My update to constituents:
With Brexit negotiations now officially underway I thought it would be useful to update you on the proceedings thus far. I will focus particularly on the rights of EU nationals and the opening offers from both the EU and the UK but, will also touch on some of the broader debate on trade and the Single Market.
As you may be aware, the UK Government recently published its offer to EU citizens living in the UK. The offer was put to the EU Council summit last week and the Prime Minister came to the House of Commons yesterday to brief MPs on the summit.
You can view the full document here, but the main points are:
- Those granted settled status will be able to live, work, study and claim benefits just as they can now
- The cut-off date for eligibility is undecided but will be between 29 March 2017 and 29 March 2019
- Family members of EU citizens living abroad will be able to return and apply for settled status
- EU nationals in the UK for less than five years at the specified date will be able to continue living and working in the UK
- Once resident for five years, they can apply for settled status
- Those arriving after the cut-off point will be able to stay temporarily but there should be "no expectation" they will be granted permanent residence
- A period of "blanket residence permission" may apply to give officials time to process applications to stay in the UK
- The Home Office will no longer require evidence that EU citizens held "comprehensive sickness insurance"
- The offer will only be introduced if reciprocated by the EU27
- The UK Government wants the UK courts to have jurisdiction over these rights, not the European Court of Justice (ECJ)
In my opinion the Government’s offer is too little, too late and falls short of the unilateral offer the Labour Party would have made precisely 1 year ago.
This year’s Labour manifesto stated:
A Labour government will immediately guarantee existing rights for all EU nationals living in Britain and secure reciprocal rights for UK citizens who have chosen to make their lives in EU countries. EU nationals do not just contribute to our society: they are part of our society. And they should not be used as bargaining chips. It is shameful that the Prime Minister rejected repeated attempts by Labour to resolve this issue before Article 50 was triggered. As a result three million EU nationals have suffered unnecessary uncertainty, as have the 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU.
However, these are people’s lives we are talking about and it would be churlish to dismiss this offer completely. There are many more details required but I am particularly pleased that the Government have seen sense on the Comprehensive Sickness Insurance aspect. Many constituents- particularly students- have contacted me to convey their shock at being told by the Home Office that they are required to have private healthcare insurance for the duration of their studies.
You can read my comments on the UK Government’s offer in more detail on the Open Britain website.
The UK’s offer was in response to a detailed policy paper put forward by the EU Commission on 29 May. This offer was lost during the furore of the UK General Election campaign but represented a comprehensive proposal.
Again, you can read the full paper here but the main points are:
- All citizens receive the ‘same level of protection’ as set out in in EU law ‘at the date of withdrawal’ for the rest of their lives: This includes;
- -The right to reside (permanently after 5 years).
- -The right to family re-union (from all around the world and independent of income)
- The right to non-discrimination with regards to access to social security and public services (including the ability to export family related benefits).
- There will be equal treatment between UK nationals and EU citizens, both in the UK and in the EU.
- Rights are held for all who legally reside at the date of withdrawal, even if they do not hold a residence document.
- All rights should be ‘directly enforceable vested rights’ overseen by the ECJ.
Immigration law is notoriously complicated. However, both sides are not a million miles away. I am disappointed EU nationals have been left to worry about their futures for over a year with no Government assurances although finally we appear to be making some progress. One sticking point in the negotiations will be whether any rights agreed will be overseen by UK courts or the ECJ. I will be pushing the Government to press on with talks and be in a position to offer clarity to EU nationals ASAP.
On the negotiations more generally the PM reiterated the need for the freest possible trade with the EU- post Brexit. However, I and many colleagues have long been making the point that we currently have the freest possible trade with the EU- it’s called the Single Market and it is the world’s largest most sophisticated market place. I pressed the PM on this exact point in the House of Commons on Monday:
You can also read the joint letter signed by me and 49 other Labour MPs on why we support continued membership of the Single Market, here.
As we progress through the negotiations I will continue to make the case against a hard, destructive Brexit and argue for continued membership of the Single Market. I was re-elected on that basis and will of course continue to update constituents through my regular email updates.