EU nationals in the UK don’t trust government bodies, watchdog says
Half of Europeans surveyed fear unequal treatment in the future, finds Independent Monitoring Authority.
LONDON — There is a “significant lack of trust and confidence” in British public bodies by Europeans living in Britain, according to the U.K. watchdog on citizens’ rights.
The Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), established in January to oversee the U.K.’s implementation of the citizens’ rights provisions in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, said a lack of faith in public institutions is “a pervasive sentiment” among Europeans settled in Britain.
About half of the 2,880 European Economic Area and Swiss nationals living in Britain and Gibraltar who replied to an online survey told the IMA they do not have confidence they will be treated equally to British citizens in the future. More than one in four respondents said they are treated equally “none of the time” or “some of time.”
“Public authorities have a crucial role to play in building trust and confidence with European citizens,” the IMA concluded in its report, published Thursday. “This includes promoting citizens’ rights in legislation, policy, and practice across all demographics, with particular attention to vulnerable and marginalised citizens.”
The survey results come after POLITICO revealed that at least 30 EU nationals from five countries had been held in immigration removal centers after being identified by U.K. border officials as intending to work in the country without a work visa. Following an outcry, the European Commission said this was a “consular issue” but expressed “concern” over the conditions and length of detention, which in some cases saw people spend four days or more in these centers.
U.K. officials have previously complained about the different pace at which British nationals are registered as residents across the EU, with large differences even among regions of the same country, among other issues.
The vast majority of the respondents to the IMA survey said they are planning to remain in the U.K. beyond June 30. That is the deadline for applications to the government’s EU Settlement Scheme, which guarantees EU citizens’ residence rights, and the moment when the British authorities will start requiring proof of status.
But lack of trust was one of the main issues cited by EU nationals considering leaving the country after that date. Germans, Spaniards and French people; higher earners; and those who lived in the U.K. for 5-10 years were the most likely to leave, according to the report.
And while income made little difference to confidence in equal treatment, age did, with younger respondents being the least confident that they will be treated equally in the future, the IMA said.
When asked why they had low confidence, 31 percent pointed to a lack of trust in the government; 11 percent cited the impact of the Brexit process; 10 percent blamed the lack of a physical proof for residence status; 9 percent referred to a hostile attitude toward immigrants; and 7 percent cited the Windrush scandal, which saw British citizens from the Caribbean wrongly face deportation and the loss of access to public services.
Distrust in public bodies was also a reason mentioned by some EU citizens for not engaging with the survey itself, the IMA said, adding that the online nature of the survey means it is likely to “undercount the extent and underplay the impact that issues with trust, confidence and awareness are having on more vulnerable or marginalised European citizens in the U.K.”
The survey results also suggest a lack of awareness by some EU nationals of their own rights as U.K. residents, with half of respondents saying they are not aware. Lack of awareness was highest among those aged 55-74. And although the majority of those familiar with their rights knew they could live, work and use social security in the U.K., less than half knew their professional qualifications should be accepted by British employers.
Maike Bohn, co-founder of campaign group the3million, called on the government to act. “The Home Office needs to address these findings and find the root causes for the issues raised,” she said. “It has to clearly communicate EU citizens’ rights, protect and support people toward getting status beyond June 30.”
Responding to the findings, Home Office minister Kevin Foster said EU citizens who arrived during Britain’s membership of the bloc are “our friends, neighbours and colleagues,” and said ministers were “committed to protecting citizens’ rights and have legislated to protect those rights in the UK.”
He added: “The success of the EU Settlement Scheme, with literally millions of statuses already granted, and the steps we have taken to ensure no-one is left behind, are testament to our determination to ensure EU citizens and their family members get the status they deserve in the UK.”
Are you a professional following the impact of Brexit on your industry? Brexit Transition Pro, our premium service for professionals, helps you navigate the policy, and regulatory changes to come. Email email@example.com to request a trial.