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'Prospect of Windrush-Style CATASTROPHE': UK Gov Must Protect EU Citizens

© AP Photo / Tim IrelandA demonstrator wears a badge in Parliament Square before a group of EU citizens of several nationalities, and including nurses, social workers and teaching assistants, lobby Members of Parliament over their right to remain in the UK, in London, Monday Feb. 20, 2017.
A demonstrator wears a badge in Parliament Square before a group of EU citizens of several nationalities, and including nurses, social workers and teaching assistants, lobby Members of Parliament over their right to remain in the UK, in London, Monday Feb. 20, 2017. - Sputnik International
The 'Windrush scandal' saw dozens of long-term UK residents who emigrated to the UK from the Caribbean prior to 1973 denied access to health and other services, detained or expelled from the country, despite having lived legally in the country for decades.

Ministers faced a furious backlash over the treatment of the Windrush generation after it emerged long-term UK residents were denied access to cancer treatment and other services, held in detention or removed, despite living legally in the country for decades.

The UK has been urged by members of parliament's home affairs select committee to urgently change its policy on EU citizens living in the country in order to avoid a post-Brexit "Windrush-style catastrophe".

Committee MPs said the design of the 'EU Settlement Scheme' meant many EU citizens risked forfeiting their rights to remain after the deadline for registration in December 2020 in the event of no deal, or June 2021 in the event of a deal.

Evidence was heard from a number of witnesses including home secretary and Tory leadership candidate Sajid Javid — and it has concluded the only way to ensure EU citizens retain their rights is to protect in law the rights of EU citizens in the UK.

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"We held a short inquiry on this issue because the smooth and successful operation of the Settlement Scheme is vital to reassure UK-resident EU citizens that they will continue to be free to live and work here. Following the Windrush scandal-which has seen thousands of people from Commonwealth countries, who came to the UK after the Second World War, denied rights and threatened with deportation due to Home Office mishandling of their cases-it is also essential for public trust in the Home Office that it gets this scheme right. The prospect of a Windrush-style catastrophe happening to over three million EU citizens who have made the UK their home in good faith is deeply troubling," the committee stated in its report.

MPs are as a result calling on Whitehall to guarantee in law any EU citizens living in the UK before Brexit are legal residents of the UK and thus able to continue to live and work as they have done until now. They also called for the government to provide a printed document and not merely a digital system, in order to enable EU citizens to deal with landlords, employers and officials at airports and ports.

​"The Government cannot suddenly impose a 'digital first'-indeed, 'digital only'-system upon people without giving them, employers and landlords time to adapt. People can have the best of both worlds: a more secure and forward-thinking digital system in parallel with the more familiar and reassuring hard copy. We would hope to see new applicants being routinely provided with physical certification of their Settlement Scheme status by the end of the year, with documents provided retrospectively to those who have already completed the process," the recommendations continue.

Moreover, in echoes of criticisms of campaigners, the committee said EU citizens should not need to apply to remain, but merely declare they reside in the country, bringing the UK's approach in line with other EU countries, where people merely need to notify a town hall of their arrival and their address.

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"The government has chosen to implement a system which doesn't grant status to eligible people but requires them to apply for it and the home secretary told us that EU citizens are only entitled to the status which they are able to evidence. We disagree with this. We believe the EU citizens legally resident in the UK [prior to the UK leaving the EU] should have their rights protected and their entitlement to remain enshrined in law," says the report.

Witnesses outlined to the committee that "there is another way forward", similar to how Commonwealth citizens in the UK had their immigration status legalised in the 1970s — by merely passing a law saying "you are lawful". Opponents of open border immigration may well take umbrage however at the suggestion that difficulties will be "sorted out later…as and when they arise".

In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson said the department "disagrees with the committee's assessment of the scheme", adding it's "performing well", with over 600,000 applications received by the end of April and "hundreds of thousands" already having been granted status.

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"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," the spokesperson said. "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. We have taken great care to learn from the experience of the Windrush generation. It's part of the reason why there are 200 assisted digital locations across the UK to help EU citizens apply, dedicated staff in our Settlement Resolution Centre and £9m available for 57 organisations across the UK to support an estimated 200,000 vulnerable people to apply," they added.

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