Tower Hamlets Brexit chair warns that government confusion could lead to distress and disruption for EU nationals

Mayor Biggs and Cllr Ali 01

The chair of the Tower Hamlets Brexit Commission has urged the Government to provide clarity on future employment rules for EU nationals or risk facing a repeat of the Windrush crisis.

On Tuesday, immigration minister Caroline Nokes MP appeared before the Home Affairs Select Committee in parliament to answer questions on her department’s preparations for Brexit.

During the hearing, she was asked to explain how the Government’s settled status scheme for EU nationals was going to be implemented. Her responses appeared to conflict with the published Home Office guidance being used by the council and others to keep EU nationals informed.

On Thursday, Tower Hamlets Brexit Commission chair, Councillor Amina Ali, and Mayor John Biggs, wrote to the minister asking her to clarify, with some urgency, the position that both EU nationals and employers will find themselves in in just five months’ time. 

Cllr Ali said: “As part of the work of the Tower Hamlets Brexit Commission, council officers and partner organisations have already engaged with hundreds of residents and staff using the very Home Office guidance that now appears to be being called into question.

“The Government’s advice to EU nationals already in the UK is still that they don’t have to take any action until June 2021. But now it would seem those who cannot prove settled status from as early as March next year could face additional barriers to employment. These include a need to provide documentary evidence of their time in the UK that nobody has warned them they will need.

“We have seen what happens when the implementation of immigration rules is poorly handled with the Windrush generation. Nobody wants that to happen for the 41,000 EU nationals in Tower Hamlets or the millions around the rest of the country.

“It is vital that the Government now acts quickly to provide clarity about how the settled status scheme will actually work.”

In her responses to the select committee on Tuesday, the minister suggested that from as early as March next year, any EU national applying for a job in the UK would have to show evidence of settled status.

However, the settled status scheme doesn’t fully open for applications until at least March and the Home Office’s own guidance tells EU nationals already in the UK that they have until June 2021 to apply.

When challenged on the inconsistency between the two positions, the minister then suggested that it would be for employers to do any additional checks to iron out confusion caused by the Government’s scheme. No such instruction has been issued to businesses.

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, added: “The thousands of EU nationals living in our borough are a valued part of the community and we have made a commitment to help them to protect their rights during the Brexit process.

“To do that, we rely on the Government providing consistent and accurate information.

“EU nationals and employers need clarity to ensure that ordinary people just trying to exercise their legal right to live and work in this country after Brexit can continue to do so.”

You can read a copy of the letter here.

Posted on Thursday 1st November 2018