Lib Dems call for EU settlement scheme deadline to be extended as applications drop

EU citizens in Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster, lobbying MPs over post-Brexit rights in the UK.

EU citizens in Victoria Tower Gardens in Westminster in 2017, lobbying MPs over post-Brexit rights in the UK. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

A leading Liberal Democrat politician is calling for the deadline for applications for the EU settlement scheme to be extended after figures showed the number dropped by 100,000 in March.

Home secretary Priti Patel set a deadline date of June 2021 for EU citizens living in the UK to apply for settled status to remain after Brexit, but the figures have collapsed since the coronavirus outbreak.

In March 125,000 applications were received, compared to 235,800 in February. This is the lowest monthly figure since June last year when 121,000 were recorded.

So far a decision has been made on more than 3.1 million applications (3,147,000), leaving a backlog of 321,700 still to complete.

The government's settlement resolution centre has been closed during the lockdown, with staff working from home, but not taking telephone calls.

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It has prompted the Liberal Democrats home affairs spokeswoman Christine Jardine to call for an extension to the deadline.

She said: 'Now that this coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on the enormous contributions EU citizens make to our public services, our economy and our society, they must have the right to stay.

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'The prime minister rightly thanked a Portuguese nurse who looked after him in intensive care last week, but this Government is still refusing to honour its promise to grant all EU citizens like him the automatic right to stay.

'No-one ever seriously believed that the Home Office would successfully grant all 3.6 million EU citizens settled status by the June 2021 deadline, but the coronavirus pandemic now makes that virtually impossible. Thousands of people will be left effectively undocumented and at risk of eviction, detention and even deportation.

'Liberal Democrats are fighting for the rights of EU citizens. The government must drop its arbitrary deadline and give them the automatic right to stay in the UK.'

Maike Bohn, from the3million campaign representing EU citizens in the UK, said: 'The UK does not know how many people must apply, how many people have applied, and they also don't know whether the people who have applied successfully have been granted the right status.

'We fear that by the application deadline next year neither the Home Office nor organisations like the3million will know how many EU citizens will not have secured their rightful status.'

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