View from the House: I won’t allow EU citizens to fear removal

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq. Picture: Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons

Hampstead and Kilburn MP Tulip Siddiq. Picture: Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons - Credit: Chris McAndrew/Creative Commons

It is hard to think of an area of local life that has not benefited from the contribution of EU citizens.

Whether working for our NHS, conducting world-leading research, or simply participating in our society as valued friends and family, they make up an essential part of our society.

Over the festive period, British politicians served up two rather different gestures to EU citizens living in the UK. Whilst the mayor of London chose to celebrate our European communities through his annual fireworks display, the government opted for a different message.

A Home Office video, released this December, set out the details of “settled status” that EU nationals will need to apply for should they wish to remain in Britain after December 2020.

The video attempts to present a cosmopolitan, welcoming Britain. Instead, it simply spins the new hurdles facing the EU citizens who now require settled status to retain their existing rights.

Since the referendum, the government has treated EU citizens – at best – as a secondary consideration. At worst, ministers have actively demonised them.

Having failed to unilaterally guarantee their right to stay from the outset, the Prime Minister has described EU citizens as “queue jumpers”, treating them as bargaining chips before developing post-Brexit policy that degrades their rights.

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Settled status takes away EU citizens’ lifelong right to return to the UK, limiting it to just five years. It also downgrades family reunion rights, threatening to separate loved ones and create dispersed “Skype families”. As I highlighted in a recent question to the Home Office, it may even contravene the “right to family life” enshrined in our Human Rights Act.

The settled status scheme also poses an administrative nightmare for applicants. Those hoping to stay will have to navigate software that has known technical glitches, run by bureaucrats of an error-prone and understaffed government department.

In one 2017 investigation, the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration found a 10 per cent error rate in officials’ decision making. With an expected 3.6million applications, an error rate of just 1pc for settled status applicants would amount to 36,000 EU citizens facing unacceptable limbo.

Given these concerns, I have tabled a number of questions to ministers. I won’t allow a situation where uncertainty reigns, and where EU citizens who have lived here for decades genuinely fear removal. The Home Office spin on settled status has badly failed. The smiling faces and faux cosmopolitanism of the video does not come close to hiding the reality of a scheme based on exclusion and fear. For as long as the government persists in chasing unobtainable net migration targets, I will continue to fight for EU nationals’ rights and a better course for the country in the days, weeks and months ahead.