Windrush scandal raising EU fears, Home Office hears

Concerns grow about transition and post-Brexit reality for EU citizens in UK

 European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt: “It remains a priority . . . to ensure that citizens, whether UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK, can continue to lead their lives as they do now.” Photograph: Patrick Seeger

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt: “It remains a priority . . . to ensure that citizens, whether UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK, can continue to lead their lives as they do now.” Photograph: Patrick Seeger

 

The mistreatment of the Windrush generation by the British authorities is “raising anxieties” among EU citizens hoping to settle in the UK, a group of MEPs told British officials in Brussels on Tuesday.

The delegation, led by the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, met officials from the Home Office at prime minister Theresa May’s instigation to outline concerns they have about transition and post-Brexit arrangements for EU citizens who wish to live in the UK.

Members of the parliament’s Brexit steering group and MEPs from five committees in charge of citizens’ rights were also on the delegation.

The parliament has been concerned for some time about the provisions on citizens’ rights set out in the Withdrawal Agreement between the EU and UK, and particularly about the difficulties involved in applying for residence.

Because the UK has agreed to maintain the Common Travel Area with Ireland and Irish citizens do not – and will not – have to apply for residency, the issue is not of immediate concern in Ireland.

Mr Verhofstadt said they told the Home Office it was crucial the system was “easy, smooth and cost-free”. He said the EU27 would reciprocate with UK citizens who wished to live in the EU.

Special provisions

The MEPs, he said, wanted a system of “registration, not application” to ensure that those moving to the UK did not have to wait for ages for clearance from the authorities. He said they were concerned that the introduction of new online “app” application forms, although simpler, should not become insuperable problems for the “vulnerable” who found technology difficult to deal with. Special provisions should be made, he said.

Moreover, the system should be simplified so that only one file or application per family was required.

“It remains a priority for the European Parliament to ensure that citizens, whether UK citizens in the EU or EU citizens in the UK, can continue to lead their lives as they do now, which was also the promise made by those campaigning for Brexit,” Mr Verhofstadt said.

“The treatment of the Windrush generation under UK immigration law has unfortunately created renewed anxiety among EU citizens in the UK and shows why we have to get this right. The European Parliament will closely scrutinise developments and work to ensure sufficient guarantees are in place to avoid the repetition of such a situation for EU citizens.”

The British government has been mired in controversy in recent days over its treatment of the Windrush generation, Caribbean immigrants who have lived legally in Britain for decades and have wrongly been labelled illegal immigrants because of trouble documenting their status.