Settled status

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Shadow Minister (Exiting the European Union) 2:00 pm, 5th March 2019

I am pleased to speak in support of new clauses 15 to 18, and to offer our support to new clauses 33, 35 and 47 to 49.

Mr Stringer, you will no doubt recall, as other hon. Members will, our first Opposition day debate after the referendum in 2016. In that debate, we called on the Government to offer a unilateral guarantee concerning the rights of EU nationals. I am confident that doing so would have led to reciprocal guarantees for UK citizens by the EU27. It would have prevented two and a half years of uncertainty and anxiety for EU nationals and their families, and it would have set off the negotiations on the right tone. In contrast, the Government promised the EU the “row of the summer” over the scheduling of the talks.

We must remember that we are talking about not only the concerns of EU citizens in the UK but, given the principle of reciprocity, the concerns of the 1.2 million Brits in the rest of Europe. It is disappointing that during the entire process, none of the three Secretaries of State for Exiting the European Union has agreed to meet the British in Europe group. The fact that the Government did not secure their onward freedom of movement as part of the withdrawal agreement says an awful lot about their commitment to that important group of UK citizens.

Our discussion of the new clauses is timely, given that last Wednesday the House decided, with the reluctant and belated agreement of the Government, to seek an agreement with the EU to ring-fence part 2—the citizens’ rights section—of the withdrawal agreement. However, the shambles that led to that, in which the Home Secretary was apparently unaware that the Prime Minister opposed the amendment in the name of Alberto Costa until the hon. Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East pointed it out in Committee that morning—if anyone has not seen the clip of that, I recommend it—sums up perfectly why we need to get the rights into primary legislation.

I was pleased to be among those who signed that amendment, and pleased that the Government finally accepted the proposal made by the hon. Member for South Leicestershire. I am sure we can all agree that it was unfortunate that he had to resign from the Government over an amendment that they subsequently supported, but I hope that that will be remedied. I hope that we can bring the same spirit of cross-party consensus to the new clauses that we are considering.

The registration of more than 3 million—approaching 4 million—EEA nationals and their family members will be the biggest immigration documentation undertaking in the country’s history. New clauses 15, 16, 17 and 18 set out the rights of EU citizens, their family members and non-EEA nationals whose rights derive from their relationships with EEA citizens—namely Zambrano carers, Chen carers, and Ibrahim and Teixeira carers.

First and foremost, new clause 15 would make settled status a declaratory system, to ensure that all EEA nationals, their family members and those with derived rights who are resident in the UK by 31 December 2020 have a legal right to stay, and that the only ground for denying an individual settled status is serious criminality. If, as they repeatedly say, the Government are serious about wanting EEA nationals and their family members to stay in the UK, they should not require them to jump through hoops.

We have heard from Professor Smismans that

“the practical consequences can be dire under a constitutive system”––[Official Report, Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Public Bill Committee, 14 February 2019; c. 132, Q334.]

We can easily envisage that certain groups are at risk of not applying, for an array of reasons: children whose parents do not apply; long-term residents, including those who have already been granted permanent residency; and people who mistakenly believe that they are not eligible. This system would mean that people would have to apply only for proof of status, which they would practically require.

We have seen a number of problems. Representatives from the3million have highlighted to me today their concern that the application process for settled status is not as simple as was promised. Too many—16%, I understand—of those who have engaged with it so far have faced demands for extra evidence, beyond the initial application, if no Revenue and Customs or Department for Work and Pensions data was available. Too many—30%, I understand—have been given not settled status but pre-settled status, although some of them have lived in the UK for more than five years.