The European Union (EU) fears millions of its nationals living in the UK will be left stranded in a legal no mans land after the country leaves the bloc because of the weaknesses of the British immigration system, according to a leaked document.
It is widely assumed that, at an early stage of article 50, the official process of exiting the EU negotiations, Britain and the bloc will agree a cut-off date after which foreigners who have settled in the country will not have an automatic right to remain. But the leaked document on Saturday, drawn up by MEPs on the European parliament’s employment committee to aid the EU’s Brexit negotiations, warned: “The UK has no population register. In practice it would be difficult to determine which EU27 citizens were residing legally in the UK before the Brexit would have taken effect.
If all 3.3 million EU citizens were to initiate procedures aimed at proving the ‘exercise of treaty rights’, the administrative system would be overburdened. Former British prime minister Tony Blair’s government was forced to drop plans for a national identity card and population register in 2007 because of concerns over the security of citizens’ data. The government does not track EU nationals as they enter and leave the country. The databases of the Department for Work and Pensions, Revenue and Customs and the Home Office do not share information.
EU nationals who have lived in the UK for five years can gain automatic permanent residency status, although there have been numerous cases of employers asking for their foreign employees to acquire permanent residency cards in order to guarantee their jobs. There has been almost a 50 percent increase in the number of EU citizens applying for permanent residency documentation since the vote on 23 June.
The European parliament is also due to debate the rights of EU nationals in both the UK and on the continent on 1 March.