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European Union Citizens’ Rights

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 12th November 2019.

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Photo of Adam Tomkins Adam Tomkins Conservative

I agree with Liam McArthur’s comments unreservedly. At the moment, I am just talking about the economic benefits because they have been the focus of so much of the debate, but I have no argument whatsoever with Liam McArthur about the social and cultural benefits that enrich our communities and our society in all the ways that he has described. He is absolutely right, and I do not think that anybody in the chamber disagrees with any of those points.

I have talked about where we agree with Ben Macpherson’s motion but, in our view, where the Government motion goes wrong is when it talks about “insecurity and anxiety”. The opening words of Ben Macpherson’s opening speech in today’s debate were about uncertainty. I very much recognise that there is insecurity, anxiety and uncertainty, and I very much regret that, but we have to be absolutely clear why that is the case. They are caused by those, including the SNP, who have consistently refused to back our carefully negotiated withdrawal agreement. The withdrawal agreement guarantees the rights of EU nationals who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom. That is what the SNP called for, and yet the SNP has voted against it again and again. I am afraid that that is what has caused the very uncertainty that the SNP now complains about.

The Government motion also insists that the existing rights of EU nationals who are lawfully resident in the United Kingdom should be maintained and that people should not have to apply for rights that they currently have. I have to say to Ben Macpherson that that argument is misconceived for reasons that were touched on in Alex Rowley’s remarks a few moments ago. Free movement will end when we leave the European Union, or at least it will end at the end of the transition period. Free movement is a nice phrase, but what does it mean? It means uncontrolled immigration—that is what it has come to mean. I was interested in what Annabelle Ewing, who was a lawyer in Brussels for many years before she turned to elected politics, had to say about that. She said that the European Union was created in order to prosecute peace in Europe “through trade” and she is right. When free movement was written into the treaties in the early days of the European Union, it was not about free movement or about citizens and citizenship; it was about free movement of workers. It was an economic right and it was “transactional”, to use the word that Liam McArthur used earlier.