London, 23 July 2020 – The future of EU citizens in the UK and British in the Union is at stake; today more than ever. Maike Bohn, co-founder of The3million, the largest campaign organisation for the rights of EU citizens in Britain, warns that “with no-deal Brexit any hope of continuing social security and healthcare coordination for all has gone up in smoke, which means that it will be much more complicated for the smaller group of 3.6 million EU citizens in the UK to get those rights in practice”.
She talks in exclusive with Talkeurope on the sad day EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier stressed the unwillingness from the UK side to reach an agreement.
“No deal also means any lingering hope that our friends British in Europe might have had of still securing their rights in EU member states other than their own is definitely gone- Maike Bohn explains – they will lose Freedom of Movement and only be allowed to live and work in their current country of residence: a huge blow to the many cross-border workers”.
The Home Office stated the vast majority of EU citizens have been given Settled Status and just few thousands a pre-settled status is that true? What sort of help is available to EU citizens who have lived in the UK for decades and instead have been given pre-settled status only?
“It is not true to say the vast majority of EU citizens have been given Settled Status – current grants of pre-settled status are over 1,4 million. That is more than the high estimate of 1.4million, and much more than the low estimate of 0.9million anticipated in the EUSS Impact Assessment the Home Office itself published in March 2019
With one year to go to apply we are particularly worried about vulnerable people missing on, e.g. children and the elderly. They often depend on carers and others to make the application on their behalf. According to the Home Office’s own data only 11% of 9000 EU children in care have Settled Status. A large number of elderly people have been in the UK for a long time and are only offered pre-settled status. We need to make sure they don’t accept a lesser status and the UK government needs to give them more localised assistance”.
Is the Coronavirus crisis making things worse?
“The COVID crisis has shown that pre-settled status is an inferior status and many EU citizens holding it have struggled to access benefits. People who have wrongly accepted pre-settled status are currently told to just make another application. This also causes a problem as the official statistics include double-applications, i.e. the same person applying for pre-settled and then months later for settled status. So we have no conclusive data on how well the scheme is performing as the UK government does not know how many EU citizens and their families live in the UK.
Are EU citizens in the UK currently discriminated against? Is the fact they do not have the right to vote leading to discrimination and marginalisation?
“We see first signs of discrimination but the real problems will start in January 2021 when landlords, employers, banks, doctors, schools, university and many other bodies need to check people’s immigration status. Settled Status is a digital-only status and EU citizens are the only group in the UK that will not have a physical document. We have already heard from the Landlord’s Association that only 3 out of 150 landlords would be prepared to do digital checks. We anticipate a lot of problems and are pushing the government to consider issuing a paper-based document to avoid this kind of discrimination. It would also make EU citizens feel more secure if they had a tangible proof of their hard-earned right to live and work in the UK.
With regard to the right to vote The3Million is asking the UK government to keep our right to vote in local elections. Removing this democratic right would mean EU citizens have no political representation and no voice. Wales and Scotland have already agreed to this and we are urging the UK government to join them and make sure EU citizens have a stake in how their communities are run.”
Are EU citizens in Britain a strong community, or are they substantially divided?
“This is a very good question! Until the referendum, Europeans in Britain did not think of themselves as members of a minority. Many had lived in Britain for decades. The broken promise that their lives wouldn’t change and the strong anti-immigration rhetoric used to win votes changed all this. What unites us is our love of Freedom of Movement, of our diversity as a group – mirroring Europe’s diversity – and a shared fight for democratic rights.
Britain is our home and most of us have nowhere else to ‘go back to’. It is therefore crucial that organisations like the3million make sure EU citizens do not become the next Windrush scandal with thousands denied their rightful existence in the country they call home.”