Brexit: Ministers risk repeat of Windrush scandal with EU citizens' settlement scheme, MPs warn

'Too many people could be missed out under the current plans for the settlement scheme arrangements'

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Thursday 30 May 2019 00:10
Comments
Government posters encouraging EU nationals to apply to the settlement scheme are a common sight in London Tube stations
Government posters encouraging EU nationals to apply to the settlement scheme are a common sight in London Tube stations

Ministers risk repeating "another Windrush scandal" if the Home Office fails to get the detail of the contentious EU citizens' settlement scheme right post-Brexit, a group of MPs claim today.

In an alarming warning, the Home Affairs Committee claims individuals from the bloc legally resident in the UK could be left in a "uncertain situation" regarding their rights to remain.

"The hardship and injustice experienced by some members of the Windrush generation has been shameful, and lessons must be learned to avoid similar consequences befalling EU citizens," the committee's report urges.

Post-Brexit, the EU settlement scheme will aim to establish the immigration status of citizens from the bloc legally residing in the UK, and grant residence depending on length of residency.

It comes after reports the cabinet minister Michael Gove will abandon the settled status scheme and abolish the requirement of EU citizens to provide proof of their right to be in the UK, if he wins the race to succeed Theresa May as prime minister.

The Home Affairs Committee suggests that technical issues have blighted the current settled status scheme for EU nationals, with applicants struggling to navigate the online system.

It adds: "Many others will fail to apply successfully, either because they are unaware of that the scheme applies to them or because they are unable adequately to evidence their entitlement to status."

"The government has chosen to implement a system which does not grant status to eligible people but requires them to apply for it, and the home secretary told us that EU citizens are only entitled to the status which they are able to evidence.

"We disagree with this. We believe the EU citizens legally resident in the UK before its departure from the European Union should have their rights protected and their entitlement to remain enshrined in law."

Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who chairs the Home Affairs Committee, said: "The government's current plans for the EU settlement scheme show they are not learning the lessons from Windrush scandal.

"The problems faced by the Windrush generation showed how easily individuals can fall through gaps in the system through no fault of their own and how easily lives can be destroyed if the government gets this wrong.

She continued: "Too many people could be missed out under the current plans for the settlement scheme arrangements - including children or the elderly who have lived here many years.

"The government should enshrine people's rights in law so they are protected rather than putting them at risk from problems with the bureaucratic process."

Government estimates indicate that between 3.5m and 4.1m European Economic Area (EEA) citizens and their family members could be eligible to apply to the scheme by the end of 2020.

Applicants are asked to prove their identity, declare any criminal convictions and upload a facial photograph. Officials check employment and benefits data to confirm proof of residence and all applications are run through UK criminality and security databases.

Responding to the committee report: “We disagree with the Home Affairs Select Committee’s assessment of the scheme, which is performing well with more than 600,000 applications received by the end of April and hundreds of thousands of people already being granted status.

“The scheme protects the rights of EU citizens in UK law and gives them a secure digital status which, unlike a physical document, cannot be lost, stolen or tampered with. A declaratory system – that means EU citizens are not required to obtain status and evidence of this – risks causing confusion especially for the most vulnerable, and could in years to come find people struggling to prove their status.

“We have taken great care to learn from the experience of the Windrush generation. It’s part of the reason why there are 200 assisted digital locations across the UK to help EU citizens apply, dedicated staff in our settlement resolution centre and £9m available for 57 organisations across the UK to support an estimated 200,000 vulnerable people to apply."

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