As I am sure you are no doubt already aware, this morning, Theresa May and the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Junker, issued a joint report on the progress made on the three areas covered in the first phase of Brexit negotiations: citizens’ rights, Northern Ireland, and the financial settlement. it delights me to learn that Mr Juncker feels that this report represents sufficient progress and that we should now move on to talks about our future partnership.
Over the course of the last eighteen months, the entire country has watched with keen attention to the latest developments in our departure from the EU. During this period, details of our post-Brexit arrangements have often been limited (as is the way with negotiations) which, understandably, gave rise to a range anxieties, not least over the rights of EU and UK citizens here and on the continent.
With over 15 per cent of residents hailing from EU countries outside the UK, the issue of citizens’ rights has unsurprisingly been a key cause for concern for many here in the Cities of London and Westminster. This is why I am thrilled that the Government has secured an agreement that both EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU can carry on living their lives broadly as before. By writing the rights of EU citizens here in the UK into our law, this agreement finally gives certainty to the many EU nationals residing in the constituency, and across the country, who for far too long have been living under a cloud of insecurity.
Our agreement will enable families who have built their lives together in the EU or the UK to stay together. It will allow the spouses, children and elderly parents of those protected by the agreement, who live outside the UK when we leave the EU, to reunite as a family at any time in the future. Additionally, the agreement resolves rights on healthcare, pensions and other benefits, meaning that those who have paid into the UK system can benefit from what they have put in and continue to benefit from existing coordination rules for future contributions. EU citizens who have reciprocal healthcare rights will also be protected so that those covered by the agreement will be able to continue to receive healthcare as they do now. As I have said countless times before, securing the futures of the EU citizens who have given so much to the prosperity and cultural growth of our country was of utmost importance which is why today’s confirmation of their rights is so very welcome.
I should like to take this opportunity to commend the effort and determination of all parties in reaching this compromise. Since last year’s referendum, there has been a slew of obstacles for both sides of the negotiations which have often made the entire Brexit undertaking seem insurmountable. Theresa May in particular has come under constant attack from sections of the media who have made it their mission to characterise the negotiations as doomed to fail. Cast against this backdrop of condemnation and pessimism, today’s announcement to move to phase two must be seen a significant achievement for the Prime Minster. There is no doubt that this remains a difficult process, with many complex question yet to even be discussed and I am under no illusion that Brexit remains a long and bumpy road. Nonetheless, the task is not impossible. Today’s announcement is proof that positive progress can be achieved when both sides work together to secure a brighter future for both the UK and EU.