EU citizens could be deported if they do not apply for settled status after Brexit by the deadline, a Home Office minister has said.
Brandon Lewis said they may be forced to leave the UK if they do not sign up to the EU settlement scheme by the end of 2020, even if they meet all requirements for a residence permit.
A campaign group said this was the first time the “grim reality” of the Government’s position had been confirmed, and critics raised fears of another Windrush-style scandal.
BREAKING:Secretary of State @BrandonLewis confirms that EU citizens in UK WILL be subject to full immigration enforcement and liable to removal if they miss Settled Status deadline in exclusive Interview with @StefanieBolzen in Germany's @welt
— the3million (@the3million) October 10, 2019
The Home Office was making it clear that those with “reasonable grounds” for missing the date would be granted an extension to apply for the right to live and work in the UK.
The security minister told German newspaper Die Welt: “If EU citizens until this point of time have not registered and have no adequate reason for it, then the valid immigration rules will be applied.”
Pressed on whether that would include those who met the legal requirements for residence but did not apply in the next 14 months, he replied: “Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules.”
— Brandon Lewis (@BrandonLewis) October 9, 2019
Two million people have so far applied to the scheme, according to Home Office figures.
This leaves up to two million more EU citizens needing to apply before the deadline.
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the Government was determined to prove “our worst fears correct” over concerns of another Windrush scandal.
“Threats by ministers that EU nationals could be deported are a complete breach of all the assurances that the government has made,” the Labour MP added.
“This will be deeply troubling to people who have come here in good faith and who contribute so much to our society.”
Maike Bohn, a spokeswoman for campaign group the3million, said the organisation, representing EU citizens, had pressed the Government “for years” to acknowledge what would happen to those who have not acquired the status in 2021.
“Today, after much wait, it is confirmed that hundreds and thousands of people will be punished with the threat of removal from their home. This is no way to treat people, let alone what was promised,” she said.
“Those people who miss the tight deadline will face the full force of the hostile environment.
“That is the grim reality of the UK Government’s position, no matter how many times they repeat the phrase ‘EU citizens and their families are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we want them to stay’.”
A statement from a Home Office spokesman repeated a similar phrase and added: “We have received two million applications and are looking for reasons to grant status, not refuse, and EU citizens have until at least December 2020 to apply.
“We’ve always been clear that where they have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they’ll be given a further opportunity to apply.”
But Lib Deb shadow home secretary Christine Jardine warned “thousands” would be left undocumented by the “arbitrary” deadline, which she said could create another Windrush-style scandal.
“I am absolutely appalled. I have just been at a school where a Hungarian-born pupil told me she was scared about Brexit, and now I learn that the Conservative Government is threatening to deport people like her,” she said.
“That is totally unacceptable.”
Yvette Cooper, the chair of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, was equally scathing and called on citizens rights to be enshrined in law so they are not put at risk by bureaucratic failings.
“It’s outrageous that the security minister is saying that people who have a legal right to be here may be deported in just 14 months’ time,” the Labour MP added.