The UK House of Lords has backed calls for “physical” proof of status for EU citizens after the UK leaves the EU on 31 January.
The amendment, backed by a Liberal Democrat peer, would give EU nationals the right to receive a residence document instead of the government’s plan to provide only digital proof. It would also grant them an automatic right to stay, instead of having to apply.
The Lords, in a vote on Monday, passed the amendment, during the passage of the Withdrawal Bill, by 270 votes to 229.
Following its first parliamentary defeat since the election, the UK Government is now facing renewed calls to provide the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens who live and work in the UK with a document to prove their status.
Some fear, however, that the House of Lords amendment will be over-turned when the Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons.
Lord Oates quoted Boris Johnson and other ministers who – when campaigning to leave the EU in 2016 – said there would be “no change” for lawful EU residents, and that they would “automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK”.
“Sadly, although a great deal of progress has been made with the settled status scheme, these commitments have not been honoured,” he told the chamber.
"As a result, possibly tens of thousands of otherwise eligible people may find themselves undocumented and criminalised in as little as 18 months’ time. Inevitably, those most at risk will be the most vulnerable: young people in care, the elderly and the marginalised" Lord Oates
The peer added that despite the government’s best efforts, it was inevitable that the system would not reach all 3.5 million EU citizens resident in the UK.
“As a result, possibly tens of thousands of otherwise eligible people may find themselves undocumented and criminalised in as little as 18 months’ time. Inevitably, those most at risk will be the most vulnerable: young people in care, the elderly and the marginalised.”
Campaign groups have long called for the introduction of an EU Green Card to protect EU citizens from potential discrimination by landlords, employers, banks and public authorities post Brexit.
Such a card, it is argued, could also be used to protect the rights and the status of the 1.5 million British citizens already resident in the EU and guarantee their right to free movement.
According to a new report carried out by researchers at Northumbria University in the UK, 90 percent of EU citizens in the UK would prefer such a card over the digital evidence they currently have to provide.
"An EU Green Card would give me physical proof of my settled status as an EU citizen" Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish citizen working for the NHS in the UK
On Tuesday, speaking to The Parliament Magazine after the Lords vote, Roger Casale, Secretary General of one campaign group, New Europeans, said, "We have always said that EU citizens would face discrimination without a physical proof of status. As the report demonstrates, EU citizens have now stated overwhelmingly that the lack of a card such as our proposed Green Card for Europe is their top concern.”
Further comment came from Joan Pons Laplana, a Spanish citizen working for the NHS in the UK and a former NHS nurse of the year, who told us, “An EU Green Card would give me physical proof of my settled status as an EU citizen, guarantee all my rights as an EU citizen in the UK, a permanent right to return to Britain, the backing of the EU and ultimately the kind of peace of mind that I simply do not have right now."
In the meantime, campaigners, such as Casale, have stepped up calls for the European Commission to issue such an EU Green Card both for EU citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe.
Casale adds, “We renew our calls on the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal to prepare for the introduction of a Green Card and to do so without delay if citizens are not to be made to pay the price of Brexit.”
"We renew our calls on the Commission to bring forward a legislative proposal to prepare for the introduction of a Green Card and to do so without delay if citizens are not to be made to pay the price of Brexit" Roger Casale, New Europeans
The Green Card proposal has won numerous awards including the Financial Times Future of Britain Award, the Schwarzkopf Europe Award and a presidential medal from Emmanuel Macron.
Support for the proposal has come from members of all political groups, including from Polish deputy Danuta Hübner of the EPP and Karen Melchior of Renew Europe.
In 2018, the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties (LIBE) and the Constitutional Affairs (AFCO) committees took evidence on the proposal and the UK Home Office has also been briefed about the EU Green Card.
Further progress with the EU Green Card proposal is expected when EU-UK negotiations open in February on the future relationship.