The European Union on Monday (21 February) criticised the UK’s handling of the residency rights of EU nationals following Brexit, with European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič warning that the bloc would “consider our next steps”.
The UK introduced its EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) for European citizens living in the UK in 2018 and has since dealt with more than 5.5 million claims, far more than initially expected.
However, while around 57% of applicants have been granted settled status, which gives them permanent residency in the UK, 41% have been given pre-settled status which only grants five years of residency.
The UK government’s position is that citizens who fail to apply for Settled Status before the expiry of their Pre-Settled Status should automatically lose their residency rights, which also give them access to welfare benefits.
In December, the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements (IMA) launched judicial review proceedings against the Home Office which it accuses of acting unlawfully.
“I had to regret the UK’s position on both issues so far and I will consider our next steps,” said Šefčovič following a meeting of the Joint Committee on the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement that took the UK out of the EU.
“We are speaking about millions of people, their livelihoods, their families, their individual destiny and I think it was a commitment from both of us that we will do our utmost for the UK nationals in the EU and the EU citizens staying in the UK,” he added.
It is also unclear whether the rights of EU nationals with new residency status are guaranteed by the Withdrawal Agreement or by UK immigration law.
The Joint Committee also focused on the state of progress of negotiations on the Northern Ireland protocol, which Šefčovič described as “neither a breakthrough, nor a breakdown”.
EU and UK officials say that some progress has been made with a view to reducing the burden of customs paperwork on Northern Ireland businesses.
The EU believes it will be possible to reduce the data fields on customs declarations from 80 to 30, with Šefčovič remarking that the Commission’s proposals “offer remarkable simplification and a big permanent impact on the ground”.
The UK believes that the reduction should be greater, with traders only needing to use customs codes which would describe goods in high level terms.
In a joint statement, Šefčovič and UK foreign secretary Liz Truss said there was “ongoing determination of both parties to ensure that the outstanding issues in the context of the Protocol are addressed, and durable solutions found for the benefit of citizens, businesses and stability in Northern Ireland.”
Northern Ireland is currently without a First Minister after the Democratic Unionist Party’s Paul Givan resigned last month in protest at the status of the protocol, and will enter into campaign mode in mid March ahead of elections to the Northern Ireland assembly in May.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon]