Diane Abbott MP: Tory idea of fairness is to treat EU citizens almost as badly as Windrush ones

Posted On: 
21st January 2019

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott says the Government's approach towards EU citizens risks damaging good-will with the EU member states and is a 'huge act of self-harm'.

The Government’s latest attempt to introduce a new scheme for EU citizens highlights the terrible consequences of a No Deal Brexit.  It has no regard to the fair treatment of those citizens, or of securing the same rights for British citizens in the EU. That includes all those who live, work or study either in this country or in the EU, now and in the future.

The new scheme obliges EU citizens (except Irish citizens) to apply for one of two types of status, settled or pre-settled.  EU citizens, many of whom have lived and worked here for many years and may have children or spouses who were born here may be at risk of detention or deportation if their application is flawed, or if it is not processed in time.

So far, no EU member state has responded in kind. But there must be a risk that one or more will do so. The measures are not designed either to offer fair treatment to EU citizens who came here in good faith. And they are clearly not designed to foster good will, even though it is clearly in the interests of this country to do that.

The Windrush scandal gives us an insight into the gross inefficiencies that are all too prevalent in the immigration, and the wilful neglect of our own citizens’ rights which has been promoted by this government.  This was not, as Ministers often claim, a failure of paperwork. It is a shameful policy of treating our own citizens who were never previously asked for that paperwork, as if they are criminals.  There is a clear risk that the Government’s idea of ‘fairness’ will be to treat EU citizens in something like the disgraceful way non-EU citizens have been treated in the ‘Windrush scandal’. 

The deadline for the settlement applications is 30 June this year.  The ordinary caseload of immigration officials already seems too great.  Three-quarters of appeals against immigration decisions are already successful.  Clearly, something is going very badly wrong if that is the case, especially when the vast majority of appeals are made without legal aid of any sort.

Under the government’s plans literally millions EU citizens will now have to have applications processed in a matter of months.  On all known indicators, there can be little confidence that this deluge of applications will be processed correctly and on time. It is a recipe for chaos. The Immigration Minister seems unsure whether employers will be asked to monitor EU citizens’ status, and has provided wholly contradictory answers to this basic question.  In truth, just like the Windrush victims, this government wants to use employers, landlords and pubic services as internal border guards.

This is all completely unnecessary. Our immigration system is already a mess. Yet the government is attempting a massive change to that system in advance of an unknown settlement with the EU on our whole future legal, trade, security and other arrangements with the EU.  Immigration should follow, not lead this process.

Worse, the entire scheme is misconceived. Any changes to the immigration system should come after the changes to our relationship with the EU. Our immigration system should fit into that, not the other way round.

The government’s approach is effectively to prepare a No Deal immigration system, to exclude EU citizens, place the onus on them to prove their right to be here and to threaten them with deportation if they fail. It is hard to imagine how this will preserve good-will with the EU member states. Given the role of those citizens in contributing to our society and our economy, this is also a huge act of self-harm.  It is wrong and should be stopped.