The UK government’s approach to preserving the rights of EU citizens at home in the UK, as well as British citizens in another 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 home post-Brexit. 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 – that brings with it many problems.
- Criminal record checks are 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.
- There is also a temporary status called pre-settled status. In theory this is for anyone who has not yet lived in the UK for 5 years or more. In reality many EU citizens entitled to settled status have erroneously been granted pre-settled status instead.
- Anyone with pre-settled status will have to apply again to get full settled status. This means potentially thousands of individual cliff edges.
- A mobile phone app for the application process has been developed, but it only works on Android phones.
- Little has been done to inform EU citizens, with many unaware of what they have to do.
- 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 that limits rights further.
All of these issues make clear that the rights of EU citizens in the UK are not protected. 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.