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by Nicholas Mairs
22 January 2019
Theresa May scraps £65 EU citizen fees to stay in UK after Brexit

Theresa May scraps £65 EU citizen fees to stay in UK after Brexit

Theresa May in parliament - Image credit: PA Images

Theresa May has announced that a government plan to charge EU citizens £65 to stay in the UK after Brexit is to be scrapped following pressure from campaigners.

Millions of European nationals who currently live in the UK have until June 2021 to apply for "settled status".

Ministers prompted controversy when they announced in the summer that adults wishing to stay would need to pay £65, with those under 16 having to stump up £32.50.

But as she updated parliament on amendments to her Brexit deal, May told MPs she had “listened to concerns” of campaigners such as The 3 Million group and that none of those affected, including those involved in the pilot scheme which opened today, would be left out of pocket.

She said: “I can confirm today that when we roll out the scheme in full on 30 March, the government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay," she said.

“And anyone who has or will apply during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed. More details about how this will work will be made available in due course."

The PM added that ministers would be pressing EU countries "to give the reciprocal commitments to UK citizens living in those member states".

The government has been criticised for the fact that, to apply digitally, EU citizens require access to an Android device. Advice published on GOV.UK instructs users who do not own any such devices that “you can use someone else’s phone or tablet” to apply.

The pilot scheme, which was open to EU citizens employed in social care, NHS, and higher education, did not accept postal submissions of documents. For those wishing to take part but without access to an Android phone or tablet, the government set up 13 document-scanning locations – although some parts of the country were more than 250 miles away from any of these.

The app’s incompatibility with iPhones hinges on its need to access a device’s near-field communication capability. Apple has previously prevented third-party applications from accessing NFC.

The Home Office is understood to have engaged with the tech firm to try and find a solution, with home secretary Sajid Javid even having met with top executives at Apple’s California headquarters, according to a BBC report.

Elsewhere May vowed to gather the views of the House on the Irish backstop, a major sticking point in winning support for her deal, as part of a bid to win concessions on the arrangement in Brussels.

She said: "I will be talking further this week to colleagues, including in the DUP, to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House," she added.

"And I will then take the conclusions of those discussion back to the EU."

The PM also doubled down on Downing Street's earlier denial that the UK Government was looking to alter the Good Friday Agreement, in light of reports on the contrary.

"I want to be absolutely clear, in the light of media stories this morning, this government will not reopen the Belfast Agreement.

“I have never even considered doing so – and neither would I," she added.

In response, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn welcomed the commitment to waiving EU citizens' fees but said the Prime Minister was in “deep denial” over the resounding defeat inflicted on her Brexit deal.

“The logic of that decisive defeat is that the Prime Minister must change her red lines because her current deal is undeliverable.

“So can she be clear and explicit to the House: which of her red lines is she prepared to move on?

“The Prime Minister’s invitations to talks have been exposed as a PR sham. 

“Every opposition party politician came out of those meetings with the same response.

“Contrary to what the Prime Minister has just said, there was no flexibility; there were no negotiations; nothing had changed.”

SNP MP Stuart McDonald also backed the pledge to scrap the EU settlement scheme fee, adding: “EU nationals should never have been asked to pay this fee – and it is welcome news that the UK Government has finally listened.

“This does not change the fact that EU nationals should not be asked to apply for the status and rights they already have, and we now need clarity on whether the unrealistic deadline for applications will also be scrapped.”

The Scottish Government, which had pledged to cover the fees for EU citizens in Scotland working in public services, welcomed the announcement on settlement fees.

External affairs secretary Fiona Hyslop said: “I am pleased the Prime Minister has finally seen sense and accepted the argument from the Scottish Government, the 3million group and others that she should scrap this unfair fee, which should never have been suggested in the first place.

“But this does not change the fact that EU citizens should not be asked to apply simply to retain the rights that they already have to live, work and study in Scotland.

“This has caused real anxiety for EU citizens in Scotland, who contribute so much to our economy and society.

“Fees charged as part of the pilot scheme introduced today by the UK Government should be dropped immediately.”

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