Extent, commencement and short title

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 28th February 2019.

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Photo of Caroline Nokes Caroline Nokes The Minister for Immigration 3:00 pm, 28th February 2019

Obviously, the Home Office is obliged to consider the comments of the National Audit Office, and it is doing so very carefully.

In addition to the resources committed to this work, the Government are also obliged to look to end free movement as soon as is practically possible. That is the first step in establishing a future border and immigration system that works for the whole United Kingdom. Amendment 23 would amend the commencement provisions in the Bill. The amendment would make the commencement of clause 1, which ends free movement, and clause 5—the social security provision—dependent on 3 million people having applied for, and been granted, status under the EU settlement scheme.

We are committed to securing the rights of resident EU citizens, and we have delivered that through the EU settlement scheme, which will enable us to grant settled or pre-settled status to European economic area nationals and their family members in the UK before EU exit, regardless of whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal.

I am pleased that the hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton supports the settlement scheme, and I hope that he and all other Members are encouraging EU nationals resident in their constituencies to apply. However, setting a target for the number of applications that must be reached before the Bill comes into force is not appropriate, for a number of reasons. First, we already have a generous deadline for applications to the scheme, which acts as an incentive for the resident population to apply. Using the power in clause 4, we will ensure that their status is protected before that deadline, so that their rights remain unchanged immediately after exit, avoiding any cliff edge.

Clearly, the EU and the UK commonly agreed that a deadline was the right approach when they provided for it in article 18 of the draft withdrawal agreement. We have been clear about what the deadline will be in both a deal and a no-deal scenario. According to the annual population survey, it is currently estimated that around 3 million EEA nationals are resident in the UK, but even that might well be an underestimate. It would be irresponsible to repeal free movement just because 3 million applications had been granted, which could easily happen before the proposed deadline. A date deadline is public and clearly understood. People can plan their affairs around it in a way that they cannot with an arbitrary figure such as the one proposed in the amendment.