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Hostile environment and EEA nationals

Part of Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 5th March 2019.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 10:45 am, 5th March 2019

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The amendment would ensure that the hostile environment was not applied to EU citizens until 3 million people had been registered, or until the end of the grace period—30 June 2021—whichever was later. The Government have made it clear that their intention is for EEA nationals to stay in the UK after we leave the EU, and we have serious concerns about their ability to register 3 million EU citizens in time for the end of the transition period, and even more so if there is no deal and the deadline is sooner.

Even where we have a declarative settled status scheme—Labour’s preference, as set out in new clause 15—it is vital that enough EU citizens have proof of their status in the UK before it is tested at every turn through the hostile environment. Under the hostile environment, a person’s ability to prove their right to be here is almost as important as having the right itself.

As discussed under amendment 23, the Government have set no targets for the numbers of people they intend to register for settled status before the deadline. The 3 million would seem to be the bare minimum, and I would welcome the Minister setting a more ambitious target, to which we can hold her Department when the time comes.

The issue of data gaps was raised by Madeleine Sumption at the Home Affairs Committee, and it is reflected in the Migration Observatory’s report, “Measuring Success”. Based on current statistics, it will be difficult to work out how many people miss out on settled status unless the numbers are very big. We do not have the precise figures of EU citizens living in the UK who plan to stay, so it is possible that tens of thousands will miss out on settled status without our knowing. Those most likely to miss out and fall through the cracks will probably be the most vulnerable.

The Migration Observatory’s report sets out steps that the Government could take to better evaluate the success of the settled status scheme and to estimate how many people have not registered, but, to my knowledge, they have not taken any of them. Windrush demonstrated the catastrophic and truly life-threatening consequences of the hostile environment.

This debate is all the more urgent in the light of Friday’s High Court ruling that the Government’s right to rent scheme causes racial discrimination, in breach of human rights. In a damning verdict, the judge found that the scheme causes landlords to discriminate where they otherwise would not. This is not the landlord’s fault. This proven discrimination is a direct result of Government policy, which goes straight to the Prime Minister, who introduced and championed the hostile environment.

The judge also found that the Government had not come close to justifying the scheme. They have made no attempt to evaluate the effectiveness of right to rent, despite widespread warnings of its discriminatory effects. I hope that, in the light of that ruling, the Government will scrap right to rent and all other planks of the hostile environment, which cause discrimination in the same way.