Last week, on the 8th of February, as the European Union (Notice of Withdrawal) Bill 2016-17 made its way through its Third Reading in the House of Commons, Labour MP Harriet Harman brought up ‘New Clause 57’, which stated:
‘Effect of notification of withdrawal
“Nothing in this Act shall affect the continuation of those residence rights enjoyed by EU citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016, under or by virtue of Directive 2004/38/EC, after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.”—(Ms Harman.)
‘This savings new clause is designed to protect the residence rights of those EU citizens who were lawfully resident in the United Kingdom on the date of the EU referendum. It would ensure that those rights do not fall away automatically two years after notice of withdrawal has been given, if no agreement is reached with the EU. This new clause would implement a recommendation made in paragraph 53 by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report ‘The human rights implications of Brexit’.
The question was put to the MPs of whether this clause be added to the Bill, which drew 290 ‘Ayes’ and 332 ‘Noes’. Only three Conservatives – Ken Clarke, Andrew Tyrie and Tania Matthias – voted in favour of the amendment, which is relevant taking into account that the Home Secretary had circulated a letter, now leaked, prior to the vote to all Conservative MPs apparently ‘offering assurances about the rights of EU citizens’. The amendment for residency rights for EU nationals was expected, and thus to counter this, the Home Secretary Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP wrote to Conservative MPs only on the 6th February:
I know some colleagues are concerned about how long this might take to resolve, but the Government remains committed to providing reassurance to EU nationals here and UK nationals in the EU as a priority once Article 50 has been triggered. The hold-up is less an issue of principle than one of timing with a few EU countries insisting there can be ‘no negotiation before notification’, and therefore that nothing can be settled until Article 50 is triggered.
But I’d also like to reassure colleagues that Parliament will have a clear opportunity to debate and vote on this issue in the future. The Great Repeal Bill will not change our immigration system. This will be done through a separate Immigration Bill and subsequent secondary legislation so nothing will change for any EU citizen, whether already resident in the UK or moving from the EU, without Parliament’s approval.
The vote caused a great stir on Twitter as the ‘future of three million EU citizens remains uncertain‘, followed by a ‘leaked EU assessment of the legal impact of Britain’s withdrawal’ which suggests British nationals living in EU countries could ‘expect a backlash’. The Guardian quotes the document as stating:
‘The fact that it appears to be particularly difficult for foreign nationals, even if married to UK nationals or born in the UK, to acquire permanent residence status or British nationality may colour member states’ approach to this matter.’
Many EU citizens, since the EU Referendum, have decided to secure their futures by applying for residency, with some being told to ‘make preparations to leave the UK’ making it difficult for EU talent settled and working in the UK to feel at home.
On the same day, during Prime Ministers Questions, both Conservative MPs Sarah Wollaston and James Berry pushed Theresa May to commit to guaranteeing EU citizens in the UK rights to stay, with Berry talking about his constituency being ‘enriched’ by immigrants.
PM May reiterated that this issue is a ‘priority’ which will be addressed during the negotiations and that while the Government wants to ‘bring the numbers of net migration down’ they simultaneously intend to ‘ensure the brightest and best are welcome’.
To add more turmoil to the matter, a Government petition submitted on the 9th of February was rejected for its similarity to another launched recently, demanding that the unelected House of Lords be disbanded should the pro-EU peers attempt to thwart Brexit.
The Bill is currently in the House of Lords, with its 2nd Reading expected on the 20th of February. It is the case that the Government has a majority in the House of Commons, which is why the Bill went through swiftly, but not in the House of Lords.
Brexit secretary David Davis has called on peers to do their ‘patriotic duty’ and for the House of Lords as a ‘very important institution’ to ‘do its job’. He also, however, has said he expects parliamentary ‘ping pong’ between the two Houses but insists the Government would still have the legislation ready for its March deadline.
Over in the HE sector, UUK released their own Briefing Paper last Wednesday to coincide with parliamentary discussions. The paper explores what Government’s priorities should be in relation to Brexit negotations to ‘maximise the contribution of British Universities’ in achieving a ‘successful and Global UK’.
It categorises priorities into three stages:
(1) Short-term transitional arrangements
(2) Exit negotiations
(3) Domestic policy change
In stage 1, the briefing recommends that government should immediately:
1. Confirm rights to reside and work in the UK post-exit for EU nationals that are currently working in the university sector and their dependants.
2. Confirm that EU students starting a course in 2018–19 and 2019–20 will continue to be eligible for home fee status, and be eligible for loans and grants on the current terms, and that this will apply for the duration of their course.
3. Signal that the government will seek to secure continued UK participation in the Horizon 2020 research and innovation framework programme for the remainder of the current programme.
The rights of EU citizens living in the UK continues to cause a stir. Recently, Labour MP and former minister David Lammy has said that ‘the refusal to guarantee EU citizens’ rights “has significantly reduced our international standing and made it far less likely that the EU will feel inclined to give us a good deal” and that “our government needed to show courage and leadership” so to not “let down the 3 million EU citizens who call our country home”.
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