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How to stop EU citizens being treated like pawns

by Hugo Dixon | 12.12.2016

Theresa May mustn’t just guarantee rights of the 3 million EU citizens living here. She must also deal with the nitty-gritty of figuring out who can stay – and how to process a mountain of applications.

A report published today by a cross-party inquiry set up by the British Future think-tank offers the prime minister a practical way forward. The inquiry’s recommendations will carry weight because it was chaired by Gisela Stuart, who also chaired the Vote Leave campaign, and includes UKIP’s Suzanne Evans. It cannot be dismissed as the pleadings of “remoaners”.

Of course, before we get to the nitty-gritty, we still need to win the moral argument that the 3 million EU citizens settled in the UK – and the 1.6 million Brits living in the rest of the EU – mustn’t be treated like pawns in the Brexit negotiations. May’s reluctance to make a unilateral gesture of goodwill and insistence instead on a reciprocal deal has provoked the EU to counter that there can be no negotiations on this until we have triggered Article 50.

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In practice, the best we can now hope for is that there will be a statement right at the start of the divorce talks by all leaders that these nearly 5 million people will not be treated as second-class citizens – yet even that cannot be taken for granted. But, in parallel, the government must work on the far from trivial mechanics of determining who can stay.

First, it will need to decide on a “cut-off” date – the point before which any EU citizen resident here will automatically be allowed to stay. The British Future report suggests that this should be the day on which the government triggers Article 50.

It then proposes that any “qualified person” who has already been here for five years should be able to apply to stay permanently, and that those who haven’t been here that long should be able to do once they have been here for five years. A qualified person is an EU citizen who is living in the UK because they are employed, self-employed, looking for a job, a student or self-sufficient. Students and self-sufficient people would also need to take out comprehensive health insurance.

Even if the government accepts these suggestions, processing applications could turn into a bureaucratic nightmare. At present, applicants for permanent residence have to fill in an 85-page form and wait an average of six months to get an answer. A third of all applicants are rejected, partly because people can’t produce all the paperwork and partly because some don’t have comprehensive sickness insurance.

Last year only 18,064 people were granted permanent residence. At that rate, it would take 150 years to process 3 million applicants.

Some of British Future’s most important recommendations are about streamlining the process. It wants the Home Office to delegate straightforward cases to local authority Nationality Checking Services. It wants the Home Office to stop refusing applicants if they haven’t taken out comprehensive sickness insurance. And it wants a simple check against tax and welfare databases to be enough to prove a person is “qualified”.

Such proposals seem eminently reasonable. If the Home Office doesn’t like them, it needs to come up with an alternative system that will do the job. Otherwise, it will be drowned in work – and any promise to EU citizens that they remain welcome here will be barely worth the paper it is written on.

InFacts has backed a campaign calling on Theresa May to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK. You can sign the petition here.

This piece was updated on Dec 12 to insert the four final paragraphs that had accidentally been left off

Edited by Bill Emmott

4 Responses to “How to stop EU citizens being treated like pawns”

  • It fills me with deep disgust that the unsavoury Ministers Fox, Davis and Johnson, together with the equally unsavoury Prime Minister are even considering using people as bargaining pawns. It all smacks of Nazi Germany of the 1930s.

  • Labour, should have included this in their amendment. As the party of working people, they refused to represent the millions of workers who just happened to be born in a different country. The growing mood in labour to restrict free movement is similar to the anti-immigration left politics of the early 60’s when many from the unions were hostile towards immigration taking white man’s jobs.
    A50 should not be triggered until we have guaranteed the status of everyone living here, not ifs or buts. EU migrants are vital not just to the economy, but they are friends, family and integral to society.
    I live in London in Lewisham. The Majority of kids at my daughter’s school are EU nationals – including french, Irish, Spanish, Lux, German, Danish, Italian, Romanian and Belgium. All hard working, cultured, multilingual, talented and brilliant. Many are reviewing options, and feel unsafe,.

  • It’s not enough just to say EU passport holders can stay, if their economic means for survival would be undermined. I am thinking about people on work contracts which expire and I am thinking about those drawing pensions. In other words, EU nationals should still be free to look for work if they are made unemployed.

    I am also unclear what is meant by “comprehensive health insurance”. At first glance this sounds reasonable, but does it mean forcing people to take out expensive private health insurance? This cuts 2 ways, as British nationals living In Europe should currently be able to benefit from reciprocal healthcare, which is based on public health insurance criteria. In Germany, the only alternative to this is private health insurance, which given the sophistication of the German healthcare system, can have punitive premiums, particularly for elderly people. Therefore the UK Government should not discriminate against EU nationals, by forcing them into private healthcare. The European health systems, like the NHS, also operate on the basis that not everyone is backed by substantial capital assets.

    This will be of particular concern to UK pensioners living in Europe. Their other major concern is the value of their pensions. Not only are they having to contend with the dramatic reduction in the exchange rate of the pound sterling, a move to freeze the pension at a fixed level, would amount to the same thing as being forced out. The Government must appreciate that people plan their lives many years in advance, and such a unilateral move would completly undermine their plans, probably resulting in many extremly grumpy UK pensioners forced back into the UK.

    I look forward to reading IN Facts so to balance up the misinformation from the usual suspects in the tabloid press. At the very least, the Government must not be allowed to railroad through their own hardline Brexit stance without proper debate and scrutiny.

  • Just posted on facebook, but might be read by more people doing Another statement concerning the treatment that EEA Citizen might or might not get before, during, after Brexit so called negociations will be thought about, dealt with, triggered, everything is said except one thing. Not once did I have as yet read about a human being like me: 38 years in this country (but arrived in 1972 and worked for a british company abroad for 3 years) never worked in my country of birth, so I have never contributed in the later and therefore I cannot go home! A person like me who has paid all her tax for 38 years without any disruption. I have proofs of all my P60’s, my income Tax returns, bank statements etc. Who has paid 38 years of road tax, of household tax on my house. A person who receives a pension from DWP for the last 10 years as this person has contributed to it for all her working life 27 years of work. And 34 years of marriage to a full British Citizen from Ancestors who have never moved away from their town. A person who is getting old and is getting very worried about what could happen at the Boarder entering the UK which is my country where I have all my eartly belongings well anchered. I am not sure why but I have never heard of any of the form to be getting concerning myself as an EEA citizen, never and we read the Times and listen to news everyday for the past 38 years. It seems that has been done on the quiet. The worst is that I could have become a british citizen until August 2015 without having to use the EEA (PR) form which is a form which intrudes very deeply into one very personal life indeed. So, please, who, can I contact, who can listen to me, who is going to talk about people like me and there must be quite a few. By the way, you document says that 1/3 of applicants are rejected because of not having a Private Health Cover? Quite beyond me, I would like to know what kind of law maker actuary working for the government would have thought of that. When I go to my country of birth, France if I need to see a doctor private or A&E he has on his desk a bank terminal and can get my card processed and I pay my €30, that is it. Why can’t it be done in the UK? There are a eck of lot of people not from the EEA who go to our NHS and do not pay. It is me I am talking about, my well being, my sanity, my humanrights have been very much affecte one way or the other. I have not slept well since the begining of hearing all the arguments how good it was going to be to have Brexit. I do hope that everyone who never even told us about how it was going to be got have very little sleep and will have soon no sleep at all. I feel so angry that at my age having paid all my way, never unemployed in this country, loving it after the last 44 years being part of this country and I am coming towards my twilight of my life being treated like if I did only exist because I have not got a front page on my Passport showing a British Crown Embleme which even includes, from time imemorial, the Words “Dieu et mon Droit”. May be most people do not realize they are french words. Why should they. Hope to have some one very important in the present time to write to me and I could meet up with that very important person. It would be rather nice and I could maybe make more sense about what is going on at present, which has and is and will be affecting my life so personaly. With regards.