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Government to water down EU citizens’ rights if no Brexit deal


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The government has today published a plan for the rights of EU citizens living in the UK if there is no Brexit deal. It would continue the existing EU Settlement Scheme but make it less generous than if it were bound by the terms of the draft Withdrawal Agreement with the EU.

Ministers have been saying for some time for that EU citizens would be welcome to stay in the UK even if there were no deal, but had said nothing about the terms and conditions under which they could do so. It was however seen as very likely that the Settlement Scheme already being piloted with EU citizens would be used, deal or no deal. Today’s policy paper confirms that:

the UK will continue to run the EU Settlement Scheme for those resident in the UK by 29 March 2019 in a ‘no deal’ scenario. The basis for qualifying for status under the scheme will remain the same as proposed in a ‘deal’ scenario and will be focused on residence in the UK. This means that any EU citizen living in the UK by 29 March 2019 will be eligible to apply to this scheme, securing their status in UK law.

But if there is no deal, the protections on offer to EU citizens will be diluted in important ways. A no-deal Settlement Scheme would:

  • only apply to people who arrive before 29 March 2019. The Settlement Scheme as currently planned will cater for EU citizens arriving up to the end of 2020.
  • have a shorter deadline for applications, of 31 December 2020, rather than 30 June 2021 if there is a deal.
  • have no right of appeal to an immigration judge. There would only be an internal administrative review or full-blown judicial review as remedies to challenge a refusal of settlement under the scheme. The draft Withdrawal Agreement enshrines a proper right of appeal before a judge, and an “independent authority” to police breaches of citizens’ rights.
  • make it easier to deport people convicted of minor crimes. “The EU deportation threshold would continue to apply to crimes committed before exit. However, we would apply the UK deportation threshold to crimes committed after 29 March 2019.”
  • make it harder for non-EU family members. A cut-off point for family members of EU citizens with settled status to join them in the UK is set as 29 March 2022. There is no cut-off date under the current plans, so long as the relationship existed before 31 December 2020.

On the plus side, the Home Office says that the Settlement Scheme would still be generous and user-friendly, with case-workers “looking to grant status, not for reasons to refuse”. Those who are granted settled status will still be able to leave the UK for up to five years before losing it, and access benefits and public services “on broadly the same terms as now”.


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CJ McKinney

CJ McKinney is a specialist on immigration law and policy. Formerly the editor of Free Movement, you will find a lot of articles by CJ here on this website! Twitter: @mckinneytweets.