EU citizens must not become the victims of a new Windrush-style scandal
Today, Christine Jardine MP is tabling the European Citizens’ Rights Bill, to give EU citizens the automatic right to stay in the UK, without the need to apply, and to enable them to get physical proof of their rights.
Remember this? “There will be no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. These EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”
That was a joint statement made during the 2016 referendum campaign by Boris Johnson, Priti Patel and Michael Gove – now the Prime Minister, Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.
Boris Johnson repeated that promise to EU citizens when he entered Downing Street last summer, and again in the Conservative manifesto for the General Election in December. But, surprise surprise, he hasn’t kept it.
And that is why today, in Parliament, I’m taking the unusual step of tabling a Private Members’ Bill to hold the Prime Minister to that promise to the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK.
EU citizens in the UK have been living under a cloud of uncertainty for almost four years now.
Despite the Conservatives’ promises, they have not given EU citizens the automatic right to stay. Instead, they are forcing them to apply to the Home Office for “Settled Status” by an arbitrary deadline of 30th June next year.
Anyone who hasn’t been granted their status by then – and even in the best case scenario there will be thousands – will be left effectively undocumented and subject to the Conservatives’ Hostile Environment. They will be at risk of eviction, detention and even deportation. It will be the Windrush scandal on an even bigger scale.
Tory Ministers like to boast that they’ve had more than 3 million applications to the Settled Status scheme, and that only seven have been refused. That certainly sounds good, but it’s misleading for a number of reasons.
First, it double-counts multiple applications from the same person: so if you’ve applied once and then had to apply again, the government stats count you twice.
Second, just because there have only been seven refusals, it doesn’t mean that the rest of those 3 million applications have been granted. As of the end of January, there was a backlog of more than 370,000 unresolved cases – many of whom had been waiting weeks or even months for an outcome.
Third, only a little over half of the people who have had their cases resolved have actually been granted Settled Status. More than 1.1 million have been given “Pre-Settled Status” instead.
And those three letters make a big difference. Settled Status is permanent: the right to stay for good. Pre-Settled Status isn’t. It only gives you the right to stay for up to five years, by which point you’d have to apply again and go through the stress and anxiety all over again.
To make matters worse, the Conservatives are refusing to provide EU citizens with physical proof of their Settled or Pre-Settled Status. Instead, they will have to rely on a digital code and an online Home Office database, putting them at risk of discrimination when it comes to renting a home or applying for a job.
That’s just not good enough.
EU citizens in the UK are our families and friends, our colleagues and carers. They contribute enormously to our economy, our public services and our society. They must have the right to stay, and mustn’t become the victims of a new Windrush-style scandal.
That’s why I’m tabling the European Citizens’ Rights Bill today: to give EU citizens the automatic right to stay in the UK, without the need to apply, and to enable them to get physical proof of their rights.
To protect the rights of people who’ve built their lives in our country. And to hold Boris Johnson to his promise.
Christine Jardine is Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West.