The European parliament is to investigate the British government’s treatment of EU nationals living in the UK who have applied for citizenship or permanent residency since the Brexit referendum.
Sophie in ‘t Veld, a deputy leader of the liberal group in the parliament, told the Guardian that she intends to form a cross-party taskforce to examine cases where EU nationals have faced a bureaucratic wall when seeking to secure their future in the UK.
The Dutch MEP said she had taken up the cause in response to concerns EU nationals had raised with her and after learning about the plight of Monique Hawkins, a Dutch national.
Late last year the Guardian revealed that Hawkins, who has lived in the UK for 24 years, had received a letter from the Home Office advising her to “prepare to leave the country” when she failed to include the correct documentation in her application for residency. She is married to a British man with whom she has two British children.
In ‘t Veld intends to form the taskforce following Theresa May’s triggering of article 50 negotiations. She will also request that the European parliament’s committee on civil liberties, on which she sits, calls a representative of the British government to come to Brussels to account for cases where EU nationals have felt unfairly treated by the state, or by British employers, as a consequence of the Brexit vote.
May’s government has yet to provide EU nationals with any assurance that they will be allowed to stay in the UK following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. The prime minister has said that it will be an issue to be negotiated after article 50 is triggered.
In recent months, the Guardian has learned that employers have been seeking guarantees of right to remain from EU nationals. Other EU nationals, such as Hawkins, have sought permanent residency through fear for their future status.
New figures provided by the Home Office, following a question from the chair of the Commons Brexit committee, Hilary Benn, show that there has been a 50% increase in the number of applicants from EU states seeking permanent residency since the Brexit vote on 23 June. The number of applications rose from 36,555 between April and June 2016 to 56,024 between July and September, according to the latest figures available.
The government has has yet to provide EU nationals with any assurance that they will be allowed to remain in the UK following Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA
However, EU nationals complain that in order to obtain permanent residency, applicants are being presented with an 85-page form requiring huge files of documentation, including P60s for five years, historic utility bills and a diary of all the occasions an individual has left the country since they settled in the UK. Some have received letters inviting them to prepare to leave the country after failing to tick one of the boxes on the form.
In ‘t Veld said that, along with colleagues in the European parliament, she was concerned EU nationals were feeling “harassed”. The issue has also been raised with the government in the Netherlands by Dutch politicians, she said.
People feel they are being harassed, she said. Why is the British government trying to make it so hard for people who have been living in the UK for decades, who have set up a family there, work there? It is their home.
What sort of signal are they trying to send out to these people? I am not aware of UK nationals trying to apply for citizenship elsewhere in the EU running into these kind bureaucratic walls. I am not saying it doesn’t exist but I have not heard of it yet. I can only suppose other countries are a bit more welcoming and facilitating.
Before Brexit was on the agenda the EU started an infringement procedure against the UK because of its insistence that EU nationals who were unemployed and lacked health insurance are unable to settle in the country.
In ‘t Veld said she was concerned the commission may have dropped their action against the UK, despite there being no change in policy.
She said: We are unable to find evidence of any kind of follow-up from the commission on this infringement.
Regarding the plight of EU nationals, the MEP added: We would very much like people to write to us and inform us of their situation so that we get a clearer image.
We have been calling repeatedly for Mrs May to come before the European parliament and I think she should come, at the latest, once article 50 has been triggered. We are going to put questions to her on behalf of British and other EU citizens.
Once article 50 has been triggered, and negotiations have started, I want to have a taskforce inside the European parliament that citizens can contact directly so that we can have a clear idea of the difficulties people are facing and try to help.
Brexit will be partly a technical negotiation, but ultimately it is about people. The consequence cannot be that millions of people are penalised.
Nicolas Hatton, the founder of the 3million group, which has been campaigning for the rights of EU citizens in the UK, said he welcomed the MEP’s initiative. He said: We would be willing to help them understand the issues faced by EU citizens in the country.
The difficulty is that it is the British government, not the European parliament, which determines our fate. But it will be good for the European parliament to help Michel Barnier [the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator] to understand all the issues ahead of the Brexit negotiations, said Hatton.
The Home Office has responded to the cases raised by EU nationals by stating that their rights in the UK remain unchanged and that they do not require any additional documents to prove their status.