Digital-only ID for EU citizens after Brexit could lead to Windrush-style scandal, MPs warn

Written by Emilio Casalicchio on 23 July 2018 in News

MPs have suggested that EU citizens already living in the UK should be given ID cards after Brexit

A passport being checked - Image credit: Steve Parsons/PA Archive/Press Association Images

EU citizens already living in the UK should be given physical ID cards after Brexit to prevent the “devastating consequences” of another Windrush-style scandal, MPs have said.

The House of Commons Brexit Select Committee said concerns about the future for those seeking ‘settled status’ in the UK had been “heightened” by the explosive revelations about the Windrush children.

But the UK Government insisted digital ID was the only option on offer as the Home Office moves to a "digital by default" immigration system.

Meanwhile, the select committee warned that plans to safeguard the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa after Brexit were "far from finalised", despite promises laid out in the withdrawal deal with the EU.

Earlier this year it emerged British citizens who came to the UK from the Caribbean between the 1940s and 1970s lost rights and were threatened with deportation when they were unable to prove their residency.

The scandal broke as ministers began developing a digital system for EU nationals to apply for UK residency after Brexit if they have been living in Britain for five years, called the ‘settled status’ scheme.

But the Brexit Select Committee said it was “concerned” about the scale of the project and its reliance on employers and landlords using the digital system to check residency.

“The experience of the Windrush generation shows that, where errors occur, it can lead to devastating consequences for individuals and their families,” the MPs said in a new report.

“We are also concerned about the potential for fraud and the incentive for individuals to be exploited if they cannot persuade an employer or landlord of their status.”

They added: “We call on the Government to issue a physical document to EU citizens.”

But a spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: "EU citizens will be given a digital status by default as part of the Government moving the UK immigration system to digital by default.

"This status will be a digital record held by the Home Office.

“EU citizens will control who they wish to share this with to demonstrate their status and to exercise their rights under the Withdrawal Agreement.”

Meanwhile, the report raised a number of other questions about the settled status system, such as how easy it will be for applicants to access, and it said the process should be free of charge.

And it called on the UK Government to negotiate continued freedom of movement between EU states for British citizens already living on the continent.

Brexit Select Committee chair Labour MP Hilary Benn said: “Citizens’ rights was one area of the Brexit negotiations marked as green in the March draft of the Withdrawal Agreement which implied that it was all sorted. 

“But the evidence we have heard suggests it is far from being finalised.”

He added: “The rights of UK citizens living in the EU27 and of EU nationals in the UK should be based on full reciprocity, but as things stand, both groups are likely to lose some of the rights they had previously. That's not fair and it's why we want to see further progress quickly.

“And whatever happens with the negotiations, we urge all governments to make it clear to all EU citizens who have made somewhere else their home, that they can stay.”

A DExEU spokesperson said: "We have made great progress on citizens rights, securing an agreement which will see EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU be able to continue their lives broadly as now.

"The Home Office has also announced further details about how EU citizens and their families can obtain settled status in the UK.

“The process will be straightforward and streamlined and we will support applicants to get the right outcome.

"We are working with our European partners to encourage them to confirm their own processes will be in place to provide UK citizens living in the EU with the certainty they need."

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