Attempts to force the government to give all EU citizens in the UK permanent residency after Britain leaves the bloc have been defeated.
The government successfully blocked the bid to add the protections in amendments to the Brexit bill in the House of Commons on Wednesday by 332 votes to 290. Three Tory MPs voted in favour of the amendment – Ken Clarke, Andrew Tyrie and Tania Matthias.
However, the Liberal Democrats said they were confident they have enough support from Labour peers to pass the amendments when the bill is debated in the House of Lords later this month.
“The Liberal Democrats will make protecting these citizens’ rights a top priority. We have tabled amendments in the Commons and we will do so again in the House of Lords,” Lib Dem Lords leader Dick Newby said. “We believe we have support on all sides to deliver on the promises the government should have made to millions of people who have made our country their home.”
Both parties are to table amendments in the Lords concerning the rights of EU citizens, though one Labour source said it would be “naive” to see any vote as a done deal. It is understood peers are keen for the issue not to be seen as party political, in case it deters sympathetic Conservative or crossbench peers from supporting whichever amendment is selected for a vote.
During the Commons debate before the vote, the former culture minister Ed Vaizey said Tory MPs had received reassurances from the home secretary, Amber Rudd, on the status of EU citizens after departure from the EU. The letter, published later by ConservativeHome, stresses “any 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’”.
In her letter, Rudd says the status of EU citizens can only change after parliament has approved a new immigration system. “The great repeal bill will not change our immigration system,” she wrote. “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.”
Rudd says she supports “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”.
Vaizey, whose Wantage and Didcot constituency is home to the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus, said he had held a public meeting for 150 people, many of them scientists and researchers from EU countries. “They are devastated and they need reassurance from the government,” he said. But, he said, he was “reassured by the home secretary’s letter that was circulated earlier and the prime minister’s repeated comments”.
The Labour MP Helen Goodman and the SNP’s Alex Salmond asked Vaizey to publish the letter or place it in the House of Commons library. The Tory MP then admitted he may have made a “faux pas”.
He said: “It was addressed ‘Dear colleague’ so it may just have been for me. It may be private correspondence for me to circulate to my European constituents who are among the most talented Europeans living in this country. I’ve only been in the house for 11 years so I’m still learning the ropes.”
A No 10 spokesman said: “This was a ‘Dear colleague’ letter just repeating the messages the prime minister has made about protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and reciprocal arrangements. We are aware this is an area of concern and the PM has been clear she wants to make it one of the first
Vaizey, who backed remain in the referendum and jokingly described himself as a “remoaner” said he thought the negotiations would be “a difficult road that lies ahead but make no mistake the mood of the house, particularly among many colleagues who supported Brexit is to move as soon as possible to provide reassurance to EU citizens”.
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 EU nationals resident in the EU,” he said. “This has to be a matter that is decided after the negotiations commence.”
Source : The Guardian