Well, that didn’t go down well.
The British government on Friday was criticized for poor taste and bad timing after posting a video informing EU citizens of the steps they will need to take if they want to “continue living” in the United Kingdom after Britain leaves the European Union.
“EU citizens and their families will need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme to continue living in the UK after 31 December 2020,” the Home Office said in a tweet posted Thursday.
Glad tidings, it was not.
A group called the3million, campaigning for the rights of the 3 million EU citizens who live in Britain, accused the government of “poor timing” by announcing, over the holidays, that they will have to register and pay if they wish to stay.
Free movement of people is one of the key pillars of the EU, a bloc of 28 countries. For decades, citizens from other EU member states could simply buy a plane ticket, stuff clothes in a suitcase, and move to another EU country — no special visa needed. Many EU citizens planted deep roots in Britain, acquiring spouses, mortgages and pets along the way.
Concerns over immigration were among the key drivers behind the Brexit vote in 2016, and even though attitudes appear to have dramatically mellowed since then, British Prime Minister Theresa May has made it clear she wants free movement of people to end after Britain leaves the bloc. What happens to the 3 million EU citizens who live in Britain — and the 1 million British citizens living in the EU — has been one of the most prominent issues in the Brexit negotiations.
In June, the British government announced that EU citizens living in the United Kingdom will have to apply to stay. But EU citizens this week have criticized the upbeat tone of the new Home Office video, its timing and the need to “pay to stay.”
The new settlement status scheme is currently being tested and the government says it will be fully up and running as of March 30, the day after Britain is scheduled to leave the bloc. EU citizens will need to apply for settlement status before the end of June 2021.
The cost will be the equivalent of about $82 for an adult, with children under the age of 16 charged half that amount. It will be free for those who already have indefinite leave to remain or a permanent resident card. According to the Home Office video, EU citizens will need to provide proof of identity, residence and allow checks on whether they have a criminal record.
Once free movement of people stops, EU citizens in Britain will need to be able to prove they have the right to be in the United Kingdom. Britain’s Home Office faces a massive task of registering over 3 million EU citizens if those who are currently here wish to stay after Brexit.
Sajid Javid, the department’s secretary, has previously said the government would streamline the process and its “default” stance will be to approve applications.
The fees are not huge, certainly not compared to what non-EU citizens pay in order to settle in Britain. But the fact that EU citizens will have to register and pay to demonstrate a right to something they thought was unquestioned has upset many.
One Twitter user wrote: “Charging people £65 per person, so £260 for a family of 4, just to stay living in their own homes as they already do today. What an absolute disgrace.” That is the equivalent of $82 per person or $330 for a family of four adults.
“24 years served in the military and I have to apply and pay for my Slovakian wife and son to have the right to stay here,” tweeted another. “Disgusted and angry don’t come close to how I feel. People need to wake up and realize what the UK has become!!”
Opposition lawmakers also blasted the tone of the video.
Stella Creasy, a Labor lawmaker, tweeted: “A ‘jolly’ message this Christmas from govt to say Brexit means we want to charge you to live in the country you have made your home and contributed so much to over decades. EU friends and neighbors - you deserve so much better than this.”
Pete Wishart, an SNP lawmaker, tweeted: “The nauseating ‘you’ll have to pay to stay or you’re out’ Home Office video is a casual part of the Brexit discourse. Immigration is the cold beating heart of the case for Brexit. There are leavers to pander to and people to unsettle. This is the future of Brexitised UK.”
“This is just awful,” tweeted Fraser Nelson, editor of the conservative Spectator magazine. While paperwork needs to be done, he said that the “sinister tone (and hint at deportation) is unforgivable.”
Karla Adam writes for the Washington Post.