EU citizens face Windrush-style scandal after Brexit, MPs warn

Posted On: 
6th March 2019

The Home Office’s failure to fix the flaws in its immigration processes which prompted the Windrush scandal risks putting EU citizens in a similar position after Brexit, MPs have warned.

Jamaican immigrants being welcomed by RAF officials after the ex-troopship HMT Empire Windrush landed at Tilbury in 1948
Credit: 
PA Images

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said the department is not doing enough to “address the appalling defects in its systems, processes and data quality” which led to the crisis that surfaced a year ago.

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.

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MPs say the department ignored “key warning signs” on how ministers’ so-called “hostile environment” could impact on those who lacked documentation on their right to stay.

They also said officials had shown little evidence of making improvements to the quality and clarity of the data it collects and holds, despite accepting recommendations to do so in 2014.

In a new report, the PAC says it is “vital” that ministers ensure that such a fate does not befall EU nationals when Britain quits the bloc next month.

EU citizens will need to apply for settled status ahead of Britain's exit from the EU. But campaigners have warned that the scheme could put them at risk of immigration-related issues further down the line.

“The Home Office must ensure that EU citizens are easily able to regularise their status and stay in the UK as the Government has promised, rather than being caught up in a similar scandal,” the report says.

Committee chair Meg Hillier said: "It is deeply regrettable that a scandal of this magnitude, on the back of repeated and unheeded warnings, does not appear to have fully shaken the Home Office out of its complacency about its systemic and cultural problems.

"This must change now.

“Our report sets out action the Home Office should take to put right the wrongs of Windrush, properly address potential cases in the wider Commonwealth and ensure the Department’s systems are fit for purpose in future.

"We expect a swift and positive response to our recommendations.”

'LACK OF URGENCY'

Elsewhere the group says the department is “shirking its responsibility” to right the wrongs suffered by the generation and is instead palming problems off, including expecting councils to tackle homelessness issues.

The report also criticises the “lack of urgency” in setting up a hardship fund and says its compensation scheme is still not operating, with officials unable to name when it will be up and running.

Ms Hillier added: “The human consequences of this appalling scandal are tragic and well-documented. But there is a long way to go before the Home Office can credibly claim to have put things right.”

“It is simply not taking ownership of the problems it created, not least the urgent housing needs of many members of the Windrush Generation.”

“Its failure to monitor the impact on vulnerable people of its compliant environment policy was also a clear dereliction of duty – all while the Department continued to make life-changing decisions informed by bad data and inadequate systems.”

'ABYSMAL FAILURE'

Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, said the report was a "damning verdict" on the Home Office’s "abysmal failure" to deal with the Windrush scandal.

"It was this Government’s hostile environment policies which led directly to the whole shameful episode and the Home Office has completely failed in its promises to right these wrongs," she said.

"The Windrush victims should receive immediate hardship payments and full compensation. The hostile environment policy must go to prevent even more victims being created."

Liberal Democrat MP and Public Accounts Committee member Layla Moran, said: “We must ensure that this scandal never happens again, but the Settled Status scheme for EU citizens risks leaving many thousands of them facing the same problems as the Windrush Generation after Brexit.

“The only way to prevent it is to end the hostile environment completely and take responsibility for immigration away from the Home Office and its toxic culture.”

A Home Office spokesperson said of the report: "The Home Secretary and Immigration Minister have been resolute in their determination to right the wrongs experienced by the Windrush generation and have commissioned a Lessons Learned review with independent oversight and scrutiny to establish what went wrong and prevent it happening again.

"The Taskforce has helped thousands of people of different nationalities prove their status in the UK. Through the Windrush Scheme 3,400 people have obtained British Citizenship.

"In addition, the Taskforce has a dedicated Vulnerable Persons Team which has provided support to over 600 people including referrals to the Department for Work and Pensions for benefit claims and advice and support on housing."