EU citizens in Scotland not applying for settled status due to 'incredulity': Mike Russell

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European citizens living in Scotland may not be applying for settled status because of their "incredulity" at having to do so, the Brexit secretary has said.

Mike Russell suggested that could be one of the reasons why the number of EU citizens registering to remain north of the Border is lower than it is for the UK as a whole.

A pro-EU demonstrator wearing a mask of the Queen

A pro-EU demonstrator wearing a mask of the Queen

In 2016, the year the Brexit referendum took place, there were about 209,000 European citizens resident in Scotland.

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Joan McAlpine, convener of the Scottish Parliament's European Committee, said Home Office data showed applications for settled status are "significantly lower" north of the Border, with only about 25 per cent of people having applied, compared to a UK rate of about 50 per cent.

Mr Russell said one reason for this could be their "incredulity" at having to apply to remain in the UK post-Brexit, a process he described as "offensive" and "very wounding".

Scottish Brexit secretary Mike Russell

Scottish Brexit secretary Mike Russell

The Brexit secretary told the committee that ongoing uncertainty means "overall this is a difficult and very worrying time for EU citizens who live in Scotland".

He said: "There is a very considerable degree of angst and upset ... and the Scottish Government as a whole wants to do everything it can to help.

"But it cannot, of course, grant citizenship, and that is the key thing which people wish."

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On the lower number of applications for settled status from Scotland, he said some of this could be linked to the temporary nature of some types of work such as in the agricultural sector.

Mr Russell said: "It could also be people's incredulity that this is required of them, and a feeling that as Scotland is different then they don't need to do so.

"I've been very clear, the Government has been very clear and we want to be very clear again here today, the Scottish Government's advice to EU citizens here is to apply for settled status.

"We don't like that, we think it is offensive people are being asked to do so, particularly people who have lived in this country for a very long period of time.

"I have a number of constituents who have been in Scotland for 20, 30, one of them almost 40 years, and being asked to do this is very wounding and offensive to them.

"But we advise people to do that and indeed if they do not do so and they do not observe the law, problems can occur for them.

"There may be other reasons, but those are the reasons we're thinking of at the moment."

A UK Government spokesperson said: “EU citizens have made an enormous contribution to Scotland and we want them to stay.

“We’ve had more than 90,000 applications to the EU Settlement Scheme in Scotland already and there’s still plenty of time to apply before the deadline of at least December 2020.

“It’s a free and easy way for EU citizens and their family members to get a UK immigration status, with plenty of support available online, in person and by phone.”