In a video on the UK Home Office’s twitter feed on 27 December, the government revealed plans to introduce a policy after Brexit for EU citizens living in the UK to confirm their status and pay to remain in the country. The video outlines the application process, setting out the fees and the steps required to register for settler status. However, the video has met criticism online, with one campaign group called “the3million” claiming that the message’s timing was unhelpful, being over the Christmas period. Many others have expressed disdain at the message’s poor taste, believing that it adds to the existing anti-immigrant sentiment and EU animosity which stirred the Brexit vote.
For many, this scheme is simply “pay to stay”, undermining not only the contribution of EU citizens to the UK but also the fact that for many the UK is their home. Tanja Bueltmann, a history professor at Northumbria University, originally from Germany, wrote on Twitter: “Earlier today, in the middle of the Christmas holidays, the Home Office posted a clip with smiling stock photography faces and upbeat music telling us EU citizens at home in the UK that we have to apply if we want to stay”. Lene Kruhoffer, a Danish citizen living in Britain, wrote: “I’ve lived here for 35 years, got a stamp in my passport for ‘indefinite leave to remain’ in 1985 and now you want me to apply to stay in my own home”, according to The Guardian. Another person tweeted in response to the video: “24 years served in the military and I have to apply and pay for my Slovakian wife and son to have the right to stay here. Disgusted and angry don’t come close to how I feel”.
The Home Office claims they are making the application process “as quick and user-friendly as possible”, by simply checking the identity, UK residence and “criminality” of applicants. However, the the accessibility of the forms is not the controversy. Rather, the scheme is an insult to EU citizens who have built lives in the UK and now call the UK home. It also echoes the general rhetoric surrounding the Brexit referendum back in 2016. For instance, concern over immigration was one of the key drivers behind the Brexit vote, and was used repeatedly throughout the Leave campaign. Not only does the Home Office’s settlement scheme raise concerns over the social wellbeing of EU citizens in the UK, it also raises financial concerns, given the requirement to pay. The Independent noted that many vulnerable EU nationals may not have the means to pay the £65.
The negotiations surrounding Brexit have been arduous, complicated and controversial. They have led to many disagreements in public and in parliament. While the status of the 3 million EU citizens in Britain has been a major issue, it must remain a priority for the UK government to reassure those citizens and not add to the anti-immigrant rhetoric which has been prominent in the broader Brexit discussion.
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