Can I ask you if we could cheat? We are the only representatives of British citizens in Europe, and we have heard various questions asked of other people who are not British citizens in Europe—questions that we know the answers to. Could we ever so briefly start by answering those questions, or would that be completely contrary to everything this Committee does?
It is not going to be a speech, but Professor Peers touched on the different rules that apply across the EU27 countries. There are some overarching EU rules that will apply even when we are no longer EU citizens, particularly one that covers people who have been resident for five years, and that is across the board. If you are resident for less than five years, you are subject effectively to national immigration rules, with one or two EU glosses. In Italy, I think there are 25 different statuses that one can apply for at less than five years; in Germany, I think it is 180. So, it is an enormously complex mish-mash, which you have to try to fit yourself into, and certainly there will be people who do not.
If I may, I will just give you one example of how the five-year system for long-term residents—for what they call third country nationals—works. The rule enables countries to ask for a minimum income and health insurance. In Spain, the minimum income that a pensioner has to produce is a little over €25,000 a year. The UK state pension translated into euros at the moment is worth a little over €9,000, so people who are living in Spain—some of them can probably manage, with difficulty, on the state pension in Spain—are just never going to meet that minimum. That is a massive theoretical problem; Kalba will tell you a little bit more about the practical problems.
Yes, there are very great practical problems, because of the question of registration across the different EU27 countries, as was mentioned by a witness earlier. There are very different schemes in practice for British citizens living in the EU. Some countries—like my country, France—do not apply any kind of registration system at all for British citizens or EU citizens from another country who are living there. So we have between 150,000 and 200,000 British citizens living in France, only around 16% of whom have any form of registration at the moment. Other countries have a system of registering your residence, but nothing else; other countries have greater systems, where you register your residence and apply for a relevant card. As you can see, there is already a huge difference between how people are treated across the countries.
Using my country as an example, we have a number of different cards for people who have been in residence for less than five years. Everybody who has been in residence in any EU country for less than five years has to fit into national immigration law. Long-term residence status, which is mixed competence between EU and national law, does not come into effect until the five year point.
As you can see, there is a big gap there. Everybody is going to be taking a different route to get there, and it is entirely possible that there will be large numbers of people who simply do not meet the conditions. What of them?
They are very open ended, and to my mind they are unnecessary, certainly at this stage. You have to recall that we set out the legislative framework in our paper. At present, the EU’s social security co-ordination rules apply in this country, because we are still in the EU. The 2018 withdrawal Act preserves them as retained legislation after
There is no need for any rushed legislation on this. The existing law, which we are told it is the intention of the Government to preserve, is in place. The amended statutory instrument is in place. The new regulations are simply there to make further changes, as yet unspecified. No policy reasons for that are put forward in any of the supporting documentation. It is unnecessary, very broad and very worrying.
You have to bear in mind that British citizens in Europe are somewhat less affected by UK law, for obvious reasons, than the EU citizens living here. Probably the most important aspects for UK citizens in the EU are healthcare, which in the EU is an aspect of social security, the aggregation of pension contributions and exporting pensions.
I, as a UK pensioner living in Italy, am entitled to receive my pension, but I am also entitled, under EU law, to an annual increase. There is a great concern that that might not continue—the Government have not committed to continue uprating our pensions beyond April 2020. That is a huge worry, because although inflation is quite low, the British pension is the lowest in the OECD countries and has already been devalued by 20% because of the fall in sterling. Not to increase that is adding insult to injury to people who left this country on the basis that they would always get their uprating.
We share the uncertainty with them. Right now, we share even more uncertainty, and I will tell you why. As the rights of EU citizens have not been enshrined in primary legislation, national Governments across the EU27 are reticent in coming forward with their own legislation, because they are concerned that the rights of their nationals living in the UK will not be equally protected.
In France, the legislation we now have—it came out last week—includes a clause that clearly states that, although it protects the rights of British citizens in a no-deal Brexit to some degree, everything in that can be withdrawn by decree if the French Government consider at any point that the British Government are not treating French citizens in the UK fairly and equally. Although, on the one hand, you might say that we have less uncertainty, because that is in place, on the other hand, it is not certainty, because it can be withdrawn by decree at any moment.
We are seeing across the EU27 that Governments are reluctant to come forward with legislation because the UK has not enshrined EU citizens’ rights in primary legislation. We hear that in our conversations with member states, and we are very aware that Governments are holding back on coming forward with their protections for us. You can imagine that that creates the most incredible uncertainty for people, because this is actually about people.
To underline that, we are not talking about hearsay here. As an organisation we have been involved in negotiations with our national Governments and with the EU Commission and MEPs. We have had fairly high-level involvement and we do know what they are thinking and saying.
Q The Government have said that they need the powers in clause 5 to introduce as yet unspecified post-exit policy changes in social security. Do you think it is right that we grant powers to the Government without knowing what they will do with them?
I come back to the uncertainty. On clause 5 on social security co-ordination, 80% of the British living in Europe are of working age or below. That is an awful lot of people potentially affected by social security aggregation, and add to that the pension issues that Jeremy has already outlined. We are talking more than 1 million people who are affected by social security aggregation—the aggregation of the contributions they make to their retirement pension. That is a fundamental right that we all moved across the Channel with.
I would also add that British citizens moving abroad are mobile. It is not so much that a British citizen moves from the UK to one country. We are mobile citizens, and many people have worked in three or four different countries. That is a complicated aggregation scenario. It is entirely possible, due to the rules in individual countries about minimum contribution periods—in Italy, you have to contribute for 20 years before you can receive a pension; in the UK, as you know, it is 10; in France, it is 10; and so on—that without co-ordination, people could work an entire working life and not receive any state pension.
Q You mentioned the variable way in which different countries in the EU are treating the rights of British citizens living in the EU. I ask you a similar question to that which I asked one of our other witnesses earlier. Do you think that different countries, the EU, and the British Government have approached this from a different perspective?
Yes. In so far as we are talking about Britain versus 27 or 26 different countries, clearly the British Government’s aim has been to get the withdrawal agreement through—to get Brexit—and almost anything that has to be done in order to achieve that, they will do. Obviously, there are difficulties at the moment. The other countries are more concerned with specific national issues. I do not think you can generalise.
The French are terribly concerned, for example, that people who are not French citizens should not be involved in public administration. In Italy, they are much more concerned about families. That is the Italians and the French for you.
Q Based on what you have said so far, what we should be doing is, first, encouraging the Government to seek a ring-fenced agreement on citizens’ rights and, secondly, setting out in this Committee strong rights for EU nationals in the UK in the Bill, whether there is a no-deal Brexit or a managed withdrawal, and, because of reciprocity, you will then see stronger rights for UK nationals across Europe.
In connection with ring-fencing, we must not forget that the UK has signed no-deal deals with Switzerland and EEA countries. It is extraordinary that they should not be able to do the same thing with the EU.
What happens in different scenarios if UK nationals currently in Europe want to come back to the UK with family members? How might whether we are in a deal or a no-deal situation affect that?
Thank you for asking that, because it is a very important aspect that is causing a lot of concern. You are talking about Surinder Singh rights: the right of, let us say, a British citizen who has exercised freedom of movement by living elsewhere in the EU to come back to the UK with their non-British family member. That right will disappear after Brexit whether or not there is a deal. Let us say that we are talking about somebody who is married to a Dutch citizen. Anybody wanting or needing to come back to the UK after Brexit would have to comply with UK immigration laws in order to come back. Surinder Singh rights will disappear after Brexit, whether or not there is a deal.
Absolutely. That leads to a situation where people may be forced to make a choice between their family in their host country and their family in the UK. Very often we are talking about people who need to come back to the UK to look after elderly parents.
I can give you a specific example very quickly. Let us call her Nicky. She lives in the Netherlands, where she looks after her husband who has multiple sclerosis. In the UK she has parents in their 80s getting older who will need care, and she is an only child. What does she do? She cannot come back to the UK, because there is no way, as a carer, she would earn the amount required in order to bring her husband. She cannot bring two very elderly parents to the Netherlands, because they do not speak Dutch. She is stuck. She has to make an impossible choice.
Q That is definitely something that we need to address. Finally, how do we put the rights of EU citizens in the UK in the Bill? Do we look to the withdrawal agreement, or to Appendix EU of the immigration rules? Are there things that you would want improved, even if we were just transposing them into the legislation?
It is more on the rights that we have in the EU. We have lost our freedom of movement rights, so the people who Kalba mentioned, who have moved to Europe—not necessarily to the Netherlands or to Luxembourg—have lost their right to move around. Many of them move there precisely because it is a very mobile market. People with IT skills, for example, work a two-year contract in one country and go to another. There are so many British people who have taken advantage of that, made lives for themselves, and ended up, in the course of that, picking up a family from one of the countries they have stayed in.
It has become a very complex system. Taking that right away from them is very serious indeed. The British do not have it in their gift, although at an early stage in the negotiations, I think in September 2017, the British offered to give EU citizens in the UK indefinite right to return. At present, you are allowed to be away for five years with your settled status, and then you lose it. The offer was to make that a lifetime right to return in exchange for freedom of movement for UK citizens in the EU. That was not accepted by the EU at the time, and has not been pushed as hard as it should have been since, because it is a terribly sensible arrangement.
Q Thank you very much for your evidence, and for taking the time to come to see us and to set out your concerns so clearly. Do you think that this Bill is the right place to put citizens’ rights in primary legislation, or do you think that would better be done in the withdrawal Bill at the appropriate time?
There is a timing issue, in that the UK may leave the EU in six weeks with no deal. That does not leave very long to legalise the rights of British citizens living abroad. If we know that the EU27 states are looking for legal guarantees for their own citizens living here, we do not have very long to do it. They will be looking for those in order to put into place their own legislation. I would have concerns about leaving it too long.
Q From the conversations that you have had to date with officials, MEPs and so on, you believe it to be an absolute imperative that it is in primary legislation and not something that is left to the secondary rules that have to date established the 3 million EU citizens’ rights here.
It would make it an awful lot easier for them because they could say there is at least a law. The problem then, of course, is that the law can be changed, but it still would look an awful lot better. They know who Henry VIII was as well and they have seen the discussion. EU officials and politicians are pretty tuned in to what goes on in this country. They have seen the discussion and it worries them.
Q Thank you for your submission. I know that you have also talked to my officials on some of the amending SIs. I have one question on pensioners’ uprating, which you brought up. What impact do you think it would have on UK nationals? Have you talked to people extensively about potentially losing their uprating?
Q Answer the direct question. Do you think it would change people’s behaviour? Would they decide as a result of that to move back to the UK?
Colleagues, if there are no further questions, I thank our two witnesses for the evidence that they gave the Committee. We have now reached the end of our oral evidence sessions. The Committee will next meet on Tuesday