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I am pleased that the Prime Minister has—belatedly—seen sense and has accepted our argument that the unfair settled status fee should be scrapped.
We are very clear that we want EU citizens to stay in Scotland. There is still a requirement to apply for settled status, and I do not think that there should be a requirement for people who already have their home in Scotland to apply for the right to stay here. That is grotesque. However, while there is that requirement, the Scottish Government’s advice service, which will be delivered in partnership with Citizens Advice Scotland, will help to ensure that EU citizens feel welcomed, supported and valued. In addition, we have funded the EU citizens rights project to deliver outreach and awareness-raising events with EU citizens across the country.
Of course, as I said a moment ago, dropping the fee does not change the fact that the United Kingdom Government is making EU citizens apply to retain their current rights. The Prime Minister’s approach to that and to migration generally makes it all the more clear that it is time for this Parliament to have powers over immigration.
I can see that the First Minister agrees with me that the approach of the UK Government to European citizens who have made their home in Scotland and the UK is a slap in the face considering their commitment to the UK. Many of them have lived in Scotland longer than they lived in their country of birth, but the UK Government does not seem to recognise the rejection that those EU citizens feel.
Jill Rutter, the director of the Britain’s Future think tank, says:
“The Home Office must invest in getting the EU settlement scheme right from the start. Failure to do so could cause massive problems in years to come, on a far bigger scale than the Windrush scandal.”
In view of that, can the First Minister assure me and the Parliament that everything will be done within the powers that are at her disposal to ensure that those who are hardest to reach—many people will not be documented when the scheme is finished, especially the elderly and those who have language barriers—are able to stay here?
I can give that assurance. Since the day after the Brexit referendum, I have been at pains to say to EU citizens that they are welcome here, that this is their home and that we want them to stay. As far as we can within our limited powers in this area, we will back that rhetoric up with the kind of action that I have spoken about.
I regret deeply the fact that people who have made their homes here—people who consider this to be their home as much as I do or any of us in the chamber does—are being made to apply for the right to stay here. I think that that is awful, and I cannot begin to imagine how that makes an EU national feel.
There is also the practical point—the point that Michael Russell and I made again to the Prime Minster yesterday, although, unfortunately, she did not appear to be listening to it—that we need people to want to come to Scotland to live, work and study here. We need to grow our working-age population. Therefore, as well as the fact that what the UK Government is doing is wrong in principle, it is also practically damaging for Scotland. That is why, as I say, the sooner that we get these matters into our own hands and are able to take decisions in Scotland instead of having these decisions taken at Westminster, the better for all of us.