The government’s plans to end freedom of movement on Thursday, 31 October without any transition period left many people across the country baffled, shocked, confused and fearful of what’s to come. News articles and the usual social media outrage was followed by a rather short Home Office ‘media factsheet’ titled EU citizens and freedom of movement.
The government’s intention of reassuring people that ‘EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay’ sadly fell short of answering the most pressing questions of all: How will the government, border officials, the NHS, employers or landlords distinguish between EU citizens who came to live in the UK before 31 October 2019 and those who came here after if the deadline for applying for settled status is not until December 2020? How can the government guarantee that EU citizens won’t be subjected to the hostile environment, facing additional residency checks when they go to the doctor or when they try to rent a new flat, which is exactly what happened to Windrush victims? This is the second breaking news story with potential life altering consequences for EU citizens and their family after reports about potential NHS charges in case of a no-deal Brexit only a week ago.
This is the ultimate recipe for communications and information chaos. Imagine more than three million EU citizens and their family members reading one thing in the newspapers, followed by a half-hearted government reassurance, which is further eroded by the never-ending comment stream on social media. All of this, feeds into the worst fears of people who have made this country their home and who have struggled to make sense of what Brexit means for them and their families since the result of the referendum on 24 June 2016.
Marie Le Conte in The Guardian sums up how many EU citizens I’ve spoken to in the last year feel: ‘Being an EU citizen living in the UK for the past three years has largely had the same rhythm as an undergraduate degree: relax, relax, panic for a week, enter a deep state of denial, relax, relax and repeat.’ Announcements like the one about ending freedom of movement overnight only reinforce and prolong the panic stages of this cycle. Will I be able to come back into the country after 31 October if I haven’t applied for settled status yet? Can my child continue to receive vital medical treatment under the NHS? Will I be able to find a new job and rent a flat for myself and my family? How can I continue to care for my elderly parent in a European country?
Some might feel these worries are exaggerated, but the reality is that all of this comes only one year after the Windrush scandal and a broken record of the Home Office’s external communications efforts. EU citizens are well-aware of how the hostile environment destroyed the lives of their Windrush neighbours, friends and family even after decades of living in this country. They won’t be reassured by words alone.
The government has a responsibility to communicate in a clear and constructive way that leaves no doubt about how Brexit and the sudden end to freedom of movement will impact the lives of millions of EU citizens and their family members who have made the UK their home. Announcements and official communications documents by the government that pose more questions than deliver answers are unhelpful. What we need is an honest and transparent conversation about the implications of a no-deal Brexit. Not only for EU citizens, but the country as a whole.
Are you an EU citizen living in the UK or do you work with people from the EU? Do you have European friends or family members? All EU citizens and their family members (including non-European family members) must apply for settled status by December 2020. Many people still don’t know about this new immigration status and that failing to apply could result in EU citizens and their families becoming undocumented overnight after the application deadline in December 2020. The government has no way of informing and reminding all three million EU citizens and their family members who are eligible to apply. So please share this information with anyone who needs to apply for settled status so they have all the information they need. You can watch and share our information video to find out more.
Please also help us to call on the government to make their communications around EU Settlement clear and transparent. All EU citizens and their family members living in the UK have a right to know how Brexit will impact their daily lives. Email your local MP to let them know your areas of concern or you can also take to social media to petition the government. Below is an example tweet you can use or feel free to compose your own.
‘All EU citizens & their family members living in the UK have a right to know how #Brexit will impact their daily lives @patel4witham @BorisJohnson. We call on the government to provide clear, accessible information on the #SettledStatus scheme & the end to free movement.’