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European Union Citizens’ Rights

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 12th November 2019.

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Photo of Ben Macpherson Ben Macpherson Scottish National Party

Adam Tomkins should consider what people from outwith the EU have experienced as a result of the hostile environment policies that have been applied to asylum seekers and others—at Dungavel, for example. On immigration policy, he should also consider the fact that, in recent days, Michael Gove has painted a picture that suggests that freedom of movement has put strain on public services and has had a negative effect on British society. It is deeply dangerous to say that at this time. Even the UK Government’s Migration Advisory Committee’s analysis proves that EU citizens make a positive and constructive, vital and enriching contribution to our society. We have benefited from freedom of movement, so at this time we should stand up for the benefits of migration, and not spread fear and undue alarm. That is what the UK Government has done in recent years, and it continues to do so, which is deeply disappointing.

The next UK Government should introduce primary legislation as soon as possible to set out the rights of EU citizens who are resident in the UK at the point of the UK’s leaving the EU. That would, at the very least, guarantee the provisions for EU citizens that are set out in the withdrawal agreement.

What is wrong with the current proposals under the EU settlement scheme is that the UK Government is, in effect, creating two classes of EU citizens. The first is people who receive settled status, who will be able to stay in the UK permanently and will have their rights fully protected by law. The second, in stark contrast, is people who are given only pre-settled status. EU citizens who have been resident in the UK for less than five years are eligible to apply only for pre-settled status under the current scheme. That is cause for concern, because that status is more precarious than settled status and it does not give people a permanent right to stay here. There is also a concern that the rights of people with pre-settled status could be diluted in the future and changed by secondary legislation.

Also, people with pre-settled status will have to make a further application to the scheme once they have accrued enough residence time for settled status. However, there is a real danger that they will not remember to reapply or will mistakenly believe that they did everything that they needed to do when they applied initially. We are still waiting for the UK Government to confirm that applicants will be reminded to make another application before their temporary leave runs out.

However, even if they are, that seems to be costly, nonsensical and bureaucratic. EU citizens could be better protected by disapplying the requirement to accrue five years residence and instead granting all successful applicants full settled status. That would represent a decisive action to secure clearly the rights of all EU citizens who are resident in the UK at the point—when and if it happens—that the UK leaves the EU, which we hope it will not. It would avoid the creation of separate classes, each with different rights and statuses, and would, by creating greater clarity, remove the requirement for some individuals to apply twice to secure their long-term right to remain in the UK.

Additionally, scrapping pre-settled status in favour of granting full settled status would be a simple step towards mitigating possible unfair treatment based on status, and would reduce unnecessary bureaucracy for the UK Government and for people who are delivering front-line services and those who access them.

Either establishing a declarative system or ensuring that all EU citizens are granted the more secure settled status would greatly improve on what is on offer at the moment, and would provide a very welcome sense of certainty for EU citizens and all of us, underpinned by primary legislation.

What is more, EU citizens must be given the option of having physical proof of settled status, if requested. There are already concerning anecdotal examples of EU citizens being asked for their status by employers and others, as was highlighted by the evidence from the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations for today’s debate. We need to be careful about potential discrimination that is emerging: we need to keep a constant watch on whether it is developing and make sure, particularly at the moment, that we emphasise to employers, housing providers and those who provide financial services that EU citizens have full rights under freedom of movement. We need to raise awareness of what their rights will be under settled status. The removal of pre-settled status would make that a lot easier.

EU citizens play a crucial role in our economy, our public services and our communities. Whether they have lived here for months or many years, Scotland is their home. They are welcome here and we want them to stay. My call to colleagues across the chamber is this: let us speak with one voice to make EU citizens feel valued and welcomed, let us work together to encourage and support them to stay, let us continue to make every effort to protect their rights to stay in Scotland, and let us urge any UK Government to do that, too, after 12 December, by creating a declarative system and awarding full settled status.

I move,

That the Parliament welcomes citizens from elsewhere in the EU, the EEA and Switzerland who have used their right to freedom of movement to come to Scotland, and recognises the significant contributions that such EU citizens make to Scotland and the rest of the UK socially, culturally and economically; acknowledges that EU citizens enrich Scotland and are an integral part of communities across the country; notes that the approach of the UK Government towards the rights of EU citizens since 24 June 2016 has created long-running insecurity and anxiety for millions; emphasises that EU citizens maintain their rights under freedom of movement until if and when the UK exits the EU; believes that EU citizens should not have to apply to retain rights they already have if the UK exits the EU and freedom of movement ends; notes that the establishment of a declarative system and the removal of the requirement to apply to the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme would go some way to alleviating the current insecurity many people are experiencing; believes that the rights of EU citizens must be enshrined in primary legislation, and proposes that, if a declarative system is not established in law, the UK Government should immediately disapply its requirement that EU citizens accrue five years’ residency to obtain full settled status, therefore removing the less secure pre-settled status, and considers that in all cases EU citizens must be given the option of receiving physical proof of status.