Far from providing comfort, the scheme for EU citizens in the UK leaves dozens of our questions unanswered
After leaving us in limbo for almost two years, the government could finally have ended the uncertainty for EU citizens in the UK with the unveiling of details on settled status.
Instead, we find many of the familiar lies and much of the same hollow spin we have seen far too often. Spin that continues to sell this to us as a gracious concession, “allowing” us to stay “in the country where” we “are now living”. Forcing us to apply to stay in our own home, losing rights in the process and being charged £65 for the honour – that is, after all, the essence of settled status.
There are some positive points to make. It is good to see it confirmed that the default position will be to grant settled status. We also know how much we will have to pay, with children getting in half-price, and that those who already hold permanent residence documentation or indefinite leave to remain will be exempt from the charge and will be able to swap that documentation for settled status. Likewise, I welcome the news that comprehensive sickness insurance will not be an obstacle for those already here. We also find some assurances for carers and other more vulnerable groups.
Unfortunately, the clarity on some issues sits against a backdrop that is muddy and couched in vague language and timelines. In the end, the vast majority of our concerns, set out in the 150 unsettled questions by campaign group, the3million, remain unanswered.
I am also left wondering about what kind of country the UK has already become. As Caroline Noke noted: “All applicants aged 10 or over will be checked against the UK’s national police database and watch lists.” Ten-year-old children! I suppose we should be grateful that nobody is suggesting putting them in cages.
We still know little about the various application routes. Given that the app being developed will only work on Android phones, there is clearly much for the government to do in order to develop the easy and streamlined process it promised. However, there are more worrying issues than the type of phone you can apply on. We are to be issued with an ID number, which we will be required to use when going to see a doctor, for example, but potentially for other things, too, including property rental checks. If the ID number does not come in the form of a document, the potential for discrimination is high. Will a landlord really be prepared to take that extra step of checking us out if there is an alternative renter for whom this is not required?
Questions like this abound and illustrate that our state of limbo will continue for a long time to come. For non-EU EEA citizens and those from Switzerland, that is even more so because there is only a reference for the desire to put in place a “similar deal” for them. But the main concern relates to the draft immigration rules. Described as “necessarily technical”, the plan is to implement settled status largely through secondary legislation. This type of legislation does not require the involvement of parliament, and so can be changed very easily. EU citizens, our lives forever reliant on the mood of future governments and the Home Office.
Britons who live in EU countries also still face significant problems, and the home secretary’s comments, shifting the blame to the EU, are most unhelpful. As the British in Europe campaign group rightly points out: “It is the UK government that has thrown its own nationals in Europe into this uncertainty by insisting on introducing settled status for EU citizens in the UK.”
As the second anniversary of the EU referendum looms, EU citizens in the UK and Britons who live in EU countries remain in limbo together. Nearly five million lives, five million futures, on hold and involuntarily parked in a layby, with all of us stuck on the back seat without access to the steering wheel of our own lives. This must end. Citizens’ rights must finally be agreed between the UK and EU as a matter of urgency.
• Tanja Bueltmann is a professor in history at Northumbria University