British citizens living in the EU after Brexit are being denied work and healthcare, Priti Patel has warned.
In an exclusive article for The Telegraph, published below, the Home Secretary urges EU nations to treat UK citizens as fairly as Britain was treating their citizens.
It coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Brexit referendum vote, as Boris Johnson marked the moment by declaring the recovery from the pandemic offered the chance to "seize the true potential of our regained sovereignty to unite and level up our whole United Kingdom".
The warning comes amid government concerns that Britons have been stopped at borders and faced hurdles to being granted residency in some EU states, which has led to complaints in joint committees on citizens rights after Brexit, according to the Home Office.
There have been delays in residency documents in Portugal; Italian town halls have failed to complete registrations of residency applications; and similar problems in Spain have prevented some Britons from being able to work or access healthcare.
Ms Patel writes: “The UK’s approach is very generous. Our EU settlement scheme has been open for more than two years. Many EU countries have an application window of 12 months or less; France’s is currently open for less than nine months.
“We are aware that some UK nationals in the EU have faced disruption on boarding and entry to the EU; and there have been a number of reported instances of UK nationals in the EU being asked for residence documents they do not need to hold, being prevented from accessing benefits and services, and having trouble with their right to work.
“It is only right that the EU uphold their obligations on citizens’ rights, just as the UK has done for EU citizens in the UK.”
Some 5.6 million EU citizens have applied for residency rights in the UK. About 95 per cent of those have been granted the right to stay since the settlement scheme was started more than two years ago.
Ms Patel urged all remaining eligible EU citizens in the UK to apply before the June 30 closing deadline, although she promised a “compassionate, proportionate and pragmatic” approach to all those with “reasonable grounds” who missed it.
Kevin Foster, the Immigration Minister, said enforcement officers would issue 28-day notices to those EU citizens thought to be eligible for settled status because they were resident in the UK on December 31 but who had missed the deadline to apply for residency.
No action would be taken against those people until the application was resolved, the minister said as he called on other EU countries to make similar provisions for British citizens in their countries.
Priti Patel: ‘The EU Settlement Scheme is a success story’
Five years ago, the British people voted to leave the European Union.
This Government has delivered on our promise.
The deal we struck last year with the EU saw us take back control of our money, borders, waters, and laws.
We have introduced a points-based immigration system that prioritises skill over where someone comes from. And we have already seen the benefits, from welcoming thousands of healthcare professionals through our Health and Care Visa, to keeping the UK at the forefront of innovation with bespoke routes that enable more students, scientists, academics, investors, and entrepreneurs to come to the UK, and allowing prestigious prize-winners to fast-track the endorsement process and make a single visa application.
We are also making our borders stronger– ending the use of unsecure ID cards for people to enter the country and applying tougher criminality rules. Further reforms will include Electronic Travel Authorisations, as part of a simpler universal permissions to travel requirement. This will make it easier to identify potential threats before they reach the border and – because that border will be fully digital – we will be able to count people in and out of the country.
Last month, I signed a ground-breaking agreement with India that tackles illegal migration and gives thousands of British and Indian people the chance to live and work legally in each other’s countries.
In addition to delivering all these new opportunities, we have kept our promise to EU citizens in the UK.
Securing their rights has been, and remains, a top priority.
The EU Settlement Scheme is a success story, and I am very proud that we have already given assurance and legal status to around five million people for whom the UK is home.
My officials at the Home Office have done a superb job, working tirelessly to help 1.5 million callers and respond to half a million online requests. The Government has made available up to £22 million in funding for a network of 72 organisations, covering all corners of the UK, to help vulnerable and harder-to-reach groups apply to the scheme.
Successful applicants receive a digital immigration status that provides secure evidence of their rights here.
The UK’s approach is very generous. Our EU Settlement Scheme has been open for more than two years. Many EU countries have an application window of 12 months or less; France’s is currently open for less than nine months.
We are aware that some UK nationals in the EU have faced disruption on boarding and entry to the EU; and there have been a number of reported instances of UK nationals in the EU being asked for residence documents they do not need to hold, being prevented from accessing benefits and services, and having trouble with their right to work.
It is only right that the EU uphold their obligations on citizens’ rights, just as the UK has done for EU citizens in the UK.
With seven days until the June 30 deadline for the EU Settlement Scheme, my message is simple: if you are eligible, apply now and secure your rights in UK law.
Those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline will still be able to apply. Our approach will remain compassionate, proportionate and pragmatic.
Getting the application in by June 30 is nevertheless the best way to secure your status.
We left the European Union because we wanted to be a sovereign country once again. This has never meant we don’t value the contributions people from other European countries have made to the UK. EU citizens who call our great nation their home are our colleagues, friends, and family.
You are welcome here and you are cherished – and the success of the EU Settlement Scheme proves it.