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Don’t forget Brexit

WITH everything else going on, most of us have almost forgotten Brexit. Just as we will start to emerge from one catastrophe, another (self-inflicted) disaster looms - a likely no-deal Brexit as the post-Brexit transition period ends on 31 December. Despite almost no progress on negotiations with the EU, HM Govt is determined to press ahead and deliver another economic shock, with no trade deal with the EU likely to be in place by that date.

A clairvoyant placard from a 2019 EU rally: 'happy stockpiling everyone!'; Photo: Matt Salusbury

A prescient banner from a pro-EU march in London in Autumn 2019.

Home Secretary Priti Patel recently ruled out any covid-19 related extension to the deadline for EU nationals living in the UK to register for the EU Settlement Scheme. These people - including many of our members - will have until 30 June 2021 to register if there is a deal, or until 31 December 2020 if there isn’t. Those not registered by then face deportation.

This is despite processing of EU Settled Status applications being disrupted by covid-19. Handling of the more complex cases - in which the initial application via the app has been rejected and more contact with the Home Office is needed - has almost ceased.

Meanwhile, charities and NGOs offering support to vulnerable EU nationals who need help with their EU Settled Status applications have had to divert their efforts and resources during the covid-19 emergency. This means that support for Settled Status applications has practically ceased. Advice sessions where advisers looked through documents their clients had brought along in person have had to move online, a transition that has not been easy.

With millions suddenly having to apply for Universal Credit (UC), it has also been reported that many EU nationals who have the less secure Pre-Settled Status are being denied UC on "residency" grounds. Pre-Settled Status is for those who’ve not yet been in the UK for five years, and covers an estimated 1 million of the at least 3.3 million EU nationals in the UK.

This rejection of UC applications is in contravention of the Withdrawal Agreement clauses on citizens' rights during the transition period. If you are an EU national with Pre-Settled Status who finds yourself denied UC on residency grounds, contact the Freelance Office in the first instance to be pointed to legal advice.

The government has also confirmed that its plans for a post-Brexit "points-based system" for immigration from 1 January will remain the same despite the covid-19 crisis. EU nationals not already in the UK will not be able to come and work in many of the jobs labelled as being occupied by "key workers" - the pay is too low for the threshold for a post-Brexit transition work visa.

As far as we are aware, most EU nationals had already obtained Settled Status before the covid-19 pandemic hit the UK - the Mayor of London's office at the time estimated that only 15 per cent of EU nationals resident in the city had yet to apply at that time.