In an extraordinary move, the British government has blocked a bid to add protections for EU citizens in amendments to the Brexit bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday by 332 votes to 290.
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In the Commons debate before the vote was cast, former Culture Minister, Ed Rudd referred to a letter sent by the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, reassuring Ministers on the status of EU nationals living in the UK after the country leaves the EU.
Here is the full text of the letter:
6 February 2017
Re: European citizens in the UK
European citizens already resident in the UK make a vital contribution both to our economy and our society, and a number of colleagues have spoken to me recently seeking assurances about their immigration status when we leave the EU.
There is absolutely no question of treating EU citizens with anything other than the utmost respect, recognising the contribution they make not just to our economy, but also working in crucial public services like the NHS. Without them we would be poorer and our public services weaker. That’s why we will be making securing their status, as well as that of British nationals in the EU, a priority as soon as we trigger Article 50 and the negotiations begin.
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.
I’ve always been clear that after we leave the European Union we will have an immigration system that supports our economy and protects our public services, and that should mean securing the rights of EU citizens already here, as well as establishing a new immigration system for new arrivals from the EU once we have left.
But this isn’t just about ensuring British businesses and our public sector have access to the right workers, we owe it to those many European citizens who have contributed so much to this country to resolve this issue as soon as possible and give them the security they need to continue to contribute to this country.
I hope this is useful and I am of course happy to meet with any colleagues with further concerns.
Rt Hon Amber Rudd MP
This letter seems to state that after Article 50 is triggered and The Great Repeal Bill, designed to annul the 1972 European Communities Act (ECA), which gives EU law instant effect in the UK, and give Parliament the power to absorb parts of EU legislation into UK law and scrap elements it does not want to keep, will be free from any reference to immigration. Instead, a new immigration bill will be put before the House, detailing how the Government plans to move forward with immigration control, which is likely to cover both EU and non-EU citizens.
The Guardian reported that Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, who voted for the amendment, said: “The prime minister’s refusal to guarantee that now, when she has the ability to do so is cruel and, frankly, I think it is immoral as well. What we are talking about are people’s lives. People’s lives are not to be traded as part of some wider deal.”
Brexit minister David Jones said the government had been as clear as it could about the status of EU citizens. “The government fully recognises that the issue of EU nationals’ resident in the UK is an extremely important one and one we will be addressing as a priority just as we wish to address the issue of the rights of UK nationals’ resident in the EU,” he said. “This has to be a matter that is decided after the negotiations commence.”
If the Government is so keen to protect the rights of EU nationals already residing in the UK, why does it not simply provide reassurance? Should the actions of another country dictate how the lives of ordinary citizens in Britain are to be decided upon? Take for example Spain. If, in the very unlikely event, Spain decided to restrict the rights of UK nationals living there, does that make it acceptable for the British government to do the same? As a civilised democracy and as the country that initiated this mess in the first place, Britain should stand up and provide certainty to the EU nationals who have helped make this country the prosperous, culturally rich place it is today.
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Posted on: Thursday, 09 February, 2017