explained the anxiety they felt.
The minimum income requirement will apply, as the noble Baroness said, after March 2022 as it applies now to a UK citizen wishing to bring a non-UK—currently non-EEA—family to this country. I have always felt that the MIR is very harsh. It presents real difficulties, including as regards the spouse’s contribution to the household income. In the 21st century, most households are necessarily two-income households. In response to the point that these families should be treated the same as families that include non-EEA citizens, I say that it should not apply to them either, but that would not be within the scope of this Bill—although I would have liked to have taken that opportunity. Those families will, in very many cases, have been aware of the situation when the family unit was created.
I understand the Government’s concern that EEA citizens should be treated the same as citizens in the rest of the world after the end of free movement, but the situations are not exactly the same. When marriages were made and families created after we had acquired rights of free movement, who would have given a thought to what might happen if those rights ended, or indeed given thought to whether those rights might end? And who in the British military who met their spouse when they were serving abroad would have contemplated this situation? I do hope that the Secretary of State has read their letters.
The provision may not be retrospective in a technical sense, but in an everyday sense it is. This is not something that is widely understood, even now. The Government’s original proposal in June 2017 did not deal with the issue. As the noble Baroness said, the public announcement of the 2022 date came out in a paper in April 2019 and was presented as a concession. The paper said that the Government recognised that UK nationals needed certainty—this was after we were supposed to have left the EU.
I wondered whether I had missed something here, so I checked on what had been done, and when, to make people aware of the position. Had the Foreign and Commonwealth Office attempted to draw this to people’s attention? Had our embassies raised it in local town hall meetings abroad? One, rather dry, comment made to me was that, if these citizens had voting rights, the embassies would have been able to make direct contact with them. I understand that the targeted FCO campaigns have focused largely on rights in the host country, advising people to register and to change their driving licence, for instance.
On the “Living in France” and “Living in Italy” pages on GOV.UK, I clicked on “Ending your time living abroad” and, after a couple more clicks, found—because I was looking for it—“bringing your family”, which told me that a visa would be needed for them. One might easily stop there. Immigration rules required further clicks, and so on. I understand that all this is still coming as a surprise, and of course a shock, to those who happen to trip over it.
An EU citizen here now or by the end of this year can bring in family members—and quite right too. But is it not right for our own compatriots? This is discrimination against UK citizens. It is not as if what we propose would open any floodgates. It is self-limiting: no-one would qualify after free movement had ended; it is not a “perpetual” or “for ever” right, as it has been badged.
Criticism was made on Report that there was no cut-off date by which a UK national must return to the UK. Ministers say that three years gives a reasonable period to plan. This version of the amendment includes a cut-off date—deliberately long—of 20 years after the end of the transition period. By then, most of those affected, who will have formed settled relationships and families, are likely to be over 50 with parents of 70 or 80, so their families would be in a better position to know whether returning to the UK was likely to be necessary. The Minister in the Commons presented the 2022 date as reflecting a need
“to be fair to other British citizens”—[
My Lords, I agree with everything that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has said. The Minister said that the arrangements that the Government have made are “reasonable”, but one has also to think of the reasonable expectation of British citizens who may have moved abroad, married, set up partnerships and had families with citizens from elsewhere in the EEA. They would have had no reason to suppose that the conditions and rules under which they did that would change—after all, the promise of a referendum in 2015 came somewhat out of the blue; it really was not expected. My noble friend’s amendment would accommodate fairly those reasonable expectations while meeting the Government’s apparent objection that they do not want a period which is unlimited.
The Conservative manifesto for the 2017 general election promised to legislate for “votes for life” for Britons living abroad. That has not happened, but, at the time, the Conservatives rejoiced at scrapping what they called the previous Labour Government’s “arbitrary” 15-year rule. I think that one could also describe the Government’s three-year rule in this scenario for UK citizens living in the EU as arbitrary.
Mr Chris Skidmore, who at the time was Minister for the Constitution, said:
“British citizens who move abroad remain a part of our democracy and it is important they have the ability to participate … Our expat community has an important role to play.”
One can deploy that statement in this context. These were valuable sentiments about Britons living abroad. I would transfer them to say that British citizens residing elsewhere in the EEA should have the right to participate not only politically but economically and socially in this country. To put them now in a quandary of having to decide by March 2022 what their family circumstances with parents and children could be in the decades ahead is an unnecessary, arbitrary and unreasonable imposition. Twenty years is a highly reasonable proposition.
The Conservative Party has long claimed to be the party of the family. Please can it demonstrate that it is the party of families of UK citizens who chose, in reasonable expectation of free movement rights continuing, to live and set up home and families with citizens from the rest of the EEA. They are now placed in extremely difficult and worrying circumstances. It is not fair play to them to do that. My noble friend has given the Government an opportunity to find a way a through this which preserves honour and fairness all round.
My Lords, I shall speak only briefly because my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lady Ludford have comprehensively set out the injustices that will be visited on thousands of British citizens and their families if the Government’s policy stands. I shall make just two points.
First, the argument that to retain the existing rights of UK citizens with EEA spouses or families is somehow discriminatory or unfair as against UK citizens with non-EEA spouses has no merit. I speak as a UK citizen with a non-EEA spouse. When we made decisions about our lives, we did so in the knowledge and understanding of the rules at the time, just as UK citizens with EEA spouses made decisions about their lives on the basis of the rules at the time, which they could have had no reasonable expectation would change. The only way in which one could say that discrimination would occur would be if this amendment suggested that UK citizens forming relationships with EEA citizens going forward should be afforded different rights, but that is not what it says.
Secondly, yesterday, your Lordships’ House passed two amendments in lieu on agri-food standards. They were important and I was pleased to support them, but this amendment, I venture, is much more important, because it is about people’s lives. If it is not passed, huge misery will be inflicted on a large number of people. I do not think that we have really understood the level of suffering that will be inflicted. Frankly, it is wrong and heartless, and we should not allow it to stand.
We do not minimise the importance of this issue any more than we minimise the importance of any of the amendments and the issues they covered which this House sent to the Commons and which the Commons rejected. As has been said, British citizens who moved to other EU countries will lose the right they had to return to this country of birth with a non-British partner or child, perhaps to look after an ageing parent, unless they can meet financial conditions that will be beyond the reach of many. While British citizens who have moved to the EU or EEA before the end of 2020 will face these restrictions, EU citizens who have moved to the UK before the end of 2020 will not.
However, while this issue of the right for UK citizens to return with their family was referred to by some speakers during the Commons proceedings on Monday, it was not taken to a Division. This rather indicates that we have now taken this matter as far as we can at present, having sent it to the Commons once. For that reason we will abstain if Amendment 2B in lieu is taken to a vote. In the Commons on Monday, the Government said they would
“continue to keep this area under review”.—[
We call on it to continue to look further at this issue, in which I declare a personal family interest, outside the Bill and well before the deadline date of
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I start with the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who rightly points out that the Commons did not divide on this matter on Monday. We should remind ourselves that the British people voted to leave the EU in 2016; we are now four years on from that point.
I will answer the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee: of course we keep all legislation and policy under review, and we are assisted by MAC in that endeavour. We recognise that UK nationals who moved to the EU expected free movement rights to continue. That is why we have provided for these transitional arrangements, but we have to be fair to other UK nationals whether they live overseas, beyond the EU, or in the UK. The UK family Immigration Rules reflect the public interest in preventing burdens on the taxpayer and promoting integration. UK nationals protected by the withdrawal agreement because they are living in the EEA before the end of the transition period do, of course, have lifetime rights to be joined in their host state by existing close family members. This mirrors the rights of EEA citizens living in the UK by then.
The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, challenged me about the date of
I am of course grateful to my noble friends who supported this amendment. I hope that I never give my noble friend Lady Ludford cause to look up what I have said in the past. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Oates, who—if you will—embodies the point I was making about the differences between those who married EU citizens, not knowing what was coming down the road, and those in his position.
I am disappointed in Labour’s response to this because it is a legislative opportunity to get this sorted quickly. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and I asked about keeping the policy under review, but it sounds from the Minister as if this is no more than the normal keeping of a policy under review: no detail, no particular plan, no timetable. What she said is not a reason not to pursue this amendment. As my noble friend says, this is not fair and I beg to test the opinion of the House.
Ayes 168, Noes 254.