Ministers faced a furious backlash over the treatment of the Windrush generation after it emerged long-term UK residents were denied access to cancer treatment and other services, held in detention or removed, despite living legally in the country for decades.
The UK has been urged by members of parliament's home affairs select committee to urgently change its policy on EU citizens living in the country in order to avoid a post-Brexit "Windrush-style catastrophe".
Committee MPs said the design of the 'EU Settlement Scheme' meant many EU citizens risked forfeiting their rights to remain after the deadline for registration in December 2020 in the event of no deal, or June 2021 in the event of a deal.
Evidence was heard from a number of witnesses including home secretary and Tory leadership candidate Sajid Javid — and it has concluded the only way to ensure EU citizens retain their rights is to protect in law the rights of EU citizens in the UK.
MPs are as a result calling on Whitehall to guarantee in law any EU citizens living in the UK before Brexit are legal residents of the UK and thus able to continue to live and work as they have done until now. They also called for the government to provide a printed document and not merely a digital system, in order to enable EU citizens to deal with landlords, employers and officials at airports and ports.
Theresa May's legacy:— Momentum (@PeoplesMomentum) May 24, 2019
— 14m in poverty
— 130k homeless children
— 1m foodbank parcels
— 1m disability benefit sanctions
— NHS privatisation
— Brexit shambles
— Hostile environment
A new Tory leader won't make things better. We need a general election now.
"The Government cannot suddenly impose a 'digital first'-indeed, 'digital only'-system upon people without giving them, employers and landlords time to adapt. People can have the best of both worlds: a more secure and forward-thinking digital system in parallel with the more familiar and reassuring hard copy. We would hope to see new applicants being routinely provided with physical certification of their Settlement Scheme status by the end of the year, with documents provided retrospectively to those who have already completed the process," the recommendations continue.
Moreover, in echoes of criticisms of campaigners, the committee said EU citizens should not need to apply to remain, but merely declare they reside in the country, bringing the UK's approach in line with other EU countries, where people merely need to notify a town hall of their arrival and their address.
Witnesses outlined to the committee that "there is another way forward", similar to how Commonwealth citizens in the UK had their immigration status legalised in the 1970s — by merely passing a law saying "you are lawful". Opponents of open border immigration may well take umbrage however at the suggestion that difficulties will be "sorted out later…as and when they arise".
In response to the report, a Home Office spokesperson said the department "disagrees with the committee's assessment of the scheme", adding it's "performing well", with over 600,000 applications received by the end of April and "hundreds of thousands" already having been granted status.