John Sentamu: Brexit and rights of EU nationals – Why I back the Government

The House of Lords defeated the Government yesterday over Brexit.

The House of Lords defeated the Government yesterday over Brexit.

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EVEN though the House of Lords voted 358 to 256 in favour of an opposition amendment guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK after Brexit, the Archbishop of York backed the Government. This is what he told peers.

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.

Government defeated in Lords over rights of EU citizens post-Brexit

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.

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.

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 per cent decided to vote to leave, in spite of all the promises we had made and the things we had entered into.

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.

I suggest that the sooner this becomes law, the greater the challenge we can give the Prime Minister. As soon as Article 50 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.

Dr John Sentamu is the Archbishop of York.

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Government defeated in Lords over rights of EU citizens post-Brexit

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