The government has refused to confirm that EU citizens living in the UK will be granted so-called ‘settled status’ in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Immigration minister Caroline Nokes said the government was “not anticipating failure” in Brexit talks and did not expect the issue to be “reopened”.
She made the comments as the government laid out further detail about the ‘settled status’ plan it announced last year.
Under the plans, EU nationals who have been living in the UK for five years or more will be able to apply to enjoy the same rights indefinitely.
But asked today by Brexit Select Committee chair Hilary Benn if the system would still apply in the event of a no-deal departure from the bloc, Nokes was unclear.
“We are not anticipating failure,” she told MPs in the House of Commons. “That is an important part of this. We have confidence that there will be a deal.
“We have reached an agreement with the EU guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and of UK nationals living in the EU and we do not expect that to be reopened.”
She added: “I take very seriously the commitment we have made to those EU citizens and regard that of absolutely of prime importance.”
Nokes said all EU citizens will be able to apply for the settled status from 30 March 2019, although some areas will see pilots beforehand.
Applications will cost £65 for adults and £32 for children, less than the cost of a UK passport, with some applicants exempt from charges in some circumstances.
Those who have not lived in the UK for five years will be able to apply for a pre-settled status, then upgrade their status once they hit the five-year mark at no extra cost.
In many cases Home Office access to HM Revenue and Customs employment record and Department for Work and Pensions benefit records will be automatic.
The immigration minister outlined the “three easy steps” that applicants need to undertake, including proving their identity, whether they have serious criminal convictions and whether they live in the UK.
They will be able to apply online, by post, or at specialist centres, although the government confirmed that capability had not been developed to allow those using iPhones to use the system.
London mayor Sadiq Khan hit back at the government saying that EU citizens who had moved to the UK before the referendum should be exempt from the fee.
“It is disappointing that the government has not used today as an opportunity to show EU nationals living in the UK goodwill by making this process free of charge to people resident in our country,” he said.
“At the very least, those who moved here before the referendum took place shouldn’t be expected to pay to stay.”
In a statement outlining the process for applicants of the settlement scheme, Nokes insisted that EU citizens make a huge contribution and that the government wants them to continue living and working in the UK.
“We are demonstrating real progress and I look forward to hearing more detail on how the EU will make reciprocal arrangements for UK nationals living in the EU,” she added.
At a Lords committee hearing yesterday, home secretary Sajid Javid also expressed his “frustration” that countries such as France and Spain had failed as yet to reciprocate the UK’s stance.
“I would like to see more movement, because we’re trying to bring more confidence to EU citizens in the UK through the measures today,” he said.
“I think they deserve to have that confidence. I want them to know they are very welcome in the UK, but equally I would like to see that kind of process in EU countries too.”