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What was said in Parliament about the status of EU nationals in the UK?

First of all, as I have written previously, it seems highly likely that those EU nationals and their families currently resident in the UK will be allowed to remain. We do not know on what basis but it nevertheless seems highly likely. There are very many concerned readers of this blog following the situation closely, and the topic was discussed in Parliament yesterday, both at Prime Minister’s Questions, again by the Prime Minister shortly afterwards and then also later in the House of Lords.

No clarity was achieved on any of these occasions, I am sorry to say.

First, at Prime Minister’s Questions:

Jake Berry (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)

As well as Brits living abroad in the European Union, there are a number of EU nationals living in this country—including my constituency—who are working hard and paying their taxes, entirely legitimately. What reassurance can the Prime Minister give them that their position is secure? I know that a number of them are very concerned.

The Prime Minister

I think that the first thing we should do is appraise the contribution that those people make to our country. There are 50,000 EU nationals working in our NHS and 60,000 working in our care sector, looking after our elderly as they approach the end of their lives. There are also many working in education.

As I said quite exhaustively on Monday, we can obviously say that all rights are guaranteed, as we are members of the European Union. In the future, we will have to make sure—and I have heard members of the leave campaign make this point—that people who are already here, people who are already studying or working, must have their rights and their access guaranteed. However, we cannot say that now; we will have to say it as part of the negotiation that will shortly take place.

Nice to see the Prime Minsiter praising the contributions of EU nationals and their contribution to the UK. Shame only to hear it after the referendum vote. You can see the relevant clip here:

Shortly after that Yvette Cooper asked a question in response to the Prime Minister’s report on the EU Council meeting:

Yvette Cooper (Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford) (Lab)

There is obviously a difference between future free movement reform and the position of existing residents. The Prime Minister said earlier that we could not confirm residency or employment rights for EU citizens who already live here until the negotiations were under way, but why is that the case? Given that the matter is being exploited by awful “go home” or repatriation campaigns, we should take a firm stance against them and pass some swift motions or legislation or new immigration rules in this House before the summer recess to put an end to that speculation and to provide reassurance to EU citizens who may have worked here for many years. I urge the Prime Minister to consider that because it would be a wise thing to do for the sake of community cohesion.

The Prime Minister

Obviously, I will look very carefully at what the right hon. Lady says. I have tried to answer the question as accurately, factually and legally as I can. If we come out of this negotiation arguing for visa requirements, restrictions on numbers, quotas, work permits or whatever for European nationals to come here—this will be for a future Government—other countries might take reciprocal action against British citizens trying to travel, work and live in other countries. Even if that were to happen, the answer would be to guarantee the status of anybody here now. We can say that while we are in the European Union, but it is for a future Prime Minister to make that decision.

Then later the subject also came up in the House of Lords (with Lord Keen of Elie speaking for the Government):

Asked by

Lord Lucas

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to take steps to reassure European Union nationals currently resident in the United Kingdom that their future in this country will not be affected as a result of the European Union referendum result.

The Advocate-General for Scotland (Lord Keen of Elie) (Con)

My Lords, as the Prime Minister has said, there will be no immediate changes in the circumstances of European nationals currently residing in the United Kingdom. European Union nationals do not need to apply at present for a resident’s card or a permanent resident’s card to enjoy their free movement rights and responsibilities.

Lord Lucas (Con)

I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does he not agree that unless we make it clear to European Union nationals, who we have welcomed here to work and make their careers, that in the event of Brexit they will have an unconditional right to remain and to continue in those careers, we will find it impossible to recruit such people for our businesses, particularly in the City, and will do ourselves a great deal of damage?

Lord Keen of Elie

Any criteria set which enable EU citizens to remain in the United Kingdom following exit from the European Union will depend on the outcome of the negotiations and the scope of any reciprocal agreements concerning British citizens who live in other member states.

Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)

My Lords, would it not be up to Her Majesty’s Government to open the way for EU nationals to reside in this country after we leave the European Union?

Lord Keen of Elie

It will, as I say, be a feature of any future negotiation to determine the status of EU citizens within the United Kingdom and of British citizens within the EU.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House with whom the Government would negotiate to secure the position of European citizens who live and work in this country now? Surely there can be no reason why the decision to allow those people to stay should not be taken by this Government alone.

Lord Keen of Elie

As noble Lords are aware, nothing will change overnight as a result of the decision to leave the European Union, and no determination will be made at this time with regard to citizens within the United Kingdom.

Lord Elystan-Morgan (CB)

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the social abuse that foreigners have suffered over the last few days since the referendum, and will he kindly look at the offence of threatening, abusive and insulting word and behaviour under the Public Order Act 1936, as well as the offence of acts intended or likely to stir up racial or religious hatred under the 2001 Act? If he comes to the conclusion that they have been very narrowly drafted, for all that they have achieved, will the Government be prepared to legislate on this matter?

Lord Keen of Elie

My Lords, recent behaviour towards EU citizens in this country is to be deprecated. We consider that we have sufficient laws in place to deal with these matters without further review at this time.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)

My Lords, does my noble friend recall that the Prime Minister made it clear that EU citizens who are living in this country, with employment in this country, will be able to remain so? Does he recognise that people are sick and fed up that this fearmongering campaign is continuing after we have made a clear decision? It is important that EU nationals who are resident in this country are reassured of their position. Will he please do so?

Lord Keen of Elie

My Lords, those EU nationals who are resident in the country at the present time can be reassured that there will be no change, as our membership of the EU continues over the next number of years. Nevertheless, as the Prime Minister has made clear, it is for the next Prime Minister and Government to decide when to trigger Article 50 and to carry on the relevant negotiations.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch (UKIP)

My Lords—

Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)

My Lords—

Baroness Manzoor (LD)

My Lords—

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Stowell of Beeston) (Con)

My Lords, the House was calling for the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, before that stronger intervention and then I think it is the turn of the Labour Benches.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, I am most grateful. Do the Government accept that there are about 3 million EU nationals living at present in the United Kingdom, but there are also 1.2 million British people living in the European Union? When present tensions have calmed down, why would either Brussels or London want to do anything to upset this mutually beneficial situation? Do the Government agree however, that if the EU were to get difficult with our nationals living there, it is we who hold the stronger hand if we retaliate, because so many more of them are living here?

Lord Keen of Elie

My Lords, the mutual benefits of having UK citizens living in Europe and European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom are obvious and apparent; no doubt that will be reflected in the negotiations that are to be carried on after Article 50.

Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke (Lab)

My Lords—

Lord Anderson of Swansea

My Lords—

Basically, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, who speaks for UKIP and was formerly leader of that party, basically suggested holding 3 million EU nationals as hostage in negotiations with the EU. It did not go down well with anyone else.

If I hear any more I will of course post information to the blog, so make sure you are signed up for email updates.

UPDATE:

Theresa May, the Home Secretary on whose watch the Go Home vans were sent to patrol ethnic minority areas of London, Conservative Party leadership hopeful and probable next Prime Minister, is not helping:

UPDATE:

The issue was discussed again on 4 July 2016, with Immigration Minister James Broken-shire speaking for the Government. You can read the full debate for yourself here. Broken-shire again took the line that it is not possible to give assurances. However, towards the end of the debate, with a lot of Leave campaigners pressing the point as well as Remainers, he came close to saying that Something Will Be Done. I have copied in some of the more reassuring passages below:

…we want to get to a position where we can tell EU nationals who live in the UK that everything will be fine, that we can see them continuing here … That is the approach that we will take as we look towards those negotiations and those EU discussions.

I recognise the contribution made by all the people my right hon. Friend mentioned to our economy and also, as I said, to schools, the health service and so many other parts of our communities. I stress again that there is no change to their status now. We have to approach the discussions and focus on how we get the best possible outcome for them as well as for our own citizens, and that is what we will do.

We do have the certainty of knowing that there will be no immediate change, so people should not be fearful. Equally, others should not try to stoke up anxieties in the way that, I think, has been done in some contributions. It is important that we get this right and that people can continue in the way that they have done. Again, this process of leaving the EU is likely to take a number of years, and there will be no change while we remain a member of the European Union. People need to have that confidence and certainty. We will certainly confront any division, any hatred and any racism that we see, and the police are already taking action on that.

I welcome my hon. Friend’s comments. We want to make sure that EU nationals who are already here can stay in Britain, but we also, as I have already stressed, need to guarantee the rights of British nationals living in EU member states. That needs to be a priority of our negotiations.

Lots of kind words were repeated about the valuable contribution that EU nationals make to our economy and society. It is a shame such comments were not more volubly made during the referendum campaign.

Colin Yeo
Colin Yeo A barrister specialising in UK immigration law at Garden Court Chambers in London, I have been practising in immigration law for 15 years. I am passionate about immigration law and founded and edit the Free Movement immigration law blog.

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