The deadline for the UK Government’s EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) is this Wednesday.
The Scottish Government does not accept that our EU citizens should have to sign up to any sort of scheme; indeed, Michael Gove, the Prime Minister and Priti Patel all gave assurances during the 2016 referendum that there would be “no change” for EU residents here.
The UK Government could, of course, choose to extend the deadline; indeed, we have repeatedly made such requests, most recently I wrote to Lord Frost on June 16. We have yet to receive a reply.
This is important because EUSS’s effects will directly impact on devolved areas, so we need to make preparations in Scotland to best protect our EU citizens, whilst being blindsided by a UK Government who just don’t seem to care.
The Home Office has a significant backlog of cases to process: more than a third of a million. Many involve people who wish to stay in Scotland, but the Scottish Government doesn’t know how many, because the Home Office refuses to share this data.
Friends, relatives, colleagues could be impacted by the EUSS. From Wednesday, potentially thousands of people could be left in limbo, not knowing whether they can stay in Scotland, where they have made their lives and contributed so much.
Those who have failed to apply by the deadline will become unlawfully resident in the UK, with potentially devastating impacts.
They won’t be able to work, study, claim benefits, get a driver’s licence or open a bank account. Their lives will be turned upside down. That’s unacceptable.
The Scottish Government does not believe EU citizens living in Scotland should be forced to apply to stay here but, given the insistence of the UK Government, we’re doing everything we can to encourage people to do so.
This issue raises further, profound questions that go the heart of Scotland’s future.
During the Brexit talks, the Scottish Government’s views were side-lined by the UK Government, which refused to involve us. Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit. But not only were we taken out of the EU, we were forced into a hard Brexit amid a pandemic.
The UK Government is still consistently ignoring the Scottish Government’s legitimate concerns.
In May, important UK meetings with the EU, discussing issues which strongly affect Scotland, took place with the Scottish Government excluded.
Scotland should not be a bystander in these talks, we should have our concerns listened to by the UK Government.
It’s not too late for the UK Government to extend the EUSS deadline. It’s also not too late to reform the scheme once that deadline is extended, to a model where EU citizens are allowed to retain their rights automatically, where the five-year residency qualification is removed, and where the less-secure pre-settled status is replaced with full settled status.
These are simple and practical ways of avoiding another Windrush scandal.
Ultimately, though, I believe this country should have its own powers over population and migration, as an independent country within the EU.
That independent Scotland will seek to be an outward-looking, welcoming country in an equal partnership with our friends in the rest of the UK and across Europe.
Jenny Gilruth MSP is Scotland’s Europe minister