The UK government’s approach to preserving the rights of EU citizens who live in the UK, as well as Britons whose home is an EU country, has been shambolic at best. Instead of agreeing existing rights, upholding the re-assurances given by the official Leave campaign and the majority of politicians, five million people and their families were made bargaining chips in the negotiations.
This has caused unprecedented anxiety and stress and has landed people in limbo. From both a political and a human perspective this is indefensible.
EU citizens in the UK are now faced with having to apply if they want to stay in their own home post-Brexit and pay for the privilege. That is, in essence, what settled status, the scheme devised for EU citizens to secure their future in the UK, is about. While the UK government claims that settled status secures the rights of EU citizens, the reality is that it does not provide certainty. Key concerns are:
- Settled status is an application process, not a registration – applications can be rejected.
- Criminal record checks will be part of the process, and all applicants aged 10 and over will be checked against the UK’s national police database and watch lists – even though EU citizens are all here legally now.
- The ‘best case’ outcome is a loss of rights and further limbo because of implementation through secondary legislation (see below).
- The ‘worst case’ outcome is an application being turned down – with all the consequences that entails, potentially including illegality and deportation.
- EU citizens will have to pay for this status; not everyone will be able to afford this.
- A mobile phone app for the application process has been developed, but it only works on Android phones. It is still unclear how other application routes, such as paper forms, will work. There are no proposals for local face-to-face applications.
- Little has been done to inform EU citizens, with many unaware of what they will have to do.
- Given the Home Office’s poor track record, will HO staff really be able to handle millions of applications in such a short timeframe, especially since applications are unlikely to be spread out evenly?
- Settled status will largely be implemented through secondary legislation; this can be changed very quickly without parliamentary scrutiny. There is a real danger that EU citizens will remain in eternal limbo, forever dependent upon the mood of the government of the day.
- Many other specific questions remain entirely unresolved; see the 160+ unsettling questions by the3million.
- The UK/EU negotiation mantra ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ increases uncertainty.
- While the government has confirmed that settled status will also apply in the event of no-deal, it is a restricted version only that limits rights further. Moreover, unilateral agreements can be taken away very quickly.
All of these issues make clear that the rights of EU citizens in the UK, as well as the rights of Britons in EU27 countries, are not a done deal. It is time for both the UK and the EU to put people before politics and to stand by the promises made before, during and since the referendum that the rights of EU citizens would not change, that they would be able to live their lives as they do now.