Ministers must put EU citizens’ rights in law before Brexit or risk Windrush repeat, MPs warn
Ministers have been warned they must enshrine the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK in law before Brexit or risk a repeat of the Windrush scandal.
The Home Affairs Committee said thousands of European nationals could be left in an “insecure legal position” if filling out the mandatory EU Settlement Scheme is the only guarantee of a right to stay.
The group say officials must find ways of helping vulnerable people and children to apply as well as addressing the technical issues which have hit the online process.
It comes a year after it was revealed that the Government’s policy towards illegal migrants meant that some members of the Windrush generation - who came to the UK from the Caribbean before 1971 - had been wrongly threatened with deportation by the Home Office and lost access to public services.
MPs say the new system, which expires in 2021, should be reformed to instead be a physical confirmation of EU nationals' status rather than a time-limited opportunity to guarantee their rights.
Their report also calls on the Government to strengthen appeal rights and to guarantee EU nationals the same conditions, regardless of whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal or not.
They add that ministers should do more to encourage applicants to take part in the Scheme where they are unable to prove eligibility or qualification due to circumstances beyond their control.
The report says ministers should also lay out what the consequences will be for someone who is legally resident in the UK but does not register under the Scheme in time and what will be considered reasonable grounds for late submission.
Committee Chair, Yvette Cooper, said: “The Government’s current plans for the EU Settlement Scheme show they are not learning the lessons from the 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.
“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."
A Home Office spokesperson said: “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.”
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