UK government officials have privately warned Boris Johnson’s administration that EU citizens living in the UK could face “another Windrush” scandal after Brexit, according to a leaked document.
Civil servants warned that the government’s plan for an “interim” immigration system to replace free movement would be impossible to enforce, because immigration officers would not be able to distinguish between new arrivals and EU citizens already living here, according to the Times.
The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on October 31, and Boris Johnson has pledged to deliver Brexit with or without a deal, despite warnings from campaign groups that a no-deal outcome would leave EU citizens without proper legal status and struggling to access basic services.
A source familiar with the document told the Times there was a “real risk” the complexity of the scheme could lead to “legitimate concerns of another Windrush” scandal, in which dozens of EU citizens were wrongly denied legal rights, detained, and in at least 83 cases deported.
The authors of the document recommended that free movement continue until at least January 2021 to allow time for a new scheme to be developed and provide “maximum certainty” to EU citizens.
A Home Office spokesperson insisted free movement would come to an end on October 31 and said the paper did not reflect current thinking.
The spokesperson said: “The thinking has moved on since this Home Office discussion paper was drawn up. The government rejected the options contained in it and are going to end free movement on October 31 should we leave without a deal. This will allow us to take back control of our borders.”
The government has promised European citizens currently living in the UK — who exercised their right to free movement under EU rules — will have the right to remain after Brexit, despite a lack of clarity around how the immigration policy would be enforced after a no-deal Brexit.
But EU citizens who arrive after exit day will not have the right to remain permanently in the UK, because the government has pledged to end free movement whether or not the UK leaves with a deal.
That means citizens arriving from the bloc after exit day will need to apply for permanent visas, and will be charged for accessing services including the NHS.
Johnson and his most senior aide Dominic Cummings are said to have identified immigration — which formed a key argument in the Vote Leave campaign — as one of three central issues at the heart of the government’s domestic agenda, around which their future electoral strategy will be based.
Cummings reportedly believes it is crucial to end free movement on October 31, whether or not the UK leaves the EU with a deal.
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