Priti Patel accuses EU countries of treating British people unfairly

Home Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Downing Street, Lond

Home Secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing on coronavirus (Covid-19) in Downing Street - Credit: PA

Home secretary Priti Patel has said that British nationals living in Europe are having difficulty accessing benefits, services, and jobs.

Patel accused the EU nations of hypocrisy and of treating Britons unfairly, exactly five years after the country voted to leave the bloc.

She said that “a number of reported instances of UK nationals in the EU being asked for residence documents they do not need to hold, being prevented from accessing benefits and services and having trouble with their right to work.”

She also added that some British nationals had experienced problems simply entering the EU, facing “disruptions upon boarding and entry”.

The home secretary insisted that it was “only right that the EU uphold their obligations on citizens' rights, just as the UK has done for EU citizens in the UK,” before calling the UK’s settlement programme for EU citizens “very generous”.

In comparison, for EU citizens residing in Britain, immigration officials have announced a 28-day period to apply for the right to remain.

The current deadline for EU citizens to apply to stay is 30 June. So far, approximately 5.3 million EU citizens have applied for residency rights in the UK, according to government figures. However, the BBC reports that about 400,000 cases remain outstanding. 

It further says that the government helpline is receiving thousands of calls each day. Countries that have made the highest number of applications are Poland, at 975,000, and Romania, at 918,000. 

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Patel urged EU nationals to meet this deadline but did say that those who missed it on reasonable grounds would be still be permitted to apply. Kevin Foster, immigration minister, elaborated on which circumstances would meet these qualifications. 

He explained that they would include children whose parents had failed to apply for them or people who had illnesses that prevented their applications from being submitted. It also refers to students who may discover when applying to university for the first time that they do not have settled status. 

Foster also said that immigration officers would be able to issue 28-day notices to people they encounter that could be eligible to apply, such as when carrying out immigration raids. But, he did make it clear that no one would be able to begin a benefit claim, job, or tenancy without settled status. 

When he was asked if this would make it difficult to attract EU workers, he hit back saying that “in the first instance” employers should be looking to recruit from the UK market.

Many EU countries have time periods of a year or less for equivalent schemes for British nationals, such as France which has a window of fewer than nine months, Patel also added when speaking on the issue. 

Maike Bohn, the co-founder of the EU citizens' campaign group the3million, said that, while the news that people can put late applications in was good, “the crux is they're unlawful as they haven't put an application in. Those eligible and not applying on time become unlawful and risk losing work, housing, access to free health care and so much more.”

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