UK prime minister Theresa May’s plan to register three million EU citizens ahead of Britain’s departure from the bloc may fail because of under-investment and potential backlash from right-wing British media, according to a top source.
Plan Descending into ‘Chaos’
The Home Office plans to roll out a new “digital system” to register Europeans and allow them to easily apply for settled status once Brexit happens — if they have been in Britain for five or more years.
But the former director-general of immigration enforcement at the Home Official told Business Insider that stretched government resources and decisions designed to appease anti-immigration newspapers but the plans at risk.
“Political decisions have to be made and I’m not sure they have been,” said David Wood.
“Are we just going to irrespectively grant settled status to every European that was here before the cut-off date? Suppose you grant someone settled status: if that person had six convictions for assault in the UK and they killed someone the next week, that’s a Daily Mail headline. That’s the way ministers think.”
Wood said that the massive task of registering three million European nationals could be curtailed by staff shortages and political indecision at the heart of UK government.
“There have never, ever been enough resources in the immigration system,” he said. “It’s always been very difficult to manage these huge caseloads”, as “it’s not easy recruiting staff, and immigration officers require a lot of training”.
Home Office Faces a ‘Cliff-Edge’
He said training hundreds of new immigration officers, which could take six months at least, would impact the Home Office’s functioning.
“Of course, if you try and recruit hundreds and hundreds of people at the same time, you have to train them and mentor them and use current staff to do that,” he said.
“That has a massive impact on your current business. Ideally, the Home Office would start thinking about that now: start recruiting and building up staff, so you avoid a cliff-edge.”
His comments came after the publication of a cross-party report on government preparations for Brexit. The report warned of “serious problems for immigration service delivery and border security as a result of lack of decisions, proper planning or sufficient resources”.
The home secretary, Amber Rudd, has said that the new registration system will be different from the much-maligned permanent residency system currently in use.
Delays and uncertainty surrounding the rights of EU systems has already delayed preparations for the new system, however. The publication of a Brexit white paper on immigration that could have provided clarity has been pushed back until at least Autumn this year.
A Home Office spokesperson said in a statement that it was “ridiculous to suggest that we are not preparing sufficiently for leaving the EU”.
“It is precisely for this reason that we have already invested £60 million in 2017/18, are planning to recruit an additional 1,500 staff across the immigration, borders and citizenship system and are well advanced in the development of a new scheme to give EU citizens currently here, the right to stay after Brexit,” the statement read.
The home secretary said in November that the Home Office had hired 700 new staff to deal with an anticipated spike in applications for British citizenship. She said the Home Office planned to hire an extra 500 staff by April and 300 border officers.
However, the Public and Commercial Services Union, which represents immigration officers, said that just 240 staff had actually been recruited.
British MPs said in response that “the Home Office is planning moderate adjustments for an immense bureaucratic challenge”.