Hilary Benn: Britain Should "Lead By Example" And Guarantee Rights Of EU Nationals In UK

5 March 2017, 09:33 | Updated: 5 March 2017, 09:38

MPs have called on the Government to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living in the UK - here Labour MP Hilary Benn explains why.

The Brexit Committee has recommended that the Government should guarantee the rights of EU nationals already residing in the UK. 

The cross-party 'Exiting the EU' Committee said the Government should act unilaterally and not wait for assurance over the position of British citizens living in the EU. 

Ministers have said that while settling the status of EU nationals will be a priority in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations, they need to be able to secure the rights of UK nationals at the same time.

Hilary Benn, Labour MP and Chair of the Committee, spoke to Andrew Castle about the recommendation.

Hilary explained: "We're talking here about people. British people living and working in the other 27 European member states, just over, we think there's about, yeah just over a million of them. Three million Europeans here. 

"They're people with families, they're working, they're paying tax, they've got lives, and they're feeling uncertain. They feel uncertain since the result of the referendum, and we ought to be doing everything that we can to try and bring that uncertainty to an end.  

"Now, one bit of this problem is entirely in the hands of the British government, and that is the position of the 3 million European citizens who are here. 

"The committee is recommending in its report that the government takes a unilateral decision to safeguard their rights now. In other words to say 'It's OK you can stay', while of course, continuing to urge the other 27 member states to do the same for the Brits abroad. 

"And I tell you something that was really striking about the evidence we received. When representatives of British people who were living abroad came to appear before the committee, you might have thought, Andrew, they would say look don't guarantee the rights of the EU citizens here until you've secured our position, but that is not what they said. 

"They said: "Look, the British government should act now to protect the rights of the EU citizens in the UK, because we think that will help ensure that we get the right outcome". 

"And you're right, in the end, is anyone seriously suggesting there's going to be mass movement, people shown the door? Of course it's not going to happen. 

"And that's why the sensible thing to do, is to bring an end to the uncertainty for the EU citizens here, and of course, urge the other 27 member states to do exactly the same for the Brits who are living and working abroad."  

Andrew wasn't too convinced. He said to Hilary: "But isn't the home secretary Amber Rudd right to insist that we can't actually act unilaterally? Because it would risk the status of UK citizens living across the continent. 

"And I'm drawn to the words of Michel Barnier, and I don't think I'm taking these out of context Hilary, when, this is the EU's Chief Brexit negotiator of course, met with David Davis, the Brexit secretary in Brussels, towards the end of last year and said: "No negotiation without notification, my work is now focused on the EU 27." 

"It was in regard to this subject as far as I'm aware, it's clear that it is the EU, not the UK, obstructing this. How many of the 27 nations' leaders are failing to act? I mean, they're not seeing it as a priority, why should we do the right thing first?"

Hilary said: "Well we should do the right thing, because we should lead by example. That's the first point. Secondly, Michel Barnier's comment was about the whole of the negotiations, he was stating a principle on behalf of the EU, 'until you notify us you're leaving, we're not going to talk about anything'. 

"The government, I think, David Davis has reported to the House of Commons, that the vast majority of European states are up for this kind of agreement, apart, I think he said, from one to two. 

"But look, I have no doubt that that is where we will end up, because it is the rational and sensible thing to do, and I think the 27 member states are no more likely to say "there you are, off you go" to workers who are contributing to their economy, doing important jobs, than we would ever say to nurses, doctors, university lecturers, people serving us in hotels and restaurants, people working in manufacturing industry, picking and processing vegetables, that would say "right off you go".  

"That isn't going to happen. That isn't going to happen, and since there's no question of us doing that, why don't we give the reassurance that people whose lives feel on hold, and who are worried about their future status, why not say "look, you don't have to worry, your contribution here is valued, you can stay", and that's what we have unanimously recommended as a committee."