This was as Prime Minister Theresa May was scheduled to brief the House of Commons on how she planned to break Britain’s Brexit deadlock.
Britain is home to about 3.5million EU nationals and many of those will need to apply for inclusion on a new “settled status” register before July 2021 if they want to stay. Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29.
Yesterday Britain’s interior ministry began the first public testing of the registration system for all EU citizens who hold a valid passport and any non-EU citizen family members who hold a valid biometric residence card.
“From the beginning we have been clear that securing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK is our priority,” immigration minister Caroline Nokes said, adding that the new settlement scheme would be “easy and straightforward” to use.
A private phase of testing of EU citizens working for health service trusts and universities in the north-west of England late last year involved almost 30000 applications and none were rejected.
However, research group British Future said the scheme could harm vulnerable groups such as the elderly and people with limited English or computer skills, and warned of a new Windrush scandal unless the government addressed its shortcomings.
Britain apologised last year for its “appalling” treatment of thousands of Caribbean migrants - the “Windrush generation” - who were denied basic rights after a tightening of immigration policy, despite having lived in the country for decades. Some were wrongly deported.
After Brexit, some EU nationals could be left “destitute, barred from working, at risk of exploitation and unable to access basic services”, the British Future report said.
With just over two months left until Brexit, there is still no agreement on how, or even whether, it should leave the world’s biggest trading bloc.
In a sign of the anxiety felt even by some long-time EU citizens living in the UK, the Swedish Church in London hosted a discussion last week of problems they faced because of Brexit.
Freelance writer and German national Anette Pollner, who has lived in Britain for almost 30 years but does not have a British passport, said she was terrified that her settled status application would be rejected because she might not have the correct documents to prove her right to remain.
Pollner said she had experienced increased hostility towards her since Britain voted to leave the EU after more than four decades. “I am taught a lesson every day that I am not welcome here in so many different ways.”
British psychotherapist Susie Orbach said EU citizens had faced uncertainty over their rights since the referendum, and some felt Britons no longer wanted them around.
“The issue of Brexit has hit my consulting room from the day after the vote, when there was absolute shock and confusion,” she said. Reuters