MEPs express ‘grave concern’ about Brexit citizens’ rights regime

The European Union on Monday 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”. [EPA-EFE/NEIL HALL]

Lawmakers in the European Parliament have urged the UK government to overhaul its regime for EU citizens’ rights after Brexit, expressing ‘grave concern’ about its EU Settlement Scheme.

In a resolution backed by 610 votes, with 29 against and 68 abstentions on Wednesday (15 January), MEPs called on the UK and EU-27 to adopt a “declaratory” system that would remove the risk of forced deportation.

They also called for the UK government to provide EU nationals with “a physical document as proof of their right to reside in the UK after the end of the transition period”.

During the eleven-month transition period that will follow the UK’s formal exit from the EU on 31 January and run until December 2020, both UK and EU-27 citizens will continue to enjoy freedom of movement.

In a bid to guarantee their legal rights, the UK government has offered a ‘settled status’ scheme which promises that all EU citizens, their family members, and dependents can remain in the UK with no change to their rights, provided that they have lived here continuously for five years.

However, the deadline for applying for settled status is currently 31 December 2020, and Immigration Minister Brandon Lewis has warned that those who do not apply in time risk deportation. In a nod to Lewis’ remarks, the resolution by EU lawmakers expressed “grave concern at recent and conflicting announcements”.

Meanwhile, concerns have been raised about the high rate of EU nationals – currently around 40% –  being given pre-settled status which only allows applicants to stay in the UK for five more years, at the end of which they will have to apply again for settled status.

The UK Home Office says that nobody is granted pre-settled status without first being offered the opportunity to submit evidence that they qualify for settled status.

It has also estimated that 5-10% of applicants will have difficulties with the application process.

Surge in EU applications for UK settlement scheme

More than half a million applications for EU settled status were received by the UK’s Home Office in October, taking the total to 2.4 million.

In December, Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator, wrote to the UK’s Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay expressing concern over the fate of Europeans who failed to apply for residency, and over the Home Office’s monitoring body.

Speaking on Tuesday, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, warned that problems with EU citizens’ rights could derail talks on future EU-UK relations.

“If they’re not addressed now, before the end of the month, they won’t be on the table before the end of the year,” the Belgian MEP said.

“I cannot imagine that the European Parliament will agree, for example on an FTA (Free Trade Agreement), without solving the problem and the concerns of the EU citizens and UK citizens.”

The European Parliament will vote on the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU on 29 January, two days before the UK is due to leave the bloc.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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