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Examination of Witness

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:55 pm on 14th February 2019.

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Professor Smismans:

They are very wide. These are the essential rights of people who have built up pension rights, sometimes in several countries. EU rules allow that rights built up in several places can be aggregated. We do not know what will happen with that. If there is a withdrawal agreement, it will be guaranteed. If there is no withdrawal agreement, we do not know. The promise so far, which is not yet set out in a legal text, is that rights built up until now will still be recognised, but rights built up after Brexit will not be recognised. That is obviously a problem. You are saying, “Okay, you have built up these rights until now; be happy with that,” but that means that people cannot move any more. If I have built up pension rights here, having been told, “We will recognise them and we will recognise the pension rights you have built up in Belgium, France and Italy,” but from now on I am told, “We will recognise only what you do in the UK”, that means that I cannot move back to Belgium if I want to or if I have to go and take care of my mother. I cannot do that, because my pension rights will have been building up until this moment in time.

That is why there should be limitations on how these rights can be affected and undermined by secondary legislation. Ideally, this is set out in the withdrawal agreement; it should be guaranteed in primary legislation. The withdrawal agreement is important for this issue, because it includes elements of co-ordination between countries. You can never resolve it unilaterally, because there are always aspects of co-ordination of information. You have to know what has been done on the other sides. And actually there are already proposals for statutory instruments that say, “If we don’t get the information from the other country, we are not obliged to take these rights into account.” There are already statutory instruments—proposals for that—that are undermining our rights.

There is a tendency in the first proposal for statutory regulation to forget about the 3 million already here. It is all set out: “We are going to change the rules on free movement for the future.” It is a kind of generic approach: forget about the 3 million who have built their lives on these rights. So there are no guarantees there. These guarantees have to be set out in primary legislation.