LONDON — EU citizens living in the UK risk becoming the next victims of Theresa May’s “hostile environment” policy after Brexit, the former head of the UK civil service has told Business Insider.
Lord Kerslake, who led the civil service between 2012 and 2014, told BI that the combination of May’s anti-immigration policies and the Home Office’s inability to cope with the huge numbers of EU citizens applying to remain in the UK, meant EU citizens were now at risk.
“I think it is a real issue, because of a combination of a very hostile policy and uncertain systems that are uncertain as we know and put the onus on the individual to prove their position rather than the other way round,” Kerslake said.
“The Home Office has improved, but Windrush has shown that significant issues about its systems still remain.”
The Home Office faces the huge administrative task of processing the applications of nearly 4 million EU nationals in the near future, as well as trying to prepare and implement a post-Brexit immigration policy which does not currently exist.
Concerns about the future of EU citizens in the UK were amplified in April following a series of damning Guardian reports revealed that the Home Office had targeted numerous “Windrush” immigrants, who moved to the UK legally from the Caribbean from 1948. The resulting scandal ultimately forced the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.
Kerslake told BI that the Home Office needed to reassure European citizens living in the UK that they would not be similarly targeted.
“Given what happened with Windrush, the onus is now on the government and the Home Office to reassure us that it isn’t going to be a problem [
Given what happened with Windrush, the onus is now on the government and the Home Office to reassure us that it isn’t going to be a problem.
for EU citizens]” Kerslake said.
“In other words, I won’t believe it until somebody shows me it isn’t going to be a problem,” he added.
Kerslake said that while the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid had been “robust” in acknowledging the “core problems” of the hostile environment policy, Javid’s words meant little without new legislation.
“I think we have seen the last of the phrase ‘hostile environment,'” he said. “But I wonder if you change it without reexamining the legislation […] and being very clear about how broad statements play through into operational guidance,” he said.
“Are they filtering down to the way the Home Office truly operates? Thousands of civil servants there have been working under a different arm and under a different steer,” he said.
A Home Office spokesperson told Business Insider: “We are developing from scratch a new streamlined, user-friendly scheme for EU citizens to safeguard their right to stay in the UK after we leave the EU.
“Every EU citizen resident in the UK on the day the transition period ends in December 2020 will be eligible for some form of leave to remain, subject to criminality checks. We have committed to ensuring that applications will not be refused on minor technicalities and that caseworkers processing applications will exercise discretion in favour of the applicant where appropriate.
“We will be setting out further details before the summer and EU citizens will have plenty of time to make an application. But we have also been clear that we will exercise discretion if there are good reasons why someone has not been able to make an application before the June 2021 deadline.”