The registration of 3 million EU nationals in Britain will begin by the end of next year with the “default position” of the Home Office to accept applications, the home secretary has told MPs.
Amber Rudd said 1,200 extra staff were to be recruited by next April to provide an “easy access” registration process she promised would be “completely different” from the troubled permanent residency application system that has undermined confidence in the Home Office.
She told MPs on Tuesday that the Treasury had so far made £50m available to fund the preparation costs this financial year for the new registration system. The Home Office has yet to agree with the Treasury how much extra will be needed from this March 2018 to get the system underway
MPs also heard troops could be deployed to police the borders in the event of a “no-deal Brexit” but doing so would be the ultimate option.
“I am unable to rule anything out. Any use of military would be an absolute last resort,” said the Home Office’s permanent secretary, Philip Rutman, after being repeatedly pressed by a member of the Commons home affairs committee.
Rutman also said the recruitment of 300 extra Border Force staff was now under way and they could be fully trained and in place by next September. “Our intention is to deal with preparations at the border through the Border Force,” he said.
Rudd tried to reassure MPs in the face of recent skepticism about the capacity of the Home Office to deliver the registration of 3 million EU nationals, saying it would be an “easy access” online process and would not involve 80 pages plus, as is the case with existing permanent residence applications
The home secretary said the default position would be to accept EU nationals’ applications for “settled status” if they qualified. Online checks with HM Revenue and Customs/Department for Works and Pensions records would be made, with the applicant’s consent, as would identity and criminal background inquiries.
Rudd said EU nationals currently resident in Britain would be “able to regularise their position” by applying for settled status biometric residence permits if they have lived in Britain for more than five years. Those who fail criminal record checks, are unemployed or fail identity checks may be rejected.
The home secretary confirmed the details on the rights to family reunion of EU nationals in the UK have yet to be agreed in the negotiations. These include the introduction of minimum income thresholds to bring in non-EU spouses into Britain.
Rudd denied there had been a high error rate in Home Office decisions on EU nationals’ applications for permanent residence, but said she accepted there had been mistakes in individual cases for which apologies had been made.
“We are going to be testing and rolling it out in stages to make sure we get it right. We will be nimble on our toes … to make sure we recruit where necessary to keep it up,” she told MPs.
Rudd confirmed that a Home Office white paper on immigration is to be published before the end of this year. A leaked draft published by the Guardiansaid all new EU migrants would be granted temporary residence permits for up to two years after Brexit apart from those who qualify for a highly skilled permit, which would last three to five years.