Report on the status and social security entitlements of UK nationals in the EU member states

Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 18th June 2020.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must prepare and publish quarterly reports on the progress being made by EU member states on the migration status and social security entitlements of UK nationals in their countries.

(2) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than a month after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.”—

This new clause would require the Government to update the House of Commons on the progress being made by the EU27 countries on the implementation of protections for UK nationals in their countries on a quarterly basis.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The new clause would require the Government to report quarterly on the status and social security entitlements of UK nationals in EU member states. I am grateful to British in Europe for its comprehensive briefing in preparation for this debate.

Implementation in the EU of the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement is still in its early stages, with few countries having final or even draft legislation in place. Application processes have begun in only a handful of countries. The situation has understandably been exacerbated by delays caused by the covid crisis. However, that creates uncertainty for thousands of UK families and individuals in the EU, who are awaiting the outcome of applications to be allowed to stay in countries in which they have made their home that have opted for an application or constitutive system.

The European Commission’s promised guidance note, which was eventually published on 12 May, is helpful in clarifying some of the uncertainties, but outstanding issues include how dual UK-EU nationals and other citizens who do not rely on the withdrawal agreement for residence rights can evidence their rights; how the withdrawal agreement applies to UK citizens who are eligible for protection under the withdrawal agreement in their own right and for protection under EU law as family members of EU citizens; and whether UK citizens eligible for protection under the withdrawal agreement, which of course confers no right of free movement to third EU countries, can obtain the rights at least to some mobility enjoyed by other third-country nationals, either in addition to their withdrawal agreement rights or by waiving that protection and opting to register as non-withdrawal agreement third-country nationals.

In addition, the common format of the card evidencing withdrawal agreement rights, mandated by the Commission for UK nationals in the EU, fails to distinguish between permanent residence and ordinary residence. The conditions for lawful residence under EU law, which applies during the transition period, and under the withdrawal agreement for those who have not yet acquired permanent residence or had permanent residence confirmed, include requirements to be employed or self-employed, or economically self-sufficient with comprehensive health insurance.

Those conditions are applied strictly in many EU countries. The lockdown restrictions of the covid crisis, however, have caused people to lose their jobs or much of their income, and some will be unable to obtain comprehensive health insurance because of exclusions—students studying abroad and recent graduates are at particular risk.

We know the Government do not intend to extend the transition period. Will the Minister tell us whether the Government intend to ask EU member states to grant extensions to time limits for securing rights under the withdrawal agreement, which people have been unable to comply with because of covid restrictions on travel or the closure of administrative offices? That applies not only to residence rights across the EU, but to citizenship applications where 31 December this year is a cut-off date, such as is the case in Germany or Italy.

With much still unresolved, British in Europe and the3million have suggested that they should attend the specialised committee on citizens’ rights of the joint committee on implementation of the withdrawal agreement established—

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

Order. The new clause is about the Government reporting to the House of Commons. I understand the points that the hon. Lady is making, but if she would relate her comments to the reporting, I would be grateful.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Of course, Mr Stringer; that is very helpful guidance. These are matters on which I hope the Minister may be able to give some immediate answers about the Government’s current actions, but obviously the report to the House would be able to demonstrate the effect on UK nationals in the EU of our withdrawal from the European Union, which I think the public as a whole will be concerned about. As I go through further remarks about possible effects, I will naturally seek to come back to the point that I seek the approval of the Committee on regular reports on these matters being made to the House, including on the suggestion by British in Europe and the3million that they should be able to attend the specialist committee on citizens’ rights of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee.

There are other uncertainties for UK nationals who are not covered by the withdrawal agreement. Jeremy Morgan of British in Europe agreed in our oral evidence session last week that UK nationals resident in the UK but who own second properties in the European Union will potentially now be caught by the 90 out of 180 days rule under the Schengen arrangements. It is not clear whether the UK Government have given up on negotiating up to 180-day stays for UK citizens visiting the European Union, so it would be useful to have regular reports to the House on whether negotiations are continuing, or on the impact if they are not.

The concerns I have outlined so far affect UK nationals who already live, work or own property in the European Union, but there will also be concerns about UK nationals moving to the EU in the future after the end of the transition period. In our evidence session on 9 June, Jeremy Morgan of British in Europe drew attention to whether UK nationals will be able to buy property in certain EU countries after the transition, which again I think would be of interest to the House and the wider public, and future reports on that would be welcome.

On Tuesday, we debated the implications of clause 5 and the draft social security arrangements published by the UK and the EU. I am grateful to the Minister for the letter he sent me late yesterday evening, which I think has been copied to all Committee members, in response to a number of issues I raised in that debate. The analogy drawn in the letter with other treaties between the UK and third countries simply exposes the more limited protection that those treaties provide, and that such treaties seem to be the model for our future arrangements with the European Union—for example, on aggregating contributions, sharing information or healthcare. If those are to be a model for future coverage for UK nationals in the EU, again I think that is something that should be drawn regularly to the attention of the House.

The draft social security agreement attached to the free trade agreement published in February makes it clear that the Government envisage that short-term visitors would be covered, but what of those who go to work or make their home in the EU in future? The Minister’s letter says that contributory employment and support allowance will be available for four weeks. I note in passing that a decreasing number of people get contributory ESA anyway, and that that four-week grace period will be of no use to disabled people moving abroad, or even visiting for five, six or seven weeks. I think the House would like to be aware of the implications of new arrangements for disabled people.

Similarly, on healthcare, the Minister’s letter may try to gloss over this, but for those who are not going to be covered by the withdrawal agreement, the S2 will be scrapped, so they cannot in future go abroad and have treatment paid for in the EU, even if the NHS cannot provide that treatment. Importantly, we will lose the mutual recognition of prescriptions, which could have quite significant consequences for some UK nationals.

My assessment is that, for those UK nationals moving to the European Union after the transition, the unspoken thrust of the letter sent by the Minister last night is a levelling down of protections and rights, which I feel the House should want to track on a regular basis. I recognise that a number of bilateral reciprocal arrangements—some going back many years—between the UK and certain member states may fill in some of the gaps in social security co-ordination arrangements in the future, but it is unclear whether either country will regard them as remaining effective. In any event, many of the arrangements offer only very limited protection. Again, I think it would be useful for the House to be updated on the standing of, and application of, these bilateral agreements.

If no agreement is secured with the European Union and the Minister hopes that instead a series of new bilateral arrangements might be negotiated between the UK and each individual member state, there may be a fear in those member states that that could impinge on the co-ordination arrangements that apply in relation to other member states, and that fall within the scope of European Union co-ordination regulations. It would be useful for the House to have regular updates on that.

The picture that I have painted suggests at best confusion, and at worst the prospect of less favourable protections for UK citizens in the European Union—those already there, and those who move to European Union countries in future. The UK Government have an obligation to look after the welfare of their citizens wherever they are located. Quarterly reporting to Parliament will make it possible to conduct scrutiny of the way in which the Government meet the obligation.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston for moving new clause 60, which is well intentioned but ultimately unnecessary. The Government are monitoring closely the implementation of the withdrawal agreement for UK nationals in the EU and information on citizens’ rights in each EU member state is already provided by the Government on our “Living in” guides on gov.uk.

Having ratified the withdrawal agreement and legislated for it domestically in the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 in January, the Government are now closely monitoring the progress of member state implementation during the transition period, via our network of embassies, high commissions and consulates across Europe. We are committed to providing UK nationals overseas with clear and appropriate information and are working with member states to ensure that any introduction of, or changes to, administrative procedures that are in line with the withdrawal agreement will be communicated to resident UK nationals.

The EU’s social security co-ordination rules will continue to apply in full to individuals in full scope of the withdrawal agreement, including UK nationals living and/or working in the EU, and EEA citizens living and/or working in the UK by the end of the transition period. Those rights are protected for as long as they remain in full scope of the withdrawal agreement.

Information is available via our “Living in” guides on gov.uk, and UK nationals should sign up for the latest information on the actions they need to take. The “Living in Europe” guide, which is also on gov.uk, provides further information on citizens’ rights to UK nationals in the EU.

Beyond that, we also have a governance structure established by the withdrawal agreement to monitor the correct implementation and application of the withdrawal agreement. The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, has already met twice, on 30 March and 12 June.

The Specialised Committee on Citizens’ Rights, co-chaired by UK and EU officials, met on 20 May. As set out in the joint statement following the meeting, both the UK and the EU exchanged updates on the implementation of the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement and discussed preparatory work for future meetings. The Government and European Commission share the objective of ensuring the correct and timely implementation of the withdrawal agreement to provide certainty to UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK. The Committee will therefore meet regularly during the transition period and thereafter.

Finally, I reassure the Committee that we are calling on the European Commission and all member states to ensure timely implementation and clear communications to UK nationals in the EU, in line with what has been agreed in the withdrawal agreement.

I will briefly cover some of the points that the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston made. The Government are continuing their negotiations with a view to a future partnership. We have already looked to extend our generous visitor visa provisions to EEA nationals from 1 January, on the same basis as we have to many of our traditional international friends and allies, such as Canada, the United States and Japan. We continue in discussions to seek a productive partnership. However, I am sure that the hon. Lady will appreciate that it is not possible for us, in domestic UK immigration measures, to legislate for what other nations should offer the United Kingdom.

On that basis, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her new clause.

Photo of Kate Green Kate Green Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 4:15 pm, 18th June 2020

I feel that the Minister’s response has rather missed some of the points that I was trying to make. In seeking a report to Parliament, I am asking for something a little bit different from information to UK nationals about what they should be doing at any given time, whether or not they moved to the EU before or after the end of transition. Intergovernmental discussions—or discussions between the UK Government and the European Union—taking place in the joint committee are very important, but they are not a parliamentary event that ensures full public information and scrutiny of those discussions. My point on the bilateral treaties was also about thinking of protections for UK nationals, which, if I may say so, are in the gift of the UK Government. The signs are worrying when looking at the Government’s draft agreement, published earlier this year.

I will not press the new clause to a vote, but I gently suggest to the Minister that keeping the House updated on such matters is not only important to hon. Members, but of considerable importance to our constituents. We have found at times that Ministers are quite tardy in coming to the House to inform us about the progress of negotiations with the European Union, at least in relation to these important matters. I hope that the Minister will use his good offices to encourage his colleagues to keep us as well informed as possible. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

New clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

On a point of order, Mr Stringer. I thought it appropriate to thank you and Sir Edward for your very effective chairmanships and for keeping us all in order—even me, with the interesting slip that I managed to make earlier today. I hope that it did not cause too much hilarity in the Committee.

Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I am sure it did. I should also thank the shadow Minister and the SNP spokesperson for the spirit in which we have debated the Bill, put on the record a number of important points and explored a number of issues of concern to a range of constituents. I am sure that hon. Members would want me to express gratitude to the Clerk, who has ensured that the Committee was conducted professionally and well. I also thank my officials at the Home Office and those at the Department for Work and Pensions who have supported me both by preparing for the Committee and by preparing briefings on a range of amendments.

I can imagine how you will rule on this point of order, Mr Stringer—probably in line with every other point of order that has ever been raised in the five years that I have been here—but I wanted to put those few comments on the record as we come to our conclusion.

Photo of Holly Lynch Holly Lynch Shadow Minister (Home Office)

On a point of order, Mr Stinger. I echo the Minister’s sentiments—I am grateful for the points that he just made. I thank my Committee colleagues, not least the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston—I am eternally grateful for her support on a personal basis; her experience in this subject area is second to none—the hon. Members for Kingston upon Hull North and Coventry North West, and our Whip, the hon. Member for Ogmore, for their support. I also thank you, Mr Stringer.

I echo the Minister’s sentiments: the Clerk has been incredibly helpful to Members across the Committee and her efforts have been nothing short of herculean, often responding to emails in the early hours of the morning. We are eternally grateful to her for that. I also put on the record my thanks to my staff members, Jamie Welham and Charlotte Butterick, as well as to Heather Staff in the office of my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston.

Putting politics and the subject matter to one side, we can always collectively breathe a sigh of relief when the intensity and pace of any Bill Committee comes to an end. I very much look forward to returning to some of these issues on Report and Third Reading.

Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton

That was outrageously out of order. Thank you for the kind comments.

Bill accordingly to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

IB17 British Medical Association

IB18 Countryside Alliance

IB19 Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission

IB20 techUK

IB21 Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association (ILPA)