Britons hold up signs in protest against Brexit PHOTO: THOMAS LOHNES/GETTY IMAGES
United Kingdom (UK’s) Prime Minister, Mrs. Theresa May, is facing renewed protests over her handling of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU). This came after a leaked EU document warned that British nationals living on the continent could now expect a backlash as a consequence of the government’s treatment of foreigners since the EU referendum.
The prime minister was accused of creating needless anxiety for British expatriates. An assessment of the legal impact of Britain’s withdrawal, obtained by The Guardian, revealed that the 1.2 million Britons living in the EU could pay the penalty for the prime minister’s failure to offer a secure future for EU nationals in the UK.
The internal document drawn by the European parliament’s legal affairs committee states that it will be down to each member-state whether British citizens are allowed to carry on living in their respective countries after 2019.
“The fact that it appears to be particularly difficult for foreign nationals, even if married to UK nationals or born in the UK, to acquire permanent residence status or British nationality may colour member-states’ approach to this matter,” it added.
The British government has repeatedly refused to offer any commitment to EU nationals living in the UK that they will be free to stay after the country leaves the union.
As a result, there has been almost a 50 per cent increase in the number of EU citizens applying for permanent residency documentation since the vote on 23 June. The number of applications rose from 36,555 in the three months to June 2016 to 56,024 in the three months to September, according to the latest figures.
EU nationals say that to obtain permanent residency cards, applicants have to complete an 85-page form requiring huge files of documentation, including P60s for five years, historical utility bills and a diary of all the occasions they have left the country since settling in the UK. Some have received letters inviting them to prepare to leave the country after failing to tick a box on a form.
A cross-party group of the European parliament has established a taskforce to investigate the complaints and a parliamentary hearing is expected to be announced in the coming days, to which a UK minister will be asked to give evidence.
The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, told The Guardian that May had been caught “playing with fire”. He said: “This issue could have been settled from the start if the government had done the right thing and made clear EU citizens who have made the UK their home can remain indefinitely.