EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill: Archbishop of York supports protecting rights of EU nationals, opposes amendment as vehicle to deliver

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On 1st March 2017 the House of Lords considered the Government’s EU (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill in its second day of committee. An amendment was tabled by Labour Peer Baroness Hayter, requiring Ministers to bring forward proposals for guaranteeing continued rights for EU nationals residing in the UK, no more than three months after the formal negotiations to exit the EU had begun. The Archbishop of York, Most Revd and Rt Hon John Sentamu, argued against the amendment on the grounds that this was the wrong vehicle to address such serious and important matters. They would, he said, be better and more speedily dealt with if they were not enshrined in legislation that had the single purpose of giving Government authority to begin the Article 50 negotiation process. Peers voted t back the amendment in the subsequent vote.The Archbishop’s speech is in full below, followed by excerpts from some of the speeches that referred to his remarks:

 aby-010317The Archbishop of York: My Lords, Uganda was referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham. It was regrettable that Idi Amin kicked out two types of Asians—British citizens and Ugandan citizens. My opposition to him was over the Ugandan citizens, who were the largest number. He kicked them out and my coming here in 1974 was as a result of my opposition to such behaviour. So I know how minorities can feel in a place. I know that we need to reassure our European friends who are resident here and want to remain here.

However, I have one great difficulty. Your Lordships’ House can scrutinise and revise legislation, but this simple Bill is simply to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify under Article 50 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union that there is an intention to withdraw. It is giving her the power which I believe only Parliament—not the royal prerogative—can give her. At the meeting of the Lords Spiritual before all this came about, I questioned her right to simply use prerogative power because of what had gone on way back in 1215 in Magna Carta. Clause 39 says:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgment of his equals or by the law of the land”—

and by “man” of course we now mean “woman” as well. Clause 40 says:

“To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice”.

I think that is still enshrined in the rule of law in this country.

As far as I am concerned, until we have done the negotiation two years down the road, European citizens who are living here now will have every right to be here, like anyone else. People want to give assurance, but I think the assurance will be when the big Bill comes and we begin the debate. Remember, the European Union has free movement of people, free movement of goods and free movement of services. All that this little Bill is doing is starting a race: on your marks, get set, bang—and then they take off.

It will take two years to run this race. During the running of the race, we want to be sure that the concerns that are raised in this debate will come back. If, as I do, we want to see the Government take this decision on behalf of all of us—that EU citizens should be given a guarantee to remain—the best way to do it is to call the bluff of Angela Merkel by saying that we have now triggered Article 50, we will talk about it and unilaterally give the guarantee. It will be much quicker than the three months proposed in this amendment. I want it to be quicker than three months.

The other thing is that if the Government are about to start negotiation, we do not want to legislate piecemeal. Those rights can only be guaranteed not by the Government but by Parliament. We will have to go through another Bill in the middle of other matters. So as far as I am concerned, we need to scrutinise and revise the legislation. I do not want this little enabling Bill, which gives the Prime Minister power to say that we intend to get out, to grow into a very big Christmas tree with many baubles put on it. This House is aware of the concerns of EU citizens. I want to say, “Trigger it”, and then for the Prime Minister to return to the EU and say, “We want to guarantee as of today”, without waiting three months for more legislation, more proposals and more ideas. I do not want to do that.

I voted remain. I wrote in the Telegraph:

“It is sad that one issue has not emerged in the referendum debate: the keeping of promises. The campaign’s two sides seem to agree that the world began yesterday and we are faced with a clean slate and may position ourselves to greatest advantage. But the world, our European neighbours and we ourselves all have a recent history”.

I argued about the need to keep promises about the things we have entered into. Well, that fell on deaf ears and 52% decided to vote to leave, in spite of all the promises we had made and the things we had entered into.

I want to suggest that we leave the Bill as it is. Pass it as quickly as possible and, after all the speeches about guaranteeing European citizens their right to remain, let us do it as quickly as possible—but do not attach it to this Bill. As far as I am concerned, that is not revising or scrutinising the Bill. It is simply adding material which I do not think is very helpful.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (Green Party): Does the most reverend Primate not understand the moral obligation on this Government? These people are not bargaining chips. If we say quite freely that they are free to stay, that gives the moral high ground to the Government in their negotiations. I would argue that all noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Howard, should vote with their conscience and not with their party.

The Archbishop of York: I never want to see any human person used as a bargaining chip. They are made in God’s likeness and as far as I am concerned, they are people and must be treated according to the rule of law in this country. The Prime Minister tried to give a guarantee. Angela Merkel did not want it before Article 50 was triggered. My suggestion is to trigger it and go back to what you promised.

I may be a Primate, but thank God I am not in captivity. The other Primate is definitely in captivity, because he is unwell and his legs have just had an operation—but I am not. I suggest that the sooner this becomes law, the greater the challenge we can give the Prime Minister on what she attempted to do but was prevented from doing because Article 50 had not been triggered. As soon as it is triggered and the power is given, we shall shout as loudly as we can and campaign as much as we can for her to go back to what she originally suggested.

People such as me were shocked, after being here and having to travel round on a travel document and pay huge sums for visas to visit the rest of Europe, to suddenly discover that when naturalised—that is the word that is used—as a British citizen we could suddenly visit the whole of Europe without a visa. That was great stuff, and I applaud it—but, please, this is a very limited Bill and we should pass it as it is.

I have one more suggestion for our Minister: to set up a truth and listening commission in every one of our four nations, so that the divisions which we are seeing at the moment can be healed and to listen to the truth and to what the people of Britain and Northern Ireland are looking for, rather than simply locking it in the Government. For those reasons I will vote against any of the amendments, as I do not think they are revising or improving the legislation. They are simply adding on and adding on.


Lord Hannay of Chiswick (Crossbench): ….The amendment does not seek to dictate to the Government the details of how these rights should be secured. That will be for the Government to sort out in the proposals that are called for in the amendment, and for Parliament then to decide. I would say here to the most reverend Primate that nor does it entail any delay in the triggering of Article 50 beyond the Government’s deadline at the end of this month….


Lord Mackay of Clashfern (Con):…. As the most reverend Primate has said, the right thing is for Article 50 to be triggered and for the Prime Minister to immediately ask—as she has said she will—for this to be settled, in a way which would cover the whole of the European Union. The only excuse that has been offered so far in Europe for not agreeing to this is that Article 50 negotiations, which are the way out of the European Union, have not been triggered…..


Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab):… When we say our position should be that we leave it to the great negotiation and that it should be number one on the list, I want to remind, for example, the most reverend Primate that our Prime Minister did not go to Europe and say that we would give a unilateral declaration. She said that she wanted a negotiation before the triggering of Article 50. It was not on the table because, as we know, negotiation begins only after that. What she should have done—and what we urge her to do—is say that we will take the principled position of honouring our responsibilities to people who live and work with us, because of the impact on their lives, the lives of their families and the lives of all the people around them.


Lord Lawson of Blaby (Con): …. My home is in France, yet despite that, I have gone on record—in this House on a number of occasions and elsewhere—as saying that I would have liked to see the Government give an unconditional assurance that EU citizens in this country, legally here with a right to remain, should continue to remain. There should be no question of that right being taken away. I believe that the idea of somehow linking it with the position of British citizens resident in the European Union was well intentioned—in order to reassure those people—but mistaken. I cannot agree with this amendment, partly and fundamentally for the reasons so well set out by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. This amendment has no place whatever in this Bill.


Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab) My Lords, I have put on one side the remarks that I was going to make because I want to concentrate on the remarks made by the right reverend Prelate—I am sorry, the most reverend Primate—and I do so declaring my interest as a member of the Church of England and a regular churchgoer.

The most reverend Primate seemed to base his argument on two points. The first was that the EU would agree to prioritise this issue above all things and not make it dependent on other parts of the negotiations. That is certainly the Prime Minister’s view but I do not know whether that prioritisation will be recognised by the EU. As for not making it dependent on other negotiations, I have negotiated as part of the EU and negotiations are never concluded until everything is concluded. The square brackets stay around everything until you can finally decide what you are prepared to bargain with, what you will give away and what you want to keep. That is the reality of negotiations and I am afraid that to say otherwise is misleading.

The other point is that somehow there would be a recognition that reciprocity will be guaranteed on this issue. Again, reciprocity will not necessarily be guaranteed at all. This brings us to the point of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, that there should be equality of treatment on all sides. Just suppose that the EU negotiators say something different. All our debate has been based on the premise that somehow we will get what we want in the end because there will be reciprocity but suppose that there is not. Will we really at that point turn round to EU nationals in this country and say, “On your way”? Will we say, “Take your children out of school”? Will we say to the elderly, “Please leave our care homes”? This idea of it as a negotiating point—I agree it is being used as one—is totally unrealistic and unacceptable.

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, said in her letter to your Lordships that this,

“is less a matter of principle than one of timing”.

I rather like and respect the Home Secretary but on this I disagree with her wholeheartedly. This is a simple matter of principle, of being prepared to do the right thing because it is the right thing, and being prepared to say so. That is what I hope these Benches and Members on all sides of the House, if not all Members, and including the Bishops’ Bench, will be prepared to do when it comes to taking the vote.


Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con): …. I also agree very much with my fellow Yorkshire resident, the most reverend Primate.


Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab): …I have two points. The advantage of this amendment is that it is a win-win situation, because it is practically right for us to do so, and it is morally right to do so.

I was struck by the argument of the most reverend Primate. I understood it but does he not understand the pain, suffering and uncertainty of individuals working in our health service who feel hurt that they put in so much effort and give their time trying to help the people of Britain? They and their families feel very hurt and I think we owe them something in that respect.

The Archbishop of York: It would be quite invidious to suggest that those of us who are sticking to the rules in relation to Bills do not understand pain or suffering. As far as I am concerned, the Bill deals solely with the formal process of notifying the intention to withdraw. It does not relate to the substance of what withdrawal might look like. For the noble Lord to impute that I do not understand pain or suffering is not on. I said at the beginning that I feel the pain and anxiety, but as a legislator, my role is to look at what the Bill is about, not what the Bill ought to be about.

Lord Clark of Windermere: The point really is that we then move from the practical to the moral. Some of us take the belief that we have the high moral ground here and that is the ground which is occupied. I say this because we are in a win-win situation. As my noble friend Lady Kennedy said, we are going to have a much stronger negotiating position if we spell it out and show our European neighbours that we can be generous and that, even if we are not in the European Union, we want to remain part of the continent of Europe, working together with our neighbours. That is why I believe we are in a win-win situation with this amendment.


The text of the amendment to the Bill was:

Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

9B: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, at end insert—

“( ) Within three months of exercising the power under section 1(1), Ministers of the Crown must bring forward proposals to ensure that citizens of another European Union or European Economic Area country and their family members, who are legally resident in the United Kingdom on the day on which this Act is passed, continue to be treated in the same way with regards to their EU derived-rights and, in the case of residency, their potential to acquire such rights in the future.”

In the division on the amendment, Peers voted for it by 358 to 256.

The Archbishop of York and the Bishops of London and St Albans voted against the amendment. The Bishops of Leeds and Newcastle voted for the amendment.