The British government reached a new stage in indecency: the “EU Settlement Scheme”

, by Lorène Weber

The British government reached a new stage in indecency: the “EU Settlement Scheme”
Source: Duncan Hull / Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

On 27 December, the UK Home Office released a video advertising the so-called EU Settlement Scheme. In short, if EU citizens currently living in the United Kingdom want to continue living in the country after Brexit (more precisely, after 31 December 2020), they must pay £65 to undergo an application process checking their identity, criminal record, effective residence in the UK, and how they contribute to the country.

I am not going to go through all stages that the Brexit process has known so far: at this point, we could write an encyclopedia about the countless mistakes, lies, crookedness and amateurism of the Leave campaign and of Theresa May’s cabinet(s).

I am not going to discuss how incompetent and ridiculous the British government has appeared for the past two years and a half – and before. It would take much longer than one article, and others have detailed the misleading and illegal Brexit campaign, the unreadiness and thoughtlessness that the British government has demonstrated in all regards, the coarseness, cowardice, and ineptitude of the British politicians in power, or the divisions they amplified among the citizens of their own country better than I could.

Brexit blunders have become so frequent in the European political landscape that we have almost reached the point where we could consider them usual, almost forgetting how serious the consequences of Brexit (and especially of a no-deal Brexit) will be. However, due to the intensity of European political life, we cannot always focus on one more stupid statement or one more cowardly resignation coming from the United Kingdom, and we might even have granted these morons too much importance already.

But this time, the British government has reached a new stage in indecency, although it had become hard to imagine that they could fall even lower. Not content with depriving their own British citizens of their rights as European citizens, not content with ignoring the vote of two nations (Northern Ireland and Scotland), not content with their incapacity of providing the EU citizens living in the UK with anything but uncertainty and fear about their own future, the British government has decided to force them to pay for a compulsory application if they want to have a chance (and I insist, a chance, not certainty, let’s not expect too much from Theresa May’s cabinet) to continue living in a country which has become their home. They “elegantly” called it the “EU Settlement Scheme”.

What is the “EU Settlement Scheme”?

We have known for six months that the British government was elaborating a “EU Settlement Scheme”, consisting in a “short, simple and friendly” (is this British humour?) application process. In short, the EU citizens living in the UK will have to prove their identity, that they have no criminal record, that they currently live in the UK (you know, just in case EU citizens living elsewhere than in the UK would lose their time going through this imbecility), and that they “contribute” to the country. Interestingly enough, not all British citizens even fulfil all these criteria…

“We want them to stay and we want to make that process of staying as easy as possible”, Sajid Javid, UK Home Secretary declared at the time. I hardly see how the obligation to go through a paid application process to remain in your own home has anything welcoming and easy, but some subtilities of British culture might escape me here.

However, back in June, this was a 57-page document, no application procedure had been released, and, for some reason, it seems that we had quite forgotten about it. Maybe because it was “just” one more document, too long to read (despite The Guardian’s good summary), perhaps subject to change… Maybe because the Brexit deal had not been drafted and approved yet by Theresa May’s cabinet… Maybe because, at the time, there was still hope that the British government would give up on this idea, or that the EU institutions would prevent such a process from being implemented… In any case, we were wrong to hope that the citizens’ established rights would eventually be protected.

Indeed, right after Christmas, the UK Home Office delighted us with an official video cheerfully advertising the “EU Settlement Scheme”. During 43 painful seconds, the video displays EU citizens looking enchanted to be obliged to go through a compulsorily paid procedure (for them and their families), consisting in applying for the right to continue living in their (yes, THEIR, deal with it you outraged Brexiter) country.

A shameful video, both in form and substance

It is not only the video and the scheme that are shocking in substance, but the form is also outraging.

One can easily come to think that this video doesn’t actually display real EU citizens living in the UK. Would the British government have had to find actors to play the role of EU citizens delighted of losing their rights in the UK? The Home Office appears here to have reached the level of weight-loss advertisings, hiring actors to pretend that they genuinely lost weight through overpriced (and inefficient, one more common point with Brexit) programmes…

But actually, no actors were even hired for this video. The British government actually used Getty’s stock photos, and the Twitter account @TheIrishBorder seems to have perfectly summed up the reason for their choice:

“Stock photos because you were too f***ing ashamed of what you were doing to ask people to pose for them”

In a revealing Twitter thread, @TheIrishBorder indeed satirically showed that “the happy EU millennials (…) who smilingly welcome the UK Home Office’s benign new immigration regime”, the “EU mother delighting her EU child with the knowledge that they’ll only have to pay £32.50 for this junior EU national to stay in the UK”, or the “EU nationals (…) filled with joyous wonder at the ease with which they can apply online to stay in the UK” can also be found in previous advertisements for a bank in Australia, a reading scheme in the United States or a sustainable technology grant in Canada.

Reactions from EU citizens concerned by this measure did not take long to come and to be widely shared on Twitter and Facebook. Among the most shared testimonies and comments features @StewartWood’s tweet:

“Just told my 83-year old German mum, who has lived here since 1964, that she’ll have to go through (& pay for) this process - to prove to the Home Office who she is, & that she’s not a criminal. I tried hard, but couldn’t really explain why. It’s an awful stain on our country.”

The Twitter user Alex Andreou shared his anger and disheartening by writing the following:

“You need to note this moment in your history. This moment when your gov’t asked families to pay £40 for kids born in the UK to apply to stay, based purely on the ethnicity of the parents - citizens legally here. Not even register. Apply. You need to note the date and time. Shame.”

And to give one last example, another Twitter user highlighted one more lie of the Leave campaign, which had promised that “There will we no change for EU citizens already lawfully resident in the UK. EU citizens will automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present.”

I’ve had enough of Brexitland: it’s time for a People’s Vote

Over the past two years and a half, jokes have been made about “Brexitland”, a place that I could indeed picture as a country in between Wonderland for the absurd part, and Neverland for the absence of grown-ups part (the Scottish newspaper The National recently opined that “Scots deserve to live in a country run by grown-ups”). But in Brexitland, unfortunately, it does not currently seem that the villains will lose in the end.

Some solutions could be imagined for the EU citizens living in the UK (and the British Remainers) to have their rights back and to be treated decently. At some point, they could live in an independent Scotland or in two Irelands reunited, both being full members of the European Union. But unfortunately, these potential solutions do not appear feasible or realistic in the short term. A perhaps more likely glimmer of hope would be the organisation of a second referendum, following the numerous and repeated calls for a People’s Vote. But for such a referendum to happen, the British government should be brave, clever and lucid enough to hold it, and so far, Theresa May has not appeared as a big supporter of the idea.

Meanwhile, Brexitland and its blue-passport Brexiters have been the shame of Europe, of humanism, of its values, of its project, of its spirit, of its dream and of its fulfilments. I’ve had enough of their idiocy, bad faith, cowardice, and even xenophobia and racism. Giving up any attempt to stop Brexit (or at least to avoid a no-deal) to let them keep running straight into the wall they’ve built themselves would be tempting, if it had no consequences on EU citizens and British Remainers. The past two years and a half have been disheartening, but I still hope that Europe will build enough bridges to counter this wall. And I hope that the calls that EU citizens living in the UK will remain protected and welcome will eventually come to be.

Your comments
  • On 4 January 2019 at 23:39, by Ian Replying to: The British government reached a new stage in indecency: the “EU Settlement Scheme”

    The tone of this item is a trifle hysterical. Non UK nationals from the EU wishing to reside permanently in the UK are to be asked to prove they are who they say they are, allow a criminal check to ensure that they pose no realistic threat to other citizens and to pay a pretty much nominal sum. It is difficult to see what is so controversial. For this imposition EU citizens will be able to live and work in the UK; and rightly so. Travel anywhere in the World that requires any form of visa and you will need to do this just to visit, let alone to live and work. As the EU keeps telling us, we will be a third country.

    Meanwhile the position of UK citizens resident in the EU is seemingly much less assured or clear, perhaps they will be allowed to stay in the country they currently live in, but who knows.

    Additionally UK citizens in the near future can look forward to paying the ETIAS fee to simply visit the EU, the UK has not indicated any reciprocal fee for EU tourists. But fair enough, we are the one who want to leave, exercising our rights under Article 50 of the TFEU laws. (As a matter of interest if no country was ever allowed or supposed to leave why was this law written?)

    We all remember that the Remain side were paragons of honesty and truthfulness in the campaign, Operation Fear was a figment of popular imagination, shame that the arguments about EU membership also involve matters of sovereignty and accountability as well as economics.

    You are right, two nations did indeed vote to remain in the EU (with the lowest turnout of any of the 12 electoral regions) but together those two countries represent only 12.72% of all eligible voters. The other two countries represent 87.28%, but we voted as a single entity not as four separate countries. And when we voted we did so in ‘A Peoples Vote’. We were told by the Government (which was campaigning vigorously and relentlessly for Remain) that this was to be the single chance in a generation to decide the issue. We did so and now suddenly we weren’t the ‘People’, the ‘People’ suddenly became the electors who didn’t like the result, so who or what exactly are the rest of us? (By the way don’t rely on opinion polls showing a change of attitude, immediately after the closure of the vote on the 23/06/16, Ipsos MORI published a poll stating that Remain had won 54% to 46%.)

    Over the last several years I have watched this site move from calm articles explaining why the UK would never hold a referendum on EU membership, to what we have here. I would remind you that President Macron, a fervent pro EU enthusiast recognised in January 2018 that it was entirely possible that France would vote to leave the EU is ever given the chance. Perhaps the incompetence, stupidity, moronic behaviour you ascribe to politics in the UK is democracy in action, not something you see over much in the EU.

  • On 6 January 2019 at 08:12, by Martin Carter Replying to: The British government reached a new stage in indecency: the “EU Settlement Scheme”

    Its disgusting there can be no debate about that but it would appear we are powerless to stop it

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