British MPs pass symbolic vote backing rights for EU nationals living in UK

MPs have secured a symbolic Commons victory on their demands for the Government to unilaterally protect the rights of EU nationals, including thousands of Irish citizens, living in the UK.

But ministers will not be forced to take action as the SNP’s motion, approved without a vote, is non-binding.

The Government has argued the future of around three million EU nationals living in the UK must be decided at the same time as the one million British citizens living in EU countries.

The Commons decision followed a fiery but short debate in which SNP Europe spokesman Stephen Gethins denied Tory claims that his party was "scaremongering" over the rights of EU nationals post-Brexit.

He told the Commons: "There is one way to get rid of scaremongering and that is to vote with us tonight and give EU citizens the certainty."

But Home Office minister Brandon Lewis reiterated an agreement with the EU is "within touching distance", adding: "Around two-thirds of the issues identified have now been resolved and we have isolated the key remaining issues to agree.

"We will be working hard in the coming days and weeks to finalise this chapter of the withdrawal agreement and deliver our shared objective of providing swift assurance to EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU.

"For the UK to take unilateral positions at this stage of the negotiations would not be appropriate or responsible."

SNP MP Deidre Brock (Edinburgh North and Leith) warned people are "living in fear of the state’s actions" and are concerned they will no longer be welcome in their home.

She said: "A common thread running through the constituents coming to see me, and I imagine a whole lot of other members, is the fear people have.

"The fear they will no longer be welcome in their home, that a bureaucratic decision will see them sent from family or left without a secure right to stay here.

"Constituents of mine are living in fear of the state, consider that a modern state, a supposed democracy were people live in fear of the state’s actions."

Tory Stephen Kerr (Stirling) said there had been a "thousand assurances" over the future of EU citizens living in the UK.

He said: "No EU national currently living in the UK lawfully should have any fear, whatever the scaremongers opposite say, about having to leave the United Kingdom when our country leaves the EU.

"The SNP spread fear and they spread panic because they think there is some party political advantage in doing it."

The Government will make a statement to Parliament within 12 weeks on the decision of MPs to back the motion, under changes brought in by Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom and dubbed the "Leadsom principle" by Tory Peter Bone (Wellingborough).

 - By Richard Wheeler, Dan O’Donoghue and Harriet Line, Press Association Political Staff

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