New Culture Secretary Matt Hancock has sought to reassure creative industries workers about his commitment to protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

Photo of Matt Hancock
Matt Hancock speaking at the Creative Industries Federation event

CIF / David Parry/ PA

Incoming Culture Secretary Matt Hancock’s recent attempt to provide “much needed reassurance” to the creative industries about the rights of EU nationals has been undermined by the voting record of his new team at the DCMS.

Speaking at the third anniversary of the Creative Industries Federation (CIF), Hancock said: “I know that the issue of citizens’ rights is very important for everyone in this room tonight. EU citizens enrich every part of our economy, our society and our cultural life.

“We have now reached a deal that protects the rights of EU nationals in the UK and UK citizens in the EU, which I hope will provide valuable certainty.”

But according to analysis by transparency site They Work For You, Hancock – who campaigned to remain in the EU and posted tweets suggesting it would be ‘intolerant’ to vote otherwise – has “almost always” voted against the right for EU nationals to remain in the UK.

This includes a February 2017 vote against protecting the residence rights of EU citizens and their families who were lawfully resident in the UK; and a March 2017 vote against guaranteeing EU-derived rights, and the potential to acquire residency rights, for EU and EEA citizens resident in the UK.

In total, between 2016 and 2017, Hancock voted once in favour of such rights, abstained twice, and voted against rights for EU nationals 13 times.

Identical votes were registered by Margot James, the new Minister for State at the DCMS, and by Michael Ellis, the new Parliamentary Under Secretary for the department.

AP asked the ministers if they now regretted their votes, having come to work with the arts and the creative industries, but did not receive a reply.

Right to remain

The rights of EU citizens in the UK and the ability for UK citizens to work abroad have remained key issues for the arts and cultural sector. A recent CIF survey suggested three-quarters of organisations in the creative industries employ EU nationals, with the majority indicating the roles could not be filled by British workers.

In addition, in its recent Global Talent report, CIF urged the Government to agree the right to remain for EU nationals “as soon as possible”.

The Government has since announced an agreement with the European Commission to allow EU nationals resident in the UK to stay in the country after the UK formally leaves the union in March 2019, but the rights of EU residents to come to the UK after this date remain unconfirmed.

The Government’s current stance is that there will be a “period of time” after 29 March 2019, during which EU citizens will still be able to move to the UK to live, work and study, providing they follow a registration process. Details of this process, and what will happen after it ends, are still being negotiated.

Responding to a question about whether it was concerned by the DCMS Ministers’ voting record, a CIF spokesperson said: “It is encouraging that the new Secretary of State acknowledges that citizens’ rights is an issue of huge concern for our sector.

“We are glad that the UK has now come to an agreement with the EU commission on this issue and are working closely with government to ensure this is implemented in as simple and quick a way as possible. We must provide as much ease of mind as possible for EU citizens.”