4th July 2017 – Contribution by Lord Waverley
My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Lord, Lord Judd, when he asked what type of country we wished to be. I further note—he prompts me in suggesting this—that, frankly, all successful economies have inclusive immigration policies. I will refer to the game of poker during my remarks. What a winning hand that during consecutive debates this afternoon I should follow the noble Lord, Lord Judd.
I must congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, and her committee team. She has done the House, the Government and the country, together with all those most directly affected, wherever they be, an inestimable service. Emotions understandably run high on this issue, both here and on the continent. Some issues belong elsewhere. Matters that impact targets should be recognised but tagged for resolution in legislative debate and amendments to the appropriate Acts. But what we are dealing with today is the here and now. I have detained the House on multiple occasions already as I, too, will be impacted by the end result, as a long-term resident on the continent—but I will not rehearse what is already on the record. An equitable divorce is sought, but I sense that the situation has the potential to get out of hand.
Mrs Golding, a barrister specialising in EU law and a tenacious chair of the British in Europe movement, represents the interests of the two combined groupings of the 4.5 million Britons on the continent and EU citizens in the UK. Allegations that the Government of the United Kingdom are neither listening nor engaging are troubling. There is a view that the Government are playing poker with the lives of millions of good, decent people, who are caught up in a situation through no fault of their own. Although UK Ministers have made themselves available, the Secretary of State has been described as “elusive”. Conversely, it appears that Monsieur Barnier and his team, representing the European Commission, have had constructive and transparent meetings with the group’s representatives and are described as supportive.
A number of issues have emerged following the Prime Minister’s offer to the European Commission, as highlighted by Mrs Golding. The UK proposal does not respond to the comprehensive offer made by the EU on 22 May to guarantee the vast majority of rights, but instead represents an entirely different form of offer founded in UK law, which relates to the future immigration status of EU citizens in the UK. Thus, when comparing the two proposals, it is not possible to compare like with like, and the application and principle of reciprocity is complicated.
The UK proposal lacks detail on safeguarding the rights of UK citizens in the EU. By contrast, the EU offer is a detailed proposal to guarantee the vast majority of the rights that UK citizens in the EU currently have. This includes free movement and would protect the rights of UK citizens in the EU, subject to certain clarifications as regards freedom of establishment, the position of students commencing their studies now, and voting rights. Arguably, therefore, the offer set out in the UK proposal for EU citizens in the UK represents the substitution of acquired rights of EU citizenship under EU law with a lesser “settled status”, for which EU citizens will be required to apply and which is not for life. This status could be lost following a two-year absence from the UK, and these citizens would then have to apply to return to the UK under UK immigration rules unless they could prove that they had “strong ties” to the UK—a vague concept that is not defined.
It is also claimed that EU citizens would no longer benefit from the same family reunification rights or from the overarching principle of equal treatment to British citizens in the UK. In addition, the position as regards both groups on other rights, such as pensions, healthcare, rights to work, rights of establishment and the mutual recognition of qualifications, requires clarification. We are aware that the UK proposal states that the ECJ,
“will not have jurisdiction in the UK”.
Opponents argue that, given the cumulative experience in case law of the ECJ on the rights of both groups, reference by UK courts to the ECJ would clearly represent the easiest and most practical option.
Perhaps a more efficient and pragmatic solution would be to create a dispute resolution body with jurisdiction to enforce citizens’ rights, offering a way for all affected individuals to safeguard their rights as regards the final guarantee set out in the Article 50 withdrawal agreement. Divergent interpretations of the rights of EU nationals living in the UK before Brexit and British nationals living in the EU before Brexit must be avoided.
The EU insists that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. Is this wise? Instead, a separate and definitive agreement on citizens’ rights should be reached now, well ahead of the main Article 50 negotiations, if current anxiety and uncertainty are to be alleviated. The definitive agreement needs to be confirmed in the Article 50 withdrawal agreement to give it treaty status and the force of international law.
An additional issue must once again be flagged. Families, many with children, face the stark reality of enforced separation because of the quirks of being a non-EU spouse and not meeting immigration criteria for residence in the UK. So for the fourth time I ask the Government: will the repeal Bill ensure that UK law conforms to the European Court of Justice ruling C-127/08 on the implementation of directive 2004/38/EC for the rights of non-EU spouses of EU citizens to move freely in the EU, with unfettered access to the UK? A government response claims:
“United Kingdom law relating to the rights of EU nationals and their family members”—
this is the key point—
“to enter and reside in the UK is fully compliant with the decision”,
of the ECJ. Will the Minister ask her officials to look very carefully at this, and state unequivocally that non-EU spouses and family can enter and reside in the UK without precondition? Will she kindly ensure that a copy of that response is placed in the Library?
Recognising the gravity and importance of what is before us this evening, I have asked my own IT development team to ensure that relevant papers pertaining to citizens’ acquired rights—including a link to the committee’s report, the expert opinions presented by Mrs Golding and today’s proceedings—be made readily available for public viewing. To this end, I have registered a domain—eumatters.uk—and invite members of all parliaments in the European Union, Governments and the public at large to keep abreast of proceedings.
I cannot believe for one moment that 4.5 million people deserve such potential disruption to their lives. Is it possible that the matter is becoming overcomplicated and we are losing sight of the woods in contemplating each tree? It is entirely possible that EU citizens can simply become dual nationals, as people all over the world do when they wish to obtain or retain dual rights. Certainly, British citizens currently in the EU have more limited rights as residents than if they became citizens of the countries wherein they currently live. At present they must comply with national residency criteria, particularly with the 183-day rule, taking into account primary residence status and centre of economic interest; pay national social security and municipal taxes as required; and convert driving licences, and so on. This visible and verifiable commitment of intent and compliance with these rules should then allow for an absolute right to remain status.
The Government assure us that their offer ensures that EU citizens in the UK will have the same rights as UK citizens in the UK. Are British citizens being offered the same protections, rights and benefits across the EU? It is the duty of government to act to protect the equal legal and moral rights of all citizens, regardless of origin. This House should attempt to steer the Government and the negotiations away from the cliff edge and the abyss beyond.
Link to full contribution: http://bit.ly/2wgjLdP