The UK Government's Immigration Bill will strip EU citizens living in the UK of their rights after Brexit with no guarantees to replace them, according to Parliament's Human Rights Committee in a report published today.
MPs and peers on the committee also raise concerns about the uncertainty of the EU Settlement Scheme and acquired rights; and the rights of Irish citizens flowing from the Common Travel Area.
Under the bill in its current form – its report stage is due soon – the rights of EU citizens living in the UK would be removed after Brexit, and reinstating them relies on the Home Secretary deciding to make secondary legislation. The committee is concerned that ensuring citizens' rights is therefore contingent on ministers taking action and leaves families in a precarious situation when it comes to their housing, social security, and other free movement rights.
The report proposes a series of significant amendments to the bill which aim to enshrine these protections and guarantees in the legislation.
It further reiterates concerns expressed by other parliamentary committees that the EU Settlement Scheme as currently proposed creates problems relating to the lack of physical proof of status. It calls for more to be done to raise awareness of the EU Settlement Scheme and to assist individuals with applications – but adds that these steps alone will not address the concerns around a lack of physical proof of status. The Home Office should ensure that such proof is issued to those registered under the scheme, a call also made last month by the House of Lords EU Justice Subcommittee (click here for report). Getting this right is extremely important, considering the similarities of some of these concerns with problems that have arisen with the treatment of the Windrush generation.
The committee is also concerned at the ambiguity about the situation of those who miss the deadline for applications under the EU Settlement Scheme. The rights of individuals who have lived and worked in the UK their whole lives should not depend on subsequent registration with a scheme within a specific time limit, and steps should be taken either to make provision for registration outside the scheme time limit, or to ensure that entitlement to this status is not dependent on registration, for example with registration solely being used to assist with physical proof of status.
Vulnerable people, it adds, are particularly at risk of missing the deadline because of difficulties knowing about and accessing the scheme.
Work should also be carried out with the Irish Government to further clarify rights flowing from the Common Travel Area, with a view to keeping comparable arrangements in place for UK and Irish citizens as currently exist under EU law pre-Brexit. This should include family reunification as well as rights relating to healthcare, social security, education and workers' rights.
Committee chair Harriet Harman MP commented: “Human rights protections for EU citizens must not be stripped away after Brexit. EU citizens living in this country right now will be understandably anxious about their futures. We’re talking about the rights of people who have resided in the UK for years, decades even, paying into our social security system or even having been born in the UK and lived here their whole lives.
“When it comes to rights, promising that everything will be worked out in the future is not good enough. It must be a guarantee, which is why the committee has reinserted rights guarantees back into the wording of the bill.”
Click here to view the committee's report.