Thousands of European Union citizens could be “detained and deported” from Britain after Brexit.
Security minister Brandon Lewis said people from the 27 European Union countries living in the UK could be be forced to leave if they do not apply for settled status before Britain exits the EU, in an interview with a German newspaper.
Mr Lewis told Die Welt that people risked being deported if they failed to apply by the end of 2020.
“If EU citizens have not registered by then without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply,” Lewis said.
Pressed on whether those who do not apply face deportation, Mr Lewis added: ““Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules.”
The comments were immediately condemned by the campaign group the3million, which represents people living in the UK from the 27 EU countries.
The group claimed that this was the first time that the government had confirmed what was going to happen, despite Britain being due to leave the EU at the end of this month.
“We have pressed the Government for years on what happens to those who do not have a status in 2021,” said the3million spokesperson, Maike Bohn.
“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.”
It is thought there are three million people from the EU living in the UK.
Figures published earlier this month claimed that two million of those had applied to stay in the UK after Brexit.
Under current rules, EU citizens and their families have until 31 December 2020 to apply even if the UK leaves Brussels without negotiating a deal.
The highest number of applications come from Polish, Romanian and Italian citizens, with more than 345,000 Polish citizens applying, according to Home Office figures.