THE BLOG
16/11/2017 10:10 GMT | Updated 17/11/2017 04:23 GMT

The Long And Winding Brexit Road: EU Citizens Help Turn A Corner

Over five million people's lives are currently frozen in time and space. It is telling that the only solution that would protect them does not come from the British government or the EU but from the citizens themselves.

In 1911, Robert Scott, British leader of the Terra Nova Expedition, was in touching distance of the South Pole. But a series of catastrophic decisions, including a lack of planning, flexibility and proper consultation, meant that he and his men died, 11 miles short of goal.

Now a less perilous but equally life-changing event - the Brexit negotiations on citizens' rights - is also "within touching distance" according to the UK government. This directly contradicts the views of the European Commission and citizens' rights group the3million.

The current UK proposal for "settled status" is the culmination of a year of intimidation, hostile bureaucracy and misleading advice.

The Home Office has been discouraging EU citizens from applying for Permanent Residence documents that would provide evidence of their right to live and work in the UK. EU citizens were told that they do not need documents currently, while the UK's official negotiating position is that all EU citizens will have to obtain documents within two years of Britain leaving the EU. In recent communications officials have stated that any documents issued will not be legally binding after Brexit. Which leaves millions of people in limbo. Wondering what will happen when all their rights fall away on Brexit day and staff shortages combined with administrative errors will prevent many from registering within two years.

  

Instead of listening to EU citizens' feedback and responding to the original EU offer that set the bar high, the current government is driven by the desire to pull over three million people into the draconian UK immigration law. Come forward the "settled status" proposal which was rejected by 96 per cent of over 2,000 respondents in a recent poll by the3million.  Why?

 

As it stands, the UK's proposal would not protect existing EU citizens' rights, which will "fall away" after Brexit. "Settled status" means we will all become illegal at the point of Brexit and have to apply for a grant of status which can easily be refused or revoked.

 

The UK proposal puts EU citizens at risk of deportation, frozen bank accounts, loss of driving licences, eviction and losing their job. "Settled status" would bring EU citizens directly into the "hostile environment" created by Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2012. For example, paragraph 15 of the proposal gives often poorly trained Home Office caseworkers discretion to reject applications - the current error rate is around 10%, putting 300,000 people at risk. The proposal also mentions "systematic criminality checks" which are currently illegal under EU law.

"Settled status" means the loss of rights to family reunification, appeal rights, protection from deportation and data protection. It provides no guarantee against future government law changes, possible loss of status at a future date and many other potentially catastrophic consequences for EU citizens living in the UK.

 

Today, the3million is presenting an alternative proposal to the Home Office and the Department for Exiting the EU.  This is a fresh attempt to break the deadlock between the two negotiating parties on citizens' rights.

 

the3million proposal ensures EU citizens keep all their current rights and can prove them via a simple registration procedure, based on residence and ID proof to provide locally, e.g. via the existing passport return service.

 

The past year has seen mostly silence from the UK government, punctuated by sporadic assurances that citizens' rights are a priority. These assurances have always come forward a day or so before a major milestone in the negotiations, without giving those concerned any time to react and without going into specifics.

We were repeatedly promised "nothing would change." The UK's "settled status" proposal is contradicting this promise, last made by Theresa May in Florence. The initial philosophy underpinning the negotiations, "you can keep on living as if nothing has happened" - has proven a lie.

 

Higher political interests on both the EU and UK side have taken over. They risk making EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the UK true citizens of nowhere, not able to move or marry freely, to carry on with their cross-border jobs and lives.

 

EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU are caught between a rigid legalistic approach from the European Commission on the one side and an immigration-control-by-hostility one from the UK Government on the other side of the Channel. What is constant however, is the casting adrift of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in Europe - the UK wants control over the population whereas the EU wants to retain the integrity of its directives and laws.

  

Over five million people's lives are currently frozen in time and space. It is telling that the only solution that would protect them does not come from the British government or the EU but from the citizens themselves.