Government risks 'another windrush' with post-Brexit scheme for EU citizens, MPs claim

EU citizens holding up a banner after lobbying MPs to guarantee their post-Brexit rights at the Houses of Parliament in London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

EU citizens holding up a banner after lobbying MPs to guarantee their post-Brexit rights at the Houses of Parliament in London. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

PA Wire/PA Images

EU citizens could become caught up in a another Windrush scandal with the government's Brexit settlement scheme, a report claims.

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MPs said people who have lived in the UK for years could face uncertainty over their rights and eligibility to remain in the country.

The Commons Home Affairs Committee said it had "serious concerns" that the design of the Home Office's settlement scheme means many EU citizens are at risk of being left out.

Labour MP Yvette Cooper, who chairs the committee, said: "The government's current plans for the EU Settlement Scheme show they are not learning the lessons from the Windrush scandal.

"The problems faced by the Windrush generation showed how easily individuals can fall through gaps in the system through no fault of their own and how easily lives can be destroyed if the government gets this wrong."

Successful applicants to the scheme are granted immigration status confirming their right to continue living and working in the UK indefinitely.

EU nationals and their family members who have lived continuously in the country for five years can obtain settled status.

Those with less than five years' residence can acquire pre-settled status, which can later be converted into settled status.

The deadline for applying will be June 30 2021 in a deal departure, or December 31 2020 if the UK leaves without a deal.

It is "vital" that the Home Office gets the detail of the scheme right, the committee's report said.

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It added: "Failing to do so will run the risk of another Windrush scandal.

"EU citizens - who may have been legally resident in the UK for many years and have made this country their home - could be left in an uncertain situation regarding their rights and eligibility to remain in the UK."

Ministers faced a furious backlash over the treatment of the Windrush generation after it emerged that long-term UK residents were denied access to services, held in detention or removed despite living legally in the country for decades.

Following test phases, the EU settlement scheme went fully live at the end of March, but technical issues have "blighted" the application process, with applicants struggling to navigate the online system without assistance, according to the report.

It claimed that the government has failed to mitigate the risk of thousands of EU citizens being left in an "insecure legal position" after Brexit.

The report said: "We believe that EU citizens legally resident in the UK before its departure from the European Union should have their rights protected and their entitlement to remain enshrined in law."

Government estimates indicate that between 3.5 million and 4.1 million European Economic Area citizens and their family members could be eligible to apply to the scheme by the end of 2020.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We disagree with the Home Affairs Select Committee's assessment of the scheme, which is performing well with more than 600,000 applications received by the end of April and hundreds of thousands of people already being granted status.

"The scheme protects the rights of EU citizens in UK law and gives them a secure digital status which, unlike a physical document, cannot be lost, stolen or tampered with.

"We have taken great care to learn from the experience of the Windrush generation.

"It's part of the reason why there are 200 assisted digital locations across the UK to help EU citizens apply, dedicated staff in our Settlement Resolution Centre and £9 million available for 57 organisations across the UK to support an estimated 200,000 vulnerable people to apply."

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