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Boris Johnson warned 'a lot hangs on' his treatment of EU citizens living in UK

REUTERS/Rebecca Naden

By Richard Wheeler, PA Parliamentary Editor

Boris Johnson should fast-track legislation to automatically guarantee European citizens can remain in the UK post-Brexit if he becomes prime minister, peers have said.

Lord Cormack said Conservative leadership frontrunner Mr Johnson needs to show he is a "man of his word" on the issue, warning a "lot could hang on that" for the MP, the party and the country.

The Tory peer's remarks came as he supported the EEA Nationals (Indefinite Leave to Remain) Bill, which seeks to allow European Economic Area nationals resident in the UK on the date of Brexit to stay without the need for an application - as required under the Government's EU Settlement Scheme.

Liberal Democrat Lord Oates said his Bill would put into law a Vote Leave campaign pledge, signed by Mr Johnson in June 2016.

Peers heard this stated there would be "no change" for EU citizens lawfully living in the UK and they would "automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present".

Lord Cormack told the debate: "The new prime minister could very easily decree that this Bill be fast-tracked through both Houses in the way that the Northern Ireland legislation is currently being fast-tracked."

He said guarantees to more than three million EU citizens should have been given immediately after the June 2016 referendum.

He added: "I look to Mr Johnson, who is so likely to be prime minister, to show that he is a man of his word in this particular area because a lot could hang on that for Mr Johnson and for the Conservative Party and our country."

Crossbench peer Lord Kerr of Kinlochard said the UK has "acted dishonourably" by failing to put in law automatic guarantees for EU citizens.

He added it was very difficult to define "Johnsonism", noting: "I think he is libertarian on issues like this, I think he is naturally likely to want to do what he said three years ago he would do.

"So I very much hope whatever the Government tells us today, in a very few weeks the Government will be telling us it strongly supports this Bill and would like to see it on the statute book as soon as possible."

Conservative former minister Baroness Altmann urged the Government to "consider the calls to fast-track" the Bill and show the "goodwill and appreciation" towards the EEA citizens in the UK which "should have been present right from the start".

For the Government, Baroness Barran said securing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons living in the EU has been a "priority" - and insisted they are delivering on this.

She defended how the settlement scheme is operating, and said it would continue deal or no deal.

Lady Barran said: "The Government doesn't agree that conferring leave to remain automatically by statute under a declaratory system is the right approach to securing the status of EU citizens and their families.

"A number of noble lords touched on the experience of members of the Windrush generation.

"They were granted indefinite leave to remain but without the means of proving this status and we're very anxious not to make the same mistake again.

"We're concerned even if we ran a scheme where, as the Home Affairs Select Committee recommended, obtaining proof of status was conferred by law and then there was the option to apply for physical documentation that this could really cause confusion amongst employers and service providers, and could impede EEA citizens' access to the benefits and services to which they are entitled."

The Bill received an unopposed second reading but is unlikely to become law in its current form due to a lack of parliamentary time for backbench legislation.

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