Photo: Britain’s security minister Brandon Lewis
Britain’s security minister Brandon Lewis has threatened EU citizens with deportation from the UK if they do not apply for settled status after Brexit.
Home Office figures show a million of the estimated three million EU citizens in the country have yet to apply for settled status, which will allow them to stay in Britain.
In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Lewis said these people risked being deported if they failed to apply by the end of 2020.
“If EU citizens have not registered by then without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply,” Lewis said.
Asked whether those who did not apply in the next 14 months would face deportation even if they fulfilled all legal conditions for a residence permit, Lewis said: “Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules.”
Campaigners said the comments suggested the government was planning to renege on a promise to EU citizens.
The3million, a group representing EU citizens living in Britain, said it was the first time the government had confirmed what would happen to those who did not apply for settled status.
Maike Bohn, a co-founder of the campaign, said: “We have pressed the government for years on what happens to those who do not have a status in 2021. Today, after much waiting, it is confirmed that hundreds and thousands of people will be punished with the threat of removal from their home. This is no way to treat people, let alone what was promised.”
The3million said many EU citizens in Britain were unaware of the requirement to register for settled status, while others were refusing to, as a protest against Brexit.
Bohn said: “Those people who miss the tight deadline will face the full force of the hostile environment. That is the grim reality of the UK government’s position, no matter how many times they repeat the phrase: ‘EU citizens and their families are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we want them to stay.’”
The3million is calling for changes to the EU settlement scheme to guarantee rights to EU citizens even if they do not apply for settled status.
Lewis later tweeted that his remarks had been taken out of context.
Until now Home Office briefings have consistently tried to stress that officials will do everything they can to grant EU nationals the right to remain, and steered away from focusing on what would happen to those who failed to apply on time.
One of the civil servants leading the settled status application scheme said: “This is about trying to grant the right. This is not about trying to trip people up … We’ve set this up from scratch. All this is here to try to say yes to European citizens, to try to give them their rights.”
The Home Office’s position has consistently been to stress that if someone has a good reason to explain why they failed to apply by the deadline then they will be reasonable. The Home Office indicated that if people persistently fail to apply, then they will have no lawful status in Britain.
Campaigners have asked for clarity on this point, noting that there was no clear explanation of what would be considered a “good reason” for failing to apply by the deadline.
There is concern from campaign groups such as The3million that there could be tens of thousands of EU nationals in Britain who will fail to apply in time; they are particularly concerned by what will happen to older and more vulnerable EU residents who may not be aware of the need to secure their rights after Brexit and who may struggle with the digital application process.
As well as encountering difficulties with the Home Office, people who do not secure settled status may encounter problems applying for work or renting property, because employers and landlords will need to check that they are living in Britain legally.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay. The EU settlement scheme is a free and easy way for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need.
“We have received 2 million applications and are looking for reasons to grant status, not refuse, and EU citizens have until at least December 2020 to apply. We’ve always been clear that where they have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they’ll be given a further opportunity to apply.”