Government cancels plan to charge EU nationals settled status fee
Prime minister also sets out plans to brief MPs and devolved administrations more in future trade talks after Brexit
Theresa May has announced that the government will cancel plans to charge a £65 fee for EU nationals to apply for settled status in the UK.
In a statement to the House of Commons yesterday, the prime minister said that she had listened to concerns from MPs and civil society groups that the fee could create a barrier for EU nationals to apply to stay in the UK after Brexit.
Previously, the government had said EU nationals would need to pay the full fee, or £32.50 for children, to gain settled status, which is available to those have lived continuously in the UK for five years.
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The fee was intended to part fund the cost of the Home Office settled status scheme. EU nationals working in the civil service in England and Wales would have had to pay, despite an effort by trade unions to get ministers to match the Scottish Government's commitment to reimburse the cost for its employees.
However, May announced that the fee will now be scrapped entirely when the programme to register is launched in full at the end of March – and anyone who has applied during the pilot scheme will have their fee repaid.
May acknowledged that there had been “anxieties facing EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU who are waiting to have their status confirmed”.
She told MPs: “We have already committed to ensuring that EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay, and to continue to access in-country benefits and services on broadly the same terms as now, in both a deal and a no deal scenario.
"Indeed, the next phase of testing of the scheme for EU nationals to confirm their status has launched today. And having listened to concerns from members – and organisations like the 3 Million group [that campaigns for the rights of EU nationals in the UK] – I can confirm today that when we roll out the scheme in full on 30 March, the government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay.”
Dave Prentis, the general secretary of the public services trade union Unison, said that although the prime minister was right to scrap the fee, “it’s an idea that should never have seen the light of day in the first place.”
He added: “With all the talk of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, EU nationals have more than enough on their minds, without having to worry about coming up with the cash just so they can carry on living here,” he said.
“The settled status registration process must be simple and make European workers feel welcome. The UK simply cannot afford to lose valuable staff from its already strained health and social care sectors.”
During her statement, May also said she and other government ministers had listened to views from across parliament about the concerns over the exit deal she had reached with the EU, after it was rejected by 230 votes in the Commons last week.
Issues that had been raised in the talks so far included widespread concern about the possibility of the UK leaving the EU without a deal and support for a second Brexit referendum, she said.
The PM said a no-deal scenario could only be avoided by agreeing with her deal, or revoking Article 50. She claimed the latter option “would go against the referendum result”.
Likewise, she reiterated her “deep concerns about returning to the British people for a second referendum”, adding: “Our duty is to implement the decision of the first one.”
However, she said the government would look to make changes in other areas raised in talks were, including the operation of the backstop intended to avoid a hard border with Ireland, and the proposals for the future relationship with the EU.
“With regard to the backstop, despite the changes we have previously agreed, there remain two core issues: the fear that we could be trapped in it permanently; and concerns over its potential impact on our Union if Northern Ireland is treated differently from the rest of the UK,” she told MPs.
“So I will be talking further this week to colleagues – including in the DUP – to consider how we might meet our obligations to the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland in a way that can command the greatest possible support in the House. And I will then take the conclusions of those discussions back to the EU.”
She also pledged to include more expertise from outside government in negotiating the future trade deal with the EU than she had when formulating the withdrawal agreement.
This would entail making more information available in confidential committee sessions to ensure MPs have the most up-to-date information during negotiations.
These talks “will cover a far broader range of issues in greater depth, and so will require us to build a negotiating team that draws on the widest expertise available – from trade negotiators to security experts and specialists in data and financial services”, she said.
“It is government’s responsibility to negotiate, but it is also my responsibility to listen to the legitimate concerns of colleagues, both those who voted leave and who voted remain, in shaping our negotiating mandate for our future partnership with the EU."
This will also include what May called “an enhanced role” for devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales in the next phase.
“I hope to meet both first ministers in the course of this week and will use the opportunity to discuss this further with them. And we will also look for further ways to engage elected representatives from Northern Ireland and regional representatives in England.
“And finally, we will reach out beyond this House and engage more deeply with businesses, civil society and trade unions.”
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