About 100 EU nationals told to leave Britain— by mistake
Two months ago, Theresa May promised her fellow European leaders at a Brussels summit that no EU citizens currently living in Britain would be forced to leave the country after the UK exited the 27-member bloc in 2019.
But about 100 EU nationals were recently sent letters by the Home Office notifying them that “a decision has now been taken to remove you from the United Kingdom”, which included a threat of deportation if they did not leave the country within a month.
On Wednesday, the Home Office was forced to admit a “limited number of letters” had been issued “in error” after one of the recipients — a Finnish academic who is married to a Briton — publicised details of her missive on social media.
“We have been urgently looking into why this happened,” a spokesman for the department said. “We are contacting everyone who received this letter to clarify that they can disregard it.”
The mistake comes at a particularly awkward time for the UK, with the British government seeking to soften its stance on EU immigration as exit negotiations intensify with Brussels.
But it is also likely to unnerve EU workers in Britain who are already struggling with whether to remain in the UK amid remaining uncertainty over their migration status.
“We cannot afford for the Home Office to make mistakes like this,” said Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP and chair of the parliamentary home affairs select committee. “I am very concerned about the Home Office’s capacity and capability to deal with changing arrangements for EU citizens.”
The issue became a social media sensation after Eva Johanna Holmberg, a Finn who specialises in early modern British history, posted the details of her deportation warning last week. It stated that a decision had been taken to remove her from the UK in accordance with section 10 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.
The letter said she had been classified as “a person liable to administrative removal . . . as you have failed to evidence that you are exercising Treaty rights in the United Kingdom”. It added that she was “a person who is liable to be detained”.
Ms Holmberg, a visiting fellow at the Queen Mary University of London, told the Evening Standard that she had felt the Home Office’s communication was “unlawful, arbitrary and disproportionate”, and that it had made her feel like a “common criminal”.
Pro-EU politicians seized on the mistake to argue it showed the government was unprepared for Brexit. Sir Ed Davey, home affairs spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, said that the letters “shame Britain”.
“EU nationals who have made their lives here are already facing huge uncertainty over Brexit,” he said. “It is appalling that some are now being officially threatened with deportation.”
Home secretary Amber Rudd promised last month that she would not close the door on European workers after Brexit. Ms Rudd is one of a number of cabinet ministers seeking a lengthy transition period to allow EU residents in the UK time to adjust and confirm their new immigration status.
“We are absolutely clear that the rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged,” the Home Office spokesman said.
Ms Cooper said the home affairs select committee would be taking evidence on the issue when parliament returns from the summer recess next month.
James McGrory, executive director of the anti-Brexit think-tank Open Britain, said the mistake showed that the Home Office was not likely to be ready to implement a completely new immigration system by 2019.
Sir Ed suggested the home secretary should personally write to apologise to each of those affected and ensure they had been fully reimbursed for any legal costs incurred. Ms Holmberg’s costs are reported to be around £3,800.
“It’s little wonder that many EU citizens feel worried about their future status in the UK when they hear of people with every right to be here getting letters threatening their deportation,” he said.
“This catastrophic error is a sign of the chaos and incompetence at the heart of this Conservative government,” Sir Ed added.