British citizens should be able to sign up to a national identity system being rolled out for European Union residents after Brexit to avoid losing their rights if another Windrush-type scandal happened, a think-tank has said.
The report from Policy Exchange calls for sweeping reforms to the immigration system to rebuild public confidence in the wake of the Brexit vote, including the controversial idea of a national identity registry and an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
It comes as the UK government prepares to reveal its plans for the future of immigration policy after Brexit by the end of the year, with growing calls for Scotland to get more powers over how migration is managed.
EU citizens already in the UK will have to pay £65 and join a registration scheme if they wish to stay in Britain after the end of the transition period on 31 December, 2020 under changes announced by Home Secretary Sajid Javid.
Around 3.6 million Europeans living in the UK are expected to begin the process of requesting “settled status” in the coming months.
Those securing settled status will have their details held by the government so they can prove their right to employment and public services.
In the report, David Goodhart, Policy Exchange’s head of demography, immigration and integration, suggested the scheme should be widened to Britons, initially on a voluntary basis.
He said: “We strongly recommend reopening the debate about ID management to reassure people that we know who is in the country, for how long, and what their entitlements are. A proper national ID system would have prevented the harassment of the Windrush victims.”
The Policy Exchange paper argues that Brexit is the perfect time to find new ways of controlling national borders and managing migration.
It also suggested an amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been in the UK for ten years or more, and reforms to allow applications for asylum from outside the UK, as well as private sponsorship of asylum seekers and refugees.
Citizenship application fees should be reduced from £1,500 per person and almost £5,000 for a family with two children to a level “more closely aligned to public policy, not just revenue needs”, the report said.
However, Policy Exchange also called for a tougher immigration removals process, deporting those refused the right to stay before they can judicially review their cases, and said more cash should be set aside to pay illegal immigrants to leave the UK.
The report calls for a joint scheme involving the Department for International Development to help those deported from the UK to set up businesses in their countries of origin.
There should be a single “command” responsible for securing the UK’s sea borders, and more investment in border staff, patrol boats, and detection systems for lorries at Calais and Dover. Rail operators should also have to provide the same information as airlines, the report argued.
The idea of a national ID system for British citizens remains controversial. A £5 billion national identity card scheme was introduced by the last Labour government in 2006, but a bill to scrap it was the first legislation introduced by Theresa May when she became home secretary in 2010.
Mr Goodhart added: “While a general amnesty for the estimated 500,000 illegal residents here would send the wrong signal, some form of regularisation should also be considered for those who have been here for more than ten years, who are now parts of their communities with ties to the UK and often become the focus of grassroots campaigns.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “We are pursuing an ambitious programme of reform at the border as well as investing in new capability to improve passenger experience. Border Force invested £63.5 million in new technology and capability in 2017-18 and £90.4m in the two previous years combined.
“Decisions on the future immigration system will be based on evidence.
“This is why we have asked the independent Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) to advise on the economic and social impacts of the UK’s exit from the EU and also on how the UK’s immigration system should be aligned with a modern industrial strategy.”