The Government is facing fresh criticism over a Home Office tweet announcing EU Nationals must apply to remain in the UK after 31 December 2020.

Already dubbed the “Pay-to-Stay” scandal, those holding EU citizenship who do not have settled status were surprised to find they would have to pay £65 (if aged over 16 – or £32.50 for under 16s) in order to register on a database which will go live on 30 March 2019, the day after the UK officially leaves the European Union.

Those who have lived in the UK for more than five continuous years may have a settled status, so their eligibility to remain in the country may not be threatened, although they would still have to register.

When registering on the database, individuals will not have to specify if they seek ‘settled status’ or ‘pre-settled status’. However, the difference between the two can limit a person’s rights when in the UK – including whether or not they have an indefinite right to remain, or whether they can apply for British Citizenship. A person’s status will still depend upon a successful application to remain in the UK, which could potentially prove difficult for an unknown number of people.

The messaging behind the new policy shocked some, with the tweet drawing a deluge of online replies from EU Citizens who are now newly worried about their status in UK society. Some claimed they felt betrayed by Theresa May who promised that the continued, unchanged, protected rights of the three million EU nationals in the UK would be at the forefront of negotiations.

Many believe this announcement signals the end of the guarantee of equal and fair treatment, which Prime Minster May had promised. The tweet also drew condemnation due to it being tweeted two days before Christmas, a time when many said they planned to put such worries behind them.

As of 2016, there were approximately 132,000 EU Nationals living in the Greater Manchester region.

Echoes of Windrush

The prospect of forcing individuals to register, prove, and state their intent regarding their residence plans has led many to invoke the incompetency witnessed for the Windrush scandal.

In April 2018, Amber Rudd resigned in disgrace after lying to Parliament. The then-Home Secretary had lied over what she knew (and when) regarding the wrong deportation and detainment of dozens of Windrush Generation citizens. These individuals were part of an influx of primarily Caribbean and West Indian migrants who sought a new life in the UK.

There were claims the Home Office used in justifying the pursuit of these individuals: that some of this group didn’t have the required documentation to prove they were in fact legal citizens – assumptions later proved false.

The root cause of the problem was pinned on the so-called Hostile Environment policy championed by Amber Rudd’s predecessor, Theresa May. Itself a cause of dispute, the Hostile Environment was meant to encourage a more aggressive and proactive process of expelling migrants.

An infamous tool of the policy was the 2013 “Go Home” vans which drove through areas with high immigrant populations recommending they leave the UK or face arrest – designed to prompt a voluntary exodus by these groups.

A Legacy of Failure

The Pay-to-Stay affair so far seems to have died down in the media. However, the implementation of the policy and the long-term effects of Brexit appear to have all the makings of a true political catastrophe.

When dealing with the personal details of millions of individuals, Governments have almost inevitably misplaced or accidentally mass-leaked the private information of those on such databases. The new catalogue of EU nationals can then be considered a ticking timebomb of data-loss and certain political humiliation.

There also remains the question of political consequences with the optics of a Government compiling lists of EU citizens living in the UK in the first place, which has an air of malevolence about it considering past Home Office mistakes like Windrush. As well as having them pay money for this intrusion into their lives, the move towards soft-persecution of EU citizens could prompt a backlash from them and the EU itself.

The current Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, also courts controversy for his string of statements and tweets, such as the “sick Asian paedophiles” tweet in response to the conviction of 15 men in Huddersfield for running a grooming gang. Including the word “Asian” was of course seen as a provocation, connecting the men’s race to the crime, when the crime alone should have been the only focus of denunciation.

As Secretary Javid will presumably oversee the rollout of the registration scheme, it will fall to him to ensure its hopefully faultless implementation. Like its forerunner the Hostile Environment, it is a policy which isolates and puts sections of society on the defensive, simply for choosing to live in the UK.

Over eight years, and through three Home Secretaries, the Conservative administrations will have overseen the introduction, revision, reversal, and reintroduction of at least half a dozen immigration targets.

The rate of migration to the UK from the EU has been widely believed – by both Leave and Remain groups – to be a major factor behind the Brexit referendum result. In August, the debate arose again over the new target to reduce inward migration generally to the “tens of thousands”, with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox sceptical about the number, and Sajid Javid non-committal. The obsessive and sometimes visceral attention immigration as a topic gets is a suspicious feature of our modern political discourse.

As proof of this obsession, the one constant promise that Theresa May has made throughout her two-and-a-half-year premiership has been to end the free movement of people from the EU, which is enshrined in EU law and a notable aspect of EU membership. With the latest debacle involving the issues of citizenship and national identity, it remains to be seen what else Brexit might bring for the three million people who were denied the right to vote on referendum day.

For more information on the rights of EU citizens living in the UK, visit:

gov.uk/settled-status-eu-citizens-families

Lucas Jones