We have been working with peers in the House of Lords to put forward an amendment to the Immigration Bill on the right to return to the UK with our non-UK families. The really good news is that on 5 October peers voted, by an overwhelming majority, to pass our amendment: in total 312 peers voted for the amendment, while 223 voted against. This was a fantastic result for us and for everyone who lives in the EU with a non-UK family member.
And much of it is down to you, specifically to those of you who wrote to peers asking for their support - they listened, and they were persuaded and very often moved by what they read, with many reading out during the debate emails they’d received. Lady Hamwee, who moved the amendment, said “Since Committee, I have had so many emails, as no doubt have other noble Lords, making it clear how many different family situations there are, but all presenting families with similarly impossible choices. I thank everyone who has written to me and to other noble Lords. They have taken such care to contact us, not with standard formulaic emails but with powerful descriptions of their situations, their concern and their distress.” There were several other powerful speeches that you can read here in Hansard (start at 8.33pm).
Sometimes it can feel as though lobbying politicians is a waste of time, but this shows that it isn’t - it’s actually hugely important as it brings politics to life and puts a human face on what might otherwise simply be a set of legal words. And it makes a difference. You made a difference. So thank you once again to all of you who took the time to write - it’s thanks to you that we’ve got this far. Many of you also added your support for another amendment to give our EU friends in the UK physical proof of their settled status, and that passed overwhelmingly too.
What happens next?
The Bill will have its Third Reading in the House of Lords on 12 October. It will then be published with all the House of Lords’ amendments included; the government will either accept the amended Bill or it will table a series of amendments to remove the newly added clauses. The Bill will then go back to the House of Commons for further debate and for voting on the government’s amendments on 19 October.
We need to pull out all the stops to get the government to accept our amendment rather than removing it. The next days are crucial and the stakes are high ... and we need your help!
What can you do?
We’ve already seen how personal stories have swung things in the Lords - now we need to do the same in the Commons. We know that this is an even bigger challenge given the large Conservative majority, but we have one shot at this, one chance to persuade enough Tory MPs that sometimes justice means that people should prevail over politics.
So we ask every one of you to join in this exercise - even if you don’t have a non-UK family member, please take part this time in solidarity with those who do.
Here are the two things that we ask you all to do.
1. Write to your MP or to the MP of the last constituency that you lived in
The first and most important thing you can do is to contact your MP, or the MP who represents the constituency you last lived in.
You can find your MP on this link: https://members.parliament.uk/FindYourMP, which will give you their name, address, phone number and email address.
If you’re a Twitter user, you may find your MP here: https://www.mpsontwitter.co.uk/list.
If you're a Facebook or Instagram user, search for their page and share your letter there.
As well as emailing and/or tweeting, would you think about giving them a call? MPs and their assistants receive hundreds of emails but fewer phone calls, and it’s a great way of getting your voice heard.
You’ll need to make sure that you include an address in your email (it can be a former address) in their constituency otherwise you’ll get a standard ‘I can only reply to constituents’ response.
2. Ask your family and friends in the UK to contact their MP
This is especially important if you have a non-UK family member and you may need in the future to return to the UK for family reasons. In our recent survey, over half of all respondents said their reason for moving back to the UK would be to care for elderly parents, siblings or friends.
MPs need to hear from those parents, siblings and friends who are their constituents - they need to understand how your being unable to return might affect those constituents' lives, their sense of wellbeing and security, and their health.
Please ask your family members and friends in the UK to email, write to or phone their constituency MP, and forward them a link to this page.
Because personal emails have much more effect than standardised emails, once again we’re not providing you with a template: instead we invite you to write your own email, in your own words. To help you, here are some ideas, but do adapt them to your own situation:
I am writing to ask you to support the amendment to the Immigration Bill, concerning the right of UK citizens who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement to return to the UK with their existing non-British close family members, that was passed in the House of Lords on 5 October. The amendment can be found in Clause 5 (6 to 8) of the Bill, here [double check this after 3rd Reading], and it would reverse a change in the law proposed by the government that is causing me, and thousands of others in my position, great anxiety for my family’s future.
Describe briefly who you are. Example: you are a British citizen living in Germany with your German husband and your children; you have parents in the UK who may well need care as they become older and more frail; your husband has parents in Germany who may also need future care. Describe your own situation here and give more details if you can. Say more about how you feel about the dilemma that you may face in future.
If you are not personally affected but are writing in solidarity with those who are, say so here: for example, you are concerned about how being unable to return to the UK could in future affect your UK friends and their families.
If you are writing as a family member or friend in the UK, describe your own worries about the situation. It would be especially useful for you to send a copy of your email to your local media (newspaper, radio, TV station) and to the Chair of your local Conservative Constituency Association - you can find their address online.
Ask your MP to raise the issue with the Home Office as well.
Some supporting arguments you can use
Like all the other British citizens who moved to the EU while the UK was a member, I moved here in the legitimate expectation that I would always be able to move back to my country of birth if ever the need arose. This has always been a comfort not just to me but to my parents in the UK.
Many of us met a non-UK partner while in the EU, and settled and made a family here together - a family rooted not just in the EU but also in the UK. We believed that our family could and would remain united wherever we lived.
Unless the amendment passed by the House of Lords becomes law my right to return home with my family without meeting the Minimum Income Requirement (MIR) will be removed on March 29 2022. I am unlikely ever to be able to meet the MIR, especially if I were to return full or part time to care for my parents, which would leave me with impossible choices to make about my life and my family. How do I choose whether to return to the UK to look after my own parents, leaving my partner behind, or to stay where I am to look after those of my partner? It’s not only an impossible choice, it’s an inhumane one too.
We have been told by the Government that they have given us fifteen months from the end of transition to return with our families to the UK and that that is sufficient. To put a time limit on making such a major life-changing decision and uprooting my family - when it might turn out not even to be necessary - is unthinkable. As Lord Dubs said in the House of Lords: “We were told that people will have 15 months to sort themselves out, but this proposal takes away a basic right—whether you have 15 months or longer to accept it, it is still taking away a basic right. That is surely unacceptable.”
We are not asking for new rights - we are a finite group of people simply asking for our current rights to continue, rights that we expected to last for our lifetimes and on which we founded our lives. This amendment concerns only those UK citizens in the EEA/Switzerland who are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement and who have existing non-British close family members at the end of 2020. Most of us will probably never leave the countries where we have made our home, but what we are asking for is the right to do so with our families if it ever becomes necessary in future.
You might want to include a copy of the British in Europe briefing paper with your email.