My Lords, in his opening speech the Minister said that we have agreed the rights of the 3 million EU citizens living in this country and of the 1 million UK citizens living in the EU. At the beginning of this whole process and during the referendum, EU citizens in this country were told pretty unequivocally that their rights would not be reduced, and there are increasing worries that this is happening. I should say that my eldest daughter is married to an EU citizen and lives in this country.
For example, there is the slightly perplexing question of people who have been here for three months and have not exercised their EEA treaty rights, which is possibly being taken to include people with no comprehensive health insurance, who may have problems getting settled status. A clear statement from the Minister that that is not the case would be helpful. In September 2017, the Home Office confirmed that it would not collect fingerprints from EU citizens. Yet the settled status app will read a passport’s biometric chip, which includes fingerprint information. Again, will that kind of information be included on the national database of fingerprints? The organisation that calls itself the3million, which campaigns on behalf of EU citizens here, asked the Government 162 questions on settled status much earlier this year, and says that only 19% of them have been answered. Can the Minister tell us whether that is an accurate figure, and can he please say when the rest of the questions will be answered?
I spent much of this debate listening to noble Lords speaking in it via the television in my office and otherwise perusing the internet and looking at social media to see what EU citizens here are saying. There is no doubt that there has been a huge backlash this week after Mrs May made her statement about jumping the queue:
“It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi”.
Frankly, this has given rise to a wave of dismay and anger on the part of a huge number of people. I refer noble Lords to two interesting bits of the social media environment in particular. One is a Twitter thread based on the #alreadynotfine hashtag, which I urge noble Lords to look at. For example:
“I’ve spent 13 yrs in the UK and my wife is English. I am ineligible for permanent residence/citizenship because I spent several years propping up the British university system by doing under-paid teaching work where I was technically classed as self-employed”.
There is a whole series of people who are putting forward their own cases, and it is quite clear that they feel that they are in limbo. There is an area of the internet called #InLimbo, which is worth looking at.
In addition, the3million group itself has a Facebook page, from which here is a comment, I think from yesterday:
“‘Jumping the queue’ implies that we have engaged in something dishonest or took advantage of a subterfuge. It is offensive”.
The person goes on to comment about Mrs May. Then somebody else comments—it is not a comment I would agree with, but it is there—saying, “She is a racist witch”. As someone from Pendle, I have to be careful about witches. Somebody else simply says that it is,
“racist and very hurtful … well and truly unacceptable”.
There is huge dismay in this community, among these people. The Government need to be very careful what they say and what they do.