In this speech Lord Bilimoria discusses the UK’s exit from the European Union touching upon issues such as the rights of the three million citizens, their contribution to UK public services such as the NHS, the deadline of March 29th and the complexity of negotiations. He stresses that much of this issue is a human issue and concludes by arguing against the concept that no deal is better than a bad deal noting that the Government had not assessed what no deal means.

Brexit: European Union-derived Rights

04 April 2017

Motion to resolve moved by Baroness Hayter:

That a Minister of the Crown do report to this House by the end of this Session on the progress made towards ensuring that qualifying non-United Kingdom European Economic Area nationals and their family members are able to retain their fundamental European Union-derived rights after the United Kingdom has left the European Union.

Lord Bilimoria:

My Lords, following the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, the important part about these two Motions is that they say that once again, Parliament should be at the heart of everything. Let us not forget that straight after the referendum, the Prime Minister and the Government wanted to bypass Parliament altogether.

On so-called independence day, 29 March, I was on a radio programme following Nigel Farage and Alex Salmond battling it out. Nigel Farage said, “This is independence day—the day we got our country back”. We never lost our country. Philip Hammond said that,

“we can’t cherry pick. We can’t have our cake and eat it”.

The irony is that we had our cake and were able to eat it too—we had the best of both worlds.

What nobody mentions, and people overlook, is: why the promised rush into triggering Article 50 by 31 March of this year? It is a self-imposed deadline. The answer is very simple: the Prime Minister wants this two-year process to be over, to put it to bed so that she can go into the next election and get re-elected. In every other way, this timing is madness. We have the French and German elections coming up, and we will lose six months of these two years when Europe will be completely distracted. Why rush into it now and try to bypass Parliament altogether?

If you look at the letter that was written, it very clearly admits how complex these negotiations will be. I believe that the letter also shows that the British people have been completely misled. The Conservative Party manifesto very clearly stated that staying in the single market was a priority. Now the Prime Minister, from her Lancaster House speech and then on 29 March, has said that we will not stay in the single market. Had the British people known this and been told this by the leave campaign, many would not have voted to leave. In fact, if British businesses—small, medium and large—had been told, “You vote to leave and you will be leaving the single market”, they would not have done.

What about these 3 million people and their rights? What about the fact that our unemployment is less than 5%—what would we do without these 3 million people? We would have a labour shortage in this country. We are up against it. We need Parliament to be involved because this is not a balanced negotiation. We are one against 27, against the European Commission, against the European Council, and against the European Parliament. Therefore, getting this done in two years, with the bureaucracy that exists in Europe, and dealing with all these countries, will be very difficult.

What about the rights of these European Union nationals? How many of them are there? By the way, on this figure of 3.2 million, we do not know the exact figure. Why? I came back from a short visit to India this morning and came through the passport checks. You scan your passport when you come into the country, but when you leave this country, nobody checks your passport. Every single passport, European Union or not, should be scanned in and scanned out. Then we would know who is in this country, and these European Union citizens, for example, would be able to say, “I’ve stayed here for five years—I’ve got the right to stay regardless”. Why will the Government not bring in those visible extra checks? That would give us security over our borders—and we are not in Schengen.

Now we have the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, saying that he has told a delegation of EU citizens that he wants to have an agreement in principle to secure the future of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens throughout Europe by the end of the year. However, he had to admit that it would be late 2018 before he could strike a deal with the UK. Can the Minister tell us why we cannot do this quicker?

We hear that record numbers of EU citizens quit working in the NHS last year. Can he confirm that? As we have heard before, EU nationals are being denied mortgages because of this. The Institute of Directors said just yesterday, very clearly, that a guarantee for EU citizens after Brexit would reduce uncertainty for IoD members. Allie Renison of the IoD said:

“Just under 40 per cent of our members employee EU nationals. You’d be surprised about the amount of nervousness that is genuinely giving to a lot of these employees”.

This is a human issue.

The House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee has not been spoken about much here. Its report has just been released, in which it said:

“Sadiq Khan told us that uncertainty over the rights of one million Londoners who are EU citizens is feeding into uncertainty in business recruitment”.

The committee clearly said:

“The status of EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU cannot be left unresolved until the end of the two-year period for negotiations”.

It urges the Government to sort this out now and says:

“We note that, to date, Ministers have not taken this step. The debate around whether ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ has focussed on the trade aspects of the future relationship. If the negotiations were to end prematurely without an agreement on rights for the 4 million, this could put them in an uncertain position”.

The committee’s recommendation is very clear. There should be,

“a stand-alone and separate deal which is otherwise not dependent on any other exit or future trade deal being agreed to between the parties”.

Will the Minister agree with this?

I conclude with the whole concept of “no deal is better than a bad deal”. This is absolutely ridiculous. It is now clear that the Government have said that it is unsubstantiated—they have not even done the homework. Looking at the report prepared by the Select Committee, there is such complexity: the timescale for reaching agreement, Gibraltar has suddenly come up, there is a potential exit payment, securing a free trade agreement, the customs union, free trade agreements with countries outside the European Union, and co-operating in the fight against crime and terrorism is now being used as a bargaining chip, which is hugely irresponsible. How can we as a country even think of doing that? There is also immigration and consultation with devolved Administrations, we have the Scotland issue, the Northern Ireland border and the Republic of Ireland, and minimising disruption when we leave the EU.

Sir Simon Fraser has just said that transitional agreements will almost definitely be necessary. Once again, it is crucial that these two Motions are agreed. He has said clearly that we will reach a cliff edge. In fact, a number of EU diplomats have now said that the Government,

“fears the economy could be left in ‘havoc’ if Britain left without agreeing any preferential access”.

Does the Minister agree?

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, spoke about Boris Johnson saying that it will be “perfectly okay” if we leave, and David Davis admitted that the Government had not assessed what “no deal” means. Michel Barnier—this is not fear-mongering—said that no deal would have,

“severe consequences for our people and our economies. It would … leave the UK worse off”.

I support these two Motions in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Smith. The last point is about 16 and 17 year-olds who were not allowed to vote last year. By the time we come to 2019, these individuals will have the right to vote, and almost 100% of them will want to reverse this decision. People will be allowed to change their minds; the public might change their mind, having seen that the Brexiteers’ emperor has no clothes. We are watching a train crash in slow motion.

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