EXCL Government citizenship scheme for EU nationals risks being 'Windrush writ large', says former Tory frontbencher
A government scheme to allow EU nationals to continue living in the UK after Brexit could explode into “Windrush writ large”, a former frontbencher has warned.
Alberto Costa - whose UK-based parents are from Italy - said the Settled Status scheme was “un-British” and could lead to a “tsunami of litigation” for the Home Office as well as trouble for the Conservatives at the ballot box.
He issued the warning to Home Secretary Sajid Javid in an explosive interview with PoliticsHome sister title The House magazine on the eve of the national rollout of the programme.
The Settled Status scheme, which opens on Saturday, will allow EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years or more to secure their rights in the UK after Brexit.
But Mr Costa - who was forced to quit as a ministerial aide last month as he battled to ensure the rights of EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit - said the system should be completely changed.
He warned that vulnerable people, such as the elderly or those in care, might not realise they need to register and miss the June 2021 deadline - inadvertently forfeiting their right to live in the country.
“I think there is a real danger here that if the Government does not learn its lesson that it could become Windrush writ large,” the South Leicestershire MP said.
The former government lawyer warned of a “tsunami of litigation against the Government if rights are changed and found to be in breach of the Human Rights Act, or indeed discriminatory”.
'TOXIC' FOR TORIES
He said the system - whereby people are effectively "threatened" with losing their rights unless they re-apply - could also harm Tory chances at the next election.
In a thinly-veiled warning to the Home Secretary, who is touted as a budding leadership hopeful, Mr Costa said: “I expect Sajid Javid to understand the potential toxicity this has for the Conservative party.
“If the Conservative party is to regain the trust of EU nationals who feel their rights have been wrongly put on the table as part of a negotiating bargaining chip then I think Sajid Javid - or any other Conservative Home Secretary - should act quickly to ensure we minimise any risk of angst and anger being felt, understandably, by EU nationals towards the Conservative government.
“We have changed the goal posts and we must pull out all the stops to mitigate any damage to the rights of EU nationals.”
Mr Costa said the system should instead be ‘declaratory’ - whereby EU nationals would automatically have the same rights after Brexit with no need to apply for the scheme.
Under his proposals, EU citizens would only register if they required documentation to prove their status, and would have an open-door to full citizenship if they want it as a “gesture of goodwill”.
Mr Costa will be tabling amendments to the upcoming Immigration Bill in the hope of securing his changes.
'BRITISH FAIR PLAY'
A spokesperson for the 3 Million campaign told PoliticsHome the group welcomed the "appeal for British fair play" by Mr Costa.
"The last three years have been extremely painful for EU citizens and their families in the UK, as well as for our British friends in the EU," they added.
"Assurances from all sides that nothing would change for us have turned out to be empty promises...
"The rights of the five million people on both sides of the channel should be taken off the negotiation table, and protected by an international treaty, for life."
'WE WANT THEM TO STAY'
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The Government has already committed to protecting the rights of the millions of EU citizens living in the UK.
“We want them to stay and whatever the outcome of the ongoing discussions about our exit from the EU, we will protect their rights and ensure they get the UK immigration status they need.
“The EU Settlement Scheme is designed to be as simple and straightforward as possible and during testing more than 200,000 people have applied.
“Today we launched a nationwide marketing campaign to encourage EU citizens to apply for the scheme, with other activity planned over the next two years to ensure people understand what they need to do.”
WARNINGS MOUNT UP
Earlier this week a powerful committee of MPs and peers warned that EU citizens face being stripped of their human rights after Brexit and ending up in a fresh Windrush scandal.
The scandal saw British citizens of Caribbean descent who arrived in the country decades ago stripped of their rights to work, denied access to public services and in some cases deported.
PoliticsHome also revealed concerns from a top legal expert and the Citizens Advice network that the Settled Status scheme could pose a risk to the rights of British-based EU nationals in the future.