Deal or No Deal, we are protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and the EU should now reciprocate

Deal or No Deal, we are protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK – and the EU should now reciprocate

Whilst negotiations on the citizens’ rights elements of the Withdrawal Agreement were complex and lengthy, it has proven one of the least controversial aspects of the deal. Across the spectrum of Brexit opinion in the House of Commons, there is recognition that providing certainty for citizens is the right thing to do. All Members recognise that these are issues that affect people’s lives – it is crucial that we get this right and that people are treated fairly.

I have met with EU citizens living across the UK at a range of events up and down the country and have also travelled to the EU and spoken with UK nationals living in different countries there. I have listened directly to the concerns of citizens and heard valuable insights from groups such as The 3Million and British in Europe.

An area I know is of importance to both UK nationals across the EU and citizens from the 27 Member States in the UK, is maintaining the ability to participate in local elections once we have left the EU: both the right to vote in local elections, but also, crucially, to stand in those elections too. On 18th June the Government reached a bilateral agreement with Luxembourg to secure in international law the local voting and candidacy rights of UK nationals in Luxembourg and Luxembourgish citizens in the UK, to stand and vote in local elections in both a deal and no-deal scenario.

We have also reached agreements with Spain and Portugal and have approached all other Member States for a similar agreement. I was honoured to sign the first of these agreements in Madrid earlier this year, securing certainty in this area for the hundreds of thousands of Brits in Spain – but there is further to go.

The Government has always been clear that our first priority is to provide certainty for EU citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in other EU countries. Domestically we are implementing the EU Settlement Scheme which ensures EU citizens have a status in UK law which they can use to demonstrate their right to work, housing and benefits. And we’ve made this free service very simple with just three steps required: prove their identity, show that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.

The scheme has so far been a success with over 800,000 applications and of these nearly 700,000 have been granted settled or pre-settled status. I’ve been working closely with colleagues at the Home Office to make sure the scheme delivers the certainty that EU citizens resident in the UK need and that it is designed to help people prove their right to be here, not to make life difficult.

It is also imperative that there are robust measures in place to ensure vulnerable EU citizens are afforded the proper support they need to apply. This includes over 200 assisted digital locations across the UK where people can be supported through their application, over 80 locations to have your identity document ‘chip checked’ using the app, and a dedicated Settlement Resolution Centre to resolve any queries. The Home Office is additionally providing £9 million in grant funding for 57 community sector organisations to support over 200,000 vulnerable EU citizens and their families across the UK.

But we haven’t stopped there. Recognising the uncertainty faced by EU citizens from the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, we have unilaterally committed to protecting the rights of the over three million EU citizens to live, work and study in any scenario. Regrettably, it is not in our gift to guarantee the rights of UK nationals in the EU in a no-deal Brexit, but we are urging the EU and Member States to reciprocate our offer.

We’re pleased that all Member States have committed to protecting UK nationals residing in their country will be able to stay after exit day, albeit in varying degrees of detail. And we are speaking to each of the countries in the EU individually to push for the greatest possible reciprocity in their offers.

While there have been some welcome and important steps, we believe the EU can do more. The Government will continue to provide advice and support to UK nationals living in the EU, building on the extensive programme of outreach events run by our Embassies across Europe, and our tailored communications campaign on gov.uk.

We have taken all the measures we can to make it as easy as possible for EU citizens to stay, but the EU must do the same for our citizens resident in its member states. EU citizens play a crucial role in our communities and even though the UK is leaving the European Union, we will remain a profoundly European country. Brexit does not change geography nor the cultural ties and common causes we have developed over the centuries.