AROUND 40 people, many of whom were EU citizens who have made Shetland their home, gathered at Shetland College on Tuesday evening to receive expert advice on their status in the UK after Brexit.
The event was hosted by EU Citizens’ Rights Project Scotland in conjunction with the European Commission Office in Scotland, and it was promoted by Shetland Islands Council.
Cutting through the politics surrounding the subject, immigration expert David Brown of Drummond Miller Solicitors was able to give some reassuring guidance.
Based on the UK government’s latest advice, which is based on the assumption that a Brexit deal will be negotiated, he said that the application process for most EU citizens living in the UK should be “straightforward”.
If the UK government is able to deliver a negotiated Brexit, and with it a transition period until 31 December 2020, “the overall majority of EU citizens shouldn’t have anything to worry about”, he said.
Under the EU settlement scheme, EU citizens living in the UK for more than five years are required to apply for ‘settled status’. Those who have been living in the UK for less than five years at the time of applying are entitled to receive a ‘pre-settled status’.
The solicitor described the government’s approach as generous and pragmatic, a reflection on the fact that many sectors of the UK’s economy would not function without the 3.4 million strong European workforce.
However, should the UK leave the European Union without a deal, EU citizens’ status in the UK could potentially become much more complicated and uncertain.
Mark Lazorowicz of the EU Citizens Rights project said it was high time for the UK government to remove that uncertainty and guarantee EU citizens’ the same rights even if the UK crashes out of the European Union on 29 March next year.
“The government has recently indicated that even if there wasn’t a deal with the EU, it would give EU citizens more or less the same rights,” he said.
“But that is not certain, there have been different voices within the government on that and, certainly, the only way that EU citizens in the UK would be reassured will be for the government to say now that they will give guarantees on the status while waiting for negotiation to be completed.
“EU citizens have been waiting for more than two years not knowing what is going to happen; so the simplest thing to do would be for the government to say: ‘Yes we are giving these rights to EU citizens no matter what’.
“That would certainly make a lot of people much more reassured about their status in the UK.”
Council convener Malcolm Bell, who attended the meeting, said the event was a “valuable opportunity for EU citizens to listen to the latest thinking on what the situation is going to be post-Brexit”.
EU citizens living in the UK were also advised that they would not necessarily lose their right to vote in the forthcoming European Parliament elections, which are taking place between 23 and 26 May 2019.
While the UK will not participate in these elections, citizens from the other 26 EU member states living here have the right to vote in their home countries.
More detailed information on all aspects of EU citizens’ rights following Brexit can be found on the UK Government’s website at: https://eucitizensrights.campaign.gov.uk and https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/eu-settlement-scheme-statement-of-intent
or via the EU Citizens’ Right project Scotland at https://publicpolicyevents.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/English.pdf