Friday 12 January 2024

The scandal of the settlement scheme for EU citizens

This week’s domestic news has been dominated by the Horizon Post Office scandal, following the screening of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office. There are some Brexit aspects to that which I will write about in my column in next month’s print edition of Byline Times, so I won’t repeat them here. However, the massive public outrage that has followed the drama ought to alert us to the scandals going on right now. It is all well and good to feel shock and revulsion about what happened to the sub-postmasters, but, aside from their campaign group and a handful of journalists and politicians, who gave much thought to their plight over the twenty and more years that it was unfolding?

It’s not that what was happening during that period was completely unreported, but it was perhaps easy not to pay too much attention because it seemed too complicated, or someone else’s business, or something that would all be sorted out and need not concern us unduly. And perhaps there is a harsher diagnosis here: it’s easy enough to join in with the baying crowd of condemnation now that there is such a crowd, but rather more difficult to do so when the cause was unfashionable and the outcome had to be fought for.

The ITV Post Office drama was aired on the first four days of the new year. But it was book-ended by three reports by Lisa O’Carroll in the Guardian which received far less attention. They all concerned issues arising for EU citizens who had been living in the UK before Brexit, and the government’s EU settlement scheme (EUSS), and they point to another scandal emerging under our noses but with little of the public outcry that the Post Office scandal has now provoked.

The emerging EUSS scandal

One of these reports, on 26 December, highlighted the case of ‘Silvana’, an Italian who has lived in the UK for fourteen years and faces removal from the country because she had not realized that her ‘permanent residency’ card is now insufficient, and that she needs to apply to the EUSS. However, that scheme has now closed and although it still accepts late applications on ‘reasonable grounds’, a change of rules in August removed lack of awareness of the scheme from the list of such grounds. A couple of days before, O’Carroll had reported another case, that of Massimo, an Italian restaurant owner, and his British wife, Dee, have had their bank accounts frozen because he, too, had thought his permanent residence card was still valid.

Then, on 7 January, O’Carroll reported that ‘Maria’, a Spanish woman resident in the UK, had been forcibly returned to Spain when trying to re-enter Britain after a short visit to her home country. She had documents, specifically a Certificate of Application for the EUSS, which clearly stated her right to live and work in the UK, but had not yet had a final decision on her application, in that her case was still under review following an appeal against an initial rejection. The border officials said this document was not valid, detained her overnight at Luton airport and then sent her back to Spain.

The details of each of these cases is different, and each has its own complexities, but they are not isolated. According to the3million, the main campaign group for EU citizens living in the UK, at least 140,000 people are in Maria’s situation of having Certificates of Application, but awaiting the outcome. More generally, there are an unknown number of people who have, or may, have fallen foul of the post-Brexit settlement scheme, whether because of their own confusion about it, or because of erroneous advice from officials or lawyers. As with the Windrush scandal, it may be many years before the full impact of this comes to light.

Nor is the issue just one which affects those who have not applied for, or not yet been granted, ‘settled status’. Even those who have received it can experience difficulties when they have to prove it, for example in order to get work, rent a home, open a bank account, or access the NHS. This was the case for ‘Agnieszka’, a Polish woman who has lived in the UK for sixteen years and has settled status, who found that when she tried to change her job there were errors on the government’s online ‘View and Prove’ system, and as a result she lost the position. It took the Home Office three months to correct the error.

This case illustrates one of the biggest travesties of the EUSS, the government’s refusal, despite repeated requests and legal challenges, to create a paper version of proof of settled status. The digital-only system is not only complex even when it works as intended, but has also been subject to what appear to be numerous bugs and/or hacks in which crucial data has been lost or changed.

The origins of the scandal

It’s worth delving back into the origins of all this. Of all those whose lives have been damaged by Brexit, EU citizens who were living in the UK, most of whom were not even entitled to vote in the referendum, along with UK citizens living in the EU, some of whom could not vote, have surely been the worst and most directly affected. There are many dimensions to that, starting with the emotional hurt of a vote which was to so large an extent animated by hostility to freedom of movement and immigration generally. That hurt was especially profound because so many of those affected had such deep, longstanding, roots, both private and professional, in the UK.

Then there was the psychological and economic insecurity created as the Brexit negotiations proceeded, captured by the painful testimony of the In Limbo books edited by Elena Remigi and others. Now, even with settled status, there has been a definitive loss of previous full rights of freedom of movement, and all the ongoing practical problems attendant to that loss for families and relationships. So there is a sense in which all this is scandalous in itself, even before the various issues of human, administrative, legal, and technical error which, collectively, constitute the specific scandal of EUSS.

From the outset, the EU insisted that there were three main priority areas which had to be substantially resolved in phase one of the Article 50 negotiations. These were the financial settlement, the situation of Northern Ireland, and Citizens’ rights. Perhaps surprisingly, and despite the bluster of Brexiters, including Boris Johnson, the first of these proved relatively straightforward, to the extent that the ongoing payments being made to the EU, and which will continue until 2065, are barely remarked upon now. There was not even much attention to the way that one consequence of Truss’s disastrous mini-budget was to add £91 million to the bill.

The Northern Ireland issue, despite a different kind of Brexiter bluster, to the effect that it was a non-issue, turned out to be far more complex, vexed, and intractable. Indeed, the reality is that, although this was supposed to be resolved in phase 1, it never disappeared during phase 2 (the future terms discussion), and its supposed resolution with the Northern Ireland Protocol proved chimerical once the transition period ended. Hence the Windsor Framework, which is only now starting to be implemented. All that has been discussed many times on this blog, and I won’t say more here.

What, to my discredit, I’ve discussed less often is the third of the phase one issues, Citizens’ rights. In fact, the most extensive coverage of it here was in the sole guest-authored post, written by Monique Hawkins (now Interim Co-CEO of the3million) in December 2018. That post contains many points that are still relevant. These include the fiasco of the original ‘permanent residence’ scheme and highly prescient concerns about the then emergent EUSS scheme, concerns which relate to all of the individual cases mentioned above, including the problems of a digital-only certification system.

For all these reasons, Alexandra Bulat, another campaigner in this area, and who is now the first British-Romanian Labour County Councillor, argued in February 2018 that public perception that Citizens’ rights had effectively been dealt with during phase one was mistaken. Five years on, and with the EUSS in place and giving rise to cases including, but certainly not limited, to those recently reported in the Guardian, it is now becoming clear that this is not just a scandal in the making but a scandal in progress. That is not just a matter of the EUSS itself, but also the extremely heavy-handed policing of the borders. Thus, last year, the Immigration Advice Service, again partly as the result of Guardian reporting, highlighted the high rate of EU nationals being detained at the border, including cases such as a Spanish woman arriving for a job interview without a visa even though that is something perfectly permissible under the regulations.

Parallels between the Post Office and EUSS scandals

There are some clear and direct parallels between this scandal and the Post Office, most obviously in the role of technology, where the flaws in the Horizon system can be compared with those in the EUSS View and Prove system. They also share an inversion of normal justice, in the way that the onus falls on the victims to prove their innocence in the face of an assumption that they are guilty. In a less direct way, there are parallels in the way that individuals are confronted with a massive and powerful bureaucracy, and a bureaucracy which not only applies its rules with impersonal indifference but, sometimes, does not even apply its own rules correctly.

Moreover, although EU citizens’ rights are overseen by the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), which is formally an “executive non-departmental public body sponsored by the Ministry of Justice”, it would seem that, as with the Post Office case, the effectiveness of political and public accountability is limited. That’s not to dismiss some of the good work the IMA has done, including winning a court case against the Home Office in 2022 on one aspect of EUSS’s functioning. Yet, on another aspect, where it investigated the effectiveness of the issuing of Certificates of Application for EUSS, making three recommendations for improvement, the Home Office, in its response of September 2023, was able simply to dismiss two of the three, apparently with impunity.

In a sense, people like Hawkins and Bulat (and others associated with the3million and similar organizations) can be compared to the very early campaigners in the Post Office scandal, and O’Carroll with the journalists who first began to report it. Some politicians, too, including Green MP Caroline Lucas, have taken an active interest in it, just as a few did in the Post Office case. But what the Post Office scandal should tell us is that it is now, when the damage is being done, that public outrage and outcry is most needed, as it is only that which galvanizes effective political action.

Where are the Brexiters?

It's true that for most of us there may be little we can do other than, say, write letter to our MPs, or make a donation to a campaign group or a crowdfunded legal action. But what of those with a public platform who have now so opportunistically started singing the praises of Mr Bates and the other sub-postmasters? What about Nigel Farage? Now, he is quite ludicrously* castigating Keir Starmer for having been Director of Public Prosecutions when the postmasters were being prosecuted and, of course, he made much of his ‘victimization’ when de-banked by Coutts. Surely, then, he should be leading the outcry, if only for those like Massimo who have been de-banked by Brexit?

And what of David Maddox, Political Editor of the rabidly pro-Brexit Express, who this week penned possibly the most dotty commentary on the Post Office scandal so far, opining that: “the real big picture story here is that this was once again an example of the establishment circling in to protect and reward itself while dumping from a great height on the little ordinary people – aka the decent hard-working folk who keep this country ticking over. This is one of the main reasons why millions of Brits, some of whom had never voted before, rose up and voted Leave in 2016 to leave another pan-European, rigged establishment club”? We await Maddox’s fulminations on behalf of the “little ordinary people” and “decent hard-working folk” being ‘dumped on’ by the EUSS.

What of thuggish Lee Anderson, one of those intent on making Ed Davey the villain of the Post Office scandal (a proposal which, along with other aspects of the current situation, was eviscerated by Private Eye editor Ian Hislop in a blistering TV appearance)? What, for that matter, of those Vote Leave campaigners who insisted that little or nothing would change for EU citizens in the UK and for UK citizens in the EU (£), dismissing all concerns as part of Project Fear, and often – with the habitual Brexiter proclivity to cite legal factoids which they didn’t understand – erroneously invoking the Vienna Convention as proof of this?

Why it matters

The need to recognize and resolve the emerging scandal of the treatment of EU citizens in the UK is, first and foremost, a moral imperative. But it also has a pragmatic and political aspect, and one which should be as important to those who want to ‘make the best of Brexit’ as to those who want to reverse Brexit altogether. The reason why the EU insisted that Citizens’ rights must be dealt with in phase one was because protecting those rights was very high on its list of priorities – higher, perhaps, than protection of UK citizens’ rights was to the British government.

It remains the case that the EU and individual member states are very much concerned about this. For example, in February 2023 (£) the EU raised serious concerns about the Home Office’s sudden rejection of over 140,000 on-line applications for settled status, with an EU diplomat reported as re-iterating that “protection of EU citizens’ rights is a priority for us”. Similarly, as early as May 2021 the European Commission expressed “concern” in relation to unwarranted detentions of EU citizens at UK borders.

So if there is to be a return to good relations with the EU, let alone an atmosphere in which a UK application to re-join the EU or even the single market would be viewed positively, then a pre-requisite would surely be fair treatment of EU citizens. One of the many ways in which Brexiters failed to show generosity in their victory was to treat these EU citizens so carelessly, effectively exposing them to the whole panoply of the ‘hostile environment policy’ the Home Office has created. For that, and for Brexit itself, they bear responsibility and deserve blame. But, whilst acknowledging that, I think that the Post Office scandal provides more uncomfortable and perhaps unpalatable lessons.

Uncomfortable lessons

Following the ITV drama, public revulsion at what was done to the sub-postmasters has, understandably, focused especially on Paula Vennells, the former CEO of the Post Office. In the face of that revulsion, she has since capitulated to the widespread demand to return the CBE she was awarded, and now faces pressure to return bonuses she was paid. Few will feel much sympathy for her.

Yet it doesn’t necessarily require sympathy to notice that the way she has been pilloried, including extensive reference to the gap between her conduct as CEO and her position in the Anglican Church, is itself not so very different to the way that some of the sub-postmasters who were wrongly convicted were turned on by their communities at the time it was believed those convictions were warranted. That didn’t always happen, and in some cases their communities gave huge support to them, but sometimes they were insulted and even assaulted, as were their families. And, just as Vennells is depicted as a hypocrite because of her religious beliefs, so they were depicted as having betrayed community trust.

Vennells may well have been incompetent, dishonest, and, for all I know, malign, and I’m certainly not defending her. But making her the main scapegoat for the entire scandal, or at least the lightning rod for public anger, neglects the systemic nature of that scandal. To call it systemic means much more than just identifying a larger cast of scapegoats in the multiple actors in the Post Office, Fujitsu who created the Horizon system, and parts of the government. It also means recognizing the role of habitual practices around things including outsourcing, political oversight of ‘arm’s length’ agencies such as the Post Office, and the conduct of private prosecutions. Less comfortably, it includes the role of those who disdained the victims as criminals and those, comprising almost all of us, who didn’t give very much care or attention to what was happening, at least until we saw it depicted on TV.

How do these lessons apply to Brexit?

So what of the emerging EUSS scandal and of Brexit more generally? Just as I’ve argued in the past that it is useful to imagine how the UK would have regarded another country had it been leaving the EU, so is it instructive to think about how the UK looks from abroad. Whereas, internally, we may see a crucial distinction between leavers and remainers, from outside it is simply the case that the British people chose to leave. After all, few of us are familiar with the intricacies of other countries’ politics – mostly, we just notice the headline fact that, say, ‘the Italians’ have elected Meloni, or that ‘the Australians’ have voted against the indigenous voice change to their constitution. Brexit is seen a similar terms from outside as, no doubt, is Britain’s treatment of EU citizens.

At some point, especially if there is to be any serious possibility of re-joining, that has to be confronted. It’s not enough to indignantly say it was ‘Russian interference’, or an accident of Tory Party (mis)management, or dishonest campaigning using data analytics to malign ends, or manipulation by Tufton Street thinktanks, or, even, that it was all the fault of the Brexiters. Whether or not those things are true doesn’t adequately acknowledge that, as a collective entity, our country chose to leave, and so it’s like saying some version of ‘it was Vennells’ fault’ in relation to the Post Office scandal. In other words, it fails to acknowledge that, in ways that are far too numerous to discuss here, Brexit was a systemic decision born of the history of the UK’s membership of the EU, our public discourse, especially about immigration, and the nature of our political culture and institutions, all of which ultimately paved the way to the headline fact that Britain voted to leave.

If Brexit is ever to be reversed then it may well need at least some high-profile Brexiters to recant and, rather like Vennells returning her CBE, to give some acknowledgement of their misconduct and failure. But, more importantly, it will require a repudiation of the systemic factors that lay behind Brexit. That will take many years, if it happens at all, but in the meantime a small step in that direction would be to start making a noise right now about the unfolding EUSS scandal. It will not be enough to wait until when, in, say, 2044, there is a TV drama about all the lives ruined, and joining the angry crowd demanding justice becomes easy and even, in a perverse way, enjoyable.

 
*Ludicrously, as the vast majority of these 900+ prosecutions were private, not public, and of those which were not it seems only three occurred when Starmer was Director of Public Prosecutions, and it seems unlikely he is culpable for them.

57 comments:

  1. Excellent summary of the way in which Brexit has caused huge damage to our relations with those that have settled in the U.K. I look forward to the day when the proponents of this mess recant and admit the folly of it all.

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    1. Suspect you‘ll be waiting a very long time.

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  2. "And what of David Maddox, Political Editor of the rabidly pro-Brexit Express, who this week penned possibly the most dotty commentary on the Post Office scandal so far, opining that: “the real big picture story here is that this was once again an example of the establishment circling in to protect and reward itself while dumping from a great height on the little ordinary people – aka the decent hard-working folk who keep this country ticking over. This is one of the main reasons why millions of Brits, some of whom had never voted before, rose up and voted Leave in 2016 to leave another pan-European, rigged establishment club”? We await Maddox’s fulminations on behalf of the “little ordinary people” and “decent hard-working folk” being ‘dumped on’ by the EUSS"
    another brexit benefit

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  3. I assume that when you suggest someone like Nigel Farage ought to speak up for the injustice involved in long term EU residents of the UK being treated heavy-handedly by border authorities you do so with a heavy sense of irony. Clearly, Farage is only jumping on the bandwagon of praising the Post Office campaigners because he thinks it makes him look good.

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    1. Nigel Farage, having fought to remove the UK from the EU was at the front of the queue at the German Mission in London to secure dual nationality for his kids ( German mother). I was told by one of the staff, when my own citizenship was restored ( I am of Holocaust descent) that had he tried to obtain it for himself, they would have turned him down flat . Luckily he did not have the residency qualifications. Man with French name, German ex wife, French mistress … irony is dead.

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    2. I think he tried. There was something about him false claiming residency in Germany.

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  4. My problems as a British immigrant in France are of little consequence compared to the examples of the EU citizens that you related this week.
    But the failing UK institutions are failing us too.
    I work all over Europe, and previously had the right.
    I always needed an A1 to work outside of France without paying a withholding tax, and an S1 to be reimbursed for medical costs.
    Sometimes the documents I need arrive very late, but as an EU citizen I could ask Solvit to chivvy the authorities in both France and the UK.

    On the french side I now have direct email access to the offices of the responsible departments, and they react and return phone calls.
    On the UK side I have HMRC.
    As many of you will be aware there are few options for contact with HMRC, and email is not one of them.
    Their managers do not return calls, at all, even to agents.

    Yes, part of the post Brexit mistreatment of citizens has been vicious racism, especially at the borders, but much is due to the massive under-funding of the state to the point of effective collapse.
    Then followed by Brexit, another unfunded burden for those same institutions, and as you have mentioned, both a result and an enforcer of austerity.

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    1. Thanks, David. I wouldn't say that they are of any less consequence, and I should probably write about the situation of UK nationals in EU states more than I do. The main reason I don't is just my lack of knowledge - and it much harder for me to acquire that knowledge because (as I understand it) the situation is different in each different member state, and so it's difficult to get a sense of the overall picture. So, thanks for outlining some of the issues you face.

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    2. Hi Chris, please contact Tig James from British in Portugal (which was part of the now defunct British in Europe network which had appallingly little support from UK Govt) via their Facebook page. Tig now runs British in Portugal on a entirely voluntary basis, and can fully brief you on the multiple issues for 000s of UK citizens subject to the WA in Portugal. On behalf of the BiP group she submitted a complaint a year ago to the European Commission and European Parliament, which was investigated and upheld. Sadly, as the Portuguese Govt did not implement the remedial actions instructed by continues to breach the WA (and its own laws), a follow-up complaint was submitted last year, and is now being investigated by the EC and EP. The UK Govt and UK Embassy in Portugal know about these issues, but continue to provide no support in resolving these issues.

      Tig can also put you in touch with those in other EU states that were part of the British in Europe network were there are still challenges (Denmark and Sweden spring to mind), but my understanding is that it is now only Portugal in the EU where there is widespread systemic problems affecting entire groups of UK citizens.

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    3. For general interest the "British in Europe" group/network has quietly reopened. This has been even more quietly noted on the FB groups of some of the "British in ..." country-specific networks. Their website is at https://www.britishineurope.org/page/1016442-home and their Facebook page is at https://www.facebook.com/britishineurope/ .

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    4. Can I use these comments to explain how the Belgian authorities have created a physical specific residence card for Brits in Belgium whose rights are covered by the Withdrawal Agreement. These ID cards were issued by the local Communes (councils) & Bureau des √Čtrangers. We can speak to the Commune officials in person, by phone & by email. We have lost our FOM but have the right to reside in Belgium & can easily prove this at the border with our IDs. Personally I have found the Belgian system to be accessible & efficient.

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    5. You might want to give a plug in any future posts on this topic, to the organisation "British in Europe". At one time they were campaigning to secure rights in the EU for UK Citizens in the EU. It seems they ran short of money in 2022 and so are no longer as active as they were. Perhaps they could do with more support. The link:
      www.britishineurope.org

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    6. I was aware @David Sharman that BiP have resumed some activities but am told it's limited to ensuring awareness of the new right to vote (removal of 15-yr barrier) and the need to register for that, as that was a core element of BiP original campaign and it has taken so long for it to be implemented they think many will have forgotten. Any other issues will have to be deal with the individual country BiP group (if they're still operating) or by individuals.

      @anonymous - thanks for sharing how well Belgium handled this situation (I was aware, as I almost relocated there in 2020 but was prevented by Covid). It seems that countries that deal with UK citizen residency matters at a local level (eg. communes in Belgium, prefectures in France, etc) seems to have less issues that those that tried to do it through national agencies, as Portugal has. In Portugal the agency, SEF, was already notoriously incompetent and xenophobic - in fact the Prime Minister had a 4-yr battle with them, in which time they got worse, so there's now a 350,000 backlog (350,000 cases). The Prime Minister eventually unilaterally abolished SEF, and replaced it with 3 new agencies - none of which are fully-functional yet. There's now a backlog of 350,000 immigration/residency applications. Registration for Withdrawal Agreement Residency Permits (WARP) for UK citizens resident before Brexit only started in Portugal in Dec 2020, and there was a window in late-2022 and 2023 when they did start issuing cards - problem was that they didn't offer enough appointments, and many who had appointments & paid for their card never received them, leaving several '000 with no evidence that they have WA rights. Add to that, there are widespread problems with the WARP card at borders, healthcare, education, registering births/deaths & getting married, etc, as staff in SEF & their new successor AIMA and many other Govt agencies don't understand what the WARP cards are or what rights they confer - they just see 'British' in the residency box or on the passport, and say 'no'. Another issue is that SEF made a lot of errors on WARP cards, and are refusing to correct them, or to update addresses on cards - which under Portuguese law renders them invalid after 90 days, and causes massive due diligence issues for those who are working. Those who don't have a WARP card yet are effectively trapped in Portugal, as if they try travel they will have their passports tagged under the Schengen 90/180 rules, meaning they'll be digitally flagged as an overstayer after 90 days continuously in the EU and face deportation. It's a Kafka-esque mess.

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  6. Monique Hawkins, mentioned in this blog, makes an important point about it on Twitter, explaining how the HO insists that digital status cannot be "lost, stolen or tampered with" - despite mounting evidence to the contrary. The blanket refusal to accept the possibility of computer error is, of course, central to the PO/Horizon scandal. Her tweet, which is part of a thread, here: https://twitter.com/monlouhawk/status/1745750925363331421

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    1. Sounds as if they're preparing to move digital status to an NFT platform.

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    2. For all the complaining people in the UK do about the required identification (passport or ID card) that is generally required in countries in the continent, it means that your right to live and work anywhere in the EU can be proved quickly and efficiently, without government involvement, or the government even knowing about it.

      The idea that someone on the EUSS scheme has to use a digital system to prove their rights, thus also alerting the government that they've used the system to identify themselves, that must violate some fundamental rights somewhere.

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  7. "In other words, it fails to acknowledge that, in ways that are far too numerous to discuss here, Brexit was a systemic decision born of the history of the UK’s membership of the EU, our public discourse, especially about immigration, and the nature of our political culture and institutions, all of which ultimately paved the way to the headline fact that Britain voted to leave."

    "And perhaps there is a harsher diagnosis here: it’s easy enough to join in with the baying crowd of condemnation now that there is such a crowd, but rather more difficult to do so when the cause was unfashionable and the outcome had to be fought for."


    These are very important points. The UK went into the referendum in a moral panic about FoM. Public discourse about FoM badly distorted. This was due, on the one hand, to those prominent people who spread misinformation and disinformation about FoM and, on the other hand, those who could have pushed back against that misinformation and disinformation but failed to do so. Some of the latter were politicians who took their cue from focus groups but failed to probe what people in focus groups understood about an issue like FoM.

    I have little sympathy for politicians and commentators who are sad about Brexit now but did nothing to campaign for FoM.



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    1. I moved to Germany permanently in 1992. Brexit decided me to apply for German nationality. My children and grandchildren are still all in the UK, so although I am not personally impacted, the state of the UK makes me immensely sad. There are strong (conspiracy?) theories about just what the motives of the Brexit movers and shakers were and still are. I wonder if the truth, or otherwise of these theories will ever be known? There is, and never will be, any logical justification for Brexit, so what were their motives?

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  8. I had been resident in the Eu with my Eu wife for several years prior to the 2016 referendum. All the points raised by Chris Grey passed through my mind at the time and cause no surprise now. There were other concerns too such as the position of Eu immigrants and dual nationals in the event of wars and international sanctions which could easily come to the fore still.

    I have always felt that Mr Barnier sold citizens rights down the river. It is all well and good signing an agreement about future trade at a minute before midnight but such agreements invariably have weaknesses which soon become apparent.

    I have been able to side step Brexit and safeguard my marriage by staying permanently out of the UK but this is something I concede other people would find hard to do.

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  9. A small correction to add, if I may.

    The Horizon IT project (software) was originally written by a British company that was later acquired by Fujitsu -- not created by them. My source is an FT article delving into the Post Office scandal a while back.

    That, of course, does not acquit Fujitsu from its part in the scandal, but the original sin was British made, so to speak.

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    1. I believe you will find that ICL, the company that initially wrote the software, was in fact 80% owned by Fujitsu at the time.

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    2. By what time do you mean?

      When the code was written, or by the time the PO scandal took place?

      My understanding, again from the FT article, is that the Horizon IT project was already written/in operation, when Fujitsu acquired IC.

      All in all, quite insignificant (the above) now that Fujitsu has agreed to participate in some kind of a compensation scheme for the victims.

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    3. I’m always happy to be corrected on factual errors which, like anyone else, I sometimes make. But, with respect, even if what you say was correct, I must say that, especially in the context of a post which isn’t even directly about the PO scandal, it seems almost unbelievably nit-picky to light on that one particular detail, and it would be quite reasonable simply to refer to Fujitsu as short-hand! In fact, what you say is not correct, at least according to Nick Wallis’s book ‘The Great Post Office Scandal’, which seems to be the most detailed and definitive guide (at least until the Public Inquiry report comes out). That says (p.8) that Fujitsu took an 80% stake in ICL (with a view to outright membership) in 1990, whereas the contract for what became Horizon was put out for tender in 1994 and awarded in May 1996.

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    4. Now there was the detail I was looking for (your last sentence) that puts Fujitsu clearly in the dock from the get go. They had a controlling stake in ICL, and failed in their duties.

      I didn't think I was "fighting" anything, but merely offering a correction that now clearly seems to be a faulty one. My apologies.

      I had otherwise no reason to comment on an excellent blog post on the EUSS scheme, and the troubles therein.

      Thank you for taking your time to respond, most appreciated.

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    5. Just to clarify, I said 'light' not 'fight'!

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  10. Despite having all the relevant permissions, my wife was subjected to extensive and intrusive questioning by border force when we returned from a visit to her family in Germany in Dec 2019 *before* the final EU exit (when of course she didn't need them yet). BF were mightily unimpressed by me suggesting quite loudly to them that they were practising for when the full exit came into effect. Alan M.

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  11. “higher, perhaps, than protection of UK citizens’ rights was to the British government”.
    Unless they are a political donor or own a media empire of course!

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  12. I am sure that all of the defects of the EUSS And related systems are WAD for HMG and regrettably also a good part of the English population.

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  13. Along with the ridiculous digital only ID there are other issues. One being the number of divorces the EU Ref resulted in. I recall a figure of 1.25 million being quoted in around end of 2017, though I'm not sure I can find the data reference. Remember the poor chap who spoke to Rees-Mogg and Campbell saying his wife was divorcing him?
    Even some Brexiters have been affected as you could count Michael Gove among them. If the eventual figure is more than 2 million it would not surprise me.

    So it then leaves broken families with perhaps inter continental ties to try and maintain or lose along with a stressful border and the hostile environment.

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  14. A massive problem is very easy to predict - the EUSS files somehow vanish and everyone becomes illegal overnight! It's meant to happen!! Personally I am considering abdication from the status and revert to a work visa, there is something unpleasant about the definition, it's not Freedom of movement anymore, one is seen as a tick attached to the UK forever and I have an issue with that.

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    1. If you are considering applying for a work visa in order to have a physical document showing your immigration status rather than having to use the online system to generate share codes, etc, I strongly encourage you not to go that way. The whole immigration system is moving toward online-only by the end of 2024, and even people with work visas are expected to prove their status online rather than showing their biometric residence permits. All residence permits issued for the last few years have expiration dates of 31 Dec 2024 even if the permission to stay in the UK goes on for years after that.

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  15. As someone who is living in the EU and looking at the UK, you get a different perspective. You look at those not allowed to vote - EU citizens in UK and UK citizens who lost their vote due to the 15-year rule. Had they been able to vote, I date say that Remain would have won. However, the disgrace of the matter was those who couldn't be bothered to vote. Several millions didn't even bother!

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    1. Had EU27 nationals resident in the UK been allowed to vote, I do not think they would have voted Leave and if a sufficient percentage of them voted, there could definitely have been a majority for Remain.

      In the Government's rejection of the latest parliament dot uk petition for a further referendum, the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office misleadingly states ''The decision to leave reflects a vote from the whole of the UK'', but there were affected adults in each of the UK countries who were not allowed to vote.

      It can be argued that such disenfranchisement was acceptable because the Referendum legislated for (as opposed to promised) was only advisory. It is possible that, had the Referendum been binding, voters would have been provided with better information on which to base their vote.

      Some non-voters were aware of the advisory nature of the Referendum and were also aware of the difficulty in understanding all the issues. They were not to know that the Government (and the Opposition) would pretend, for most purposes, that the Referendum was binding, so I think it is unfair to accuse them of not bothering to vote.

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    2. I didn't bother to vote, as Cameron failed to champion the EU, the way Margaret Thatcher did by wearing her European flags jumper (Google it) in the 1975 Brexit referendum, when she campaigned for remaining in and won with 67%.
      Some of us actually wanted "ever closer union". Cameron was too half hearted and should never have called a referendum if he didn't believe in it and wasn't prepared to fight for it.

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  16. An excellent post Chris, thank you.

    It seems to me that the UK kept its head above water as an EU member, because the EU did all the heavy lifting.

    Outside the EU now, the UK demonstrates that it simply cannot cope. Lurching from one fire fight to the next, but never getting ahead of all the issues, or making any progress.

    Britain isn't a failed state yet but will be been soon enough. Very sad indeed that the population have been taken for fools by dishonest politicians.

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  17. Perhaps it’s beyond the scope of this enlightening piece, but I’d like to see some attention given to a linked scandal: the loss of rights and the effect on relationships of the many UK citizens with partners living in the EU.

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  18. Is it worth making the connection back to the change of law which essentially broke the sanctity of marriage? Many of the cases involve a British spouse and non-British one. Marriage used to create an indivisible and unconditional bond; now in Britain this is very far from true. What other countries demand a high income to be able to marry and live together? I believe this change was brought in by Teresa May when she was at the Home Office; if this did not compromise a fundamental human right, it feels like it should have done; marriage should be able to cross geographic boundaries and social strata, without punitive restrictions. The acceptance by the British people of this imposition is startling, and its consequences are heartbreaking.

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    1. Indeed but I stopped being shocked by how much British people seem to accept their rights being eroded, mostly due to apathy and the an exceptionalism belief that their country is somehow special and won't do awful things like strip them and their kids of their European citizenship or tell them who they are and aren't allowed to fall in love with.

      As a dual British / New Zealand citizen I was lucky enough to be able to bring my British family to NZ to escape what Britain has become. One simple medical and a few hundred dollars and my wife had permanent residency - she could stay forever if we split up.

      And my kids were even granted NZ citizenship straight away as well.

      This is how modern, civilised countries treat their citizens.

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  19. Patrick Chatenay13 January 2024 at 12:22

    I will now add the EUSS debacle to a shockingly long list of mismanagement cases damaging British interests. The Post Office scandal comes after, or with, the Windrush insanity, the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Universal Credit roll-out fiasco, wastewater treatment incompetence, potholes, HS2, etc. On, and on, the list goes. The ability to manage an activity appears to have disappeared from British public services.

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  20. Its difficult to compare the rules extensively detailed and agreed between the EUSS and the UK on UK residency with a hugely complex and hidden computer process like the Horizon system used by the Post Office. One was openly debated and publicised well before the Brexit date (end Jan 2020) the other was shrouded in secrecy which left little or no defence for the innocent Postmasters.

    Unless you have a built-in bias in favour of everything EU this implementation of the EU/UK agreement holds no surprises.

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  21. The 3 million have asked, begged and cajoled since the beginning to have a physical card.
    Physical resident permits and ID cards for citizens are in place in Continental Europe.

    Why is there such an issue for similar in the UK? What freedom do UK nationals think is being eroded by having a standardised National identity card?

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    1. We don't have a written constitution which gives safeguards against information which is gathered for one purpose then being used for another. In Germany, for example, the govt simply could not use driving licence details to create a facial recognition base, and, in fact, in Germany, ID card data is held at the "Land" (state) level, not nationally. Would you really trust this govt not to misuse or sell or spread data about yourself which they had?

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    2. The National ID card is a red herring. The problem is not whether or not people have an actual card. The problem is that the UK has no civil registry that records who is or is not allowed to reside in the country. There is literally no foolproof way for someone to prove they have the right to reside in the UK.

      That's not to say the government doesn't have databases of people, but none that a resident can point to and say "see, that proves I can live here". That's how the Windrush people could be deported unless they could present some long expired passport with a stamp. Or why the UK government couldn't just make a list of EU citizens in the country and mail them an application form.

      NL has a civil registry like other EU countries, managed by the local councils. It doesn't however include any photos. And it isn't the constitution preventing misuse, just people following the law.

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    3. They already have all your data. Driving licence, picture, passport, NI number, NHS etc. A national ID card with basic ID information is no more of a risk than a driving licence, but it would solve many practical problems, especially if it included your immigration status. I carry an ID in Switzerland which proves who I am if necessary e.g. when I collect a parcel at the post office (none of that nonsense with utility bills etc) and proves I'm a Schengen resident when I travel around Europe. No practical reason why UK residents could not do the same.

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  22. A link between the EUSS issue and the PO is that it seems that, in its keenness to do "deals" with Japan, an essentially performative exercise to try to justify Brexit, the UK govt has been leant on by the the Japanese govt to carry on giving Fujitsu contracts, despite the evidence about Fujitsu's behaviour during the PO scandal

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  23. What puzzles me most is that the EUSS requires people to explicitly apply for the new status.

    The Home Office's immigration database should have all the necessary information to make this decision automatically, at least in most cases: (a) the nationality of a foreign citizen and thus whether they are an EU citizen and (b) if they have been resident in the UK before the threshold date.

    Only less straight forward cases would need to be processed manually, like the woman who had been out of country with her British husband at the time of Brexit but who had lived decades in the UK before.

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  24. Excellent analysis, thank you for keeping the focus on this issue, a scandal ignored by most people. It is worth remembering Theresa May's fetid speech about citizens of nowhere in the aftermath of the referendum. Do not forget either the initial application fee the Home Office wanted to charge all EU citizens in order to to apply to the EUSS, only dropped once the Gov felt it could be unpopular. Even the right wing media found it a bit too vile for their liking.

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    1. The 'citizens of nowhere' rhetoric was commonly used during the 30's in Germany against Jewish people. In any other developed country, May's words would have taken her to court.

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  25. I've seen that the proposed government action to cancel all the postmasters' convictions is a move towards removing the accepted separation between the government and the judiciary; with all the risks that would follow. But surely the judiciary itself could do this without the need for legislation: they could accept that one existing acquittal is a test case based on the fact that the evidence submitted by the PO which relied on the Horizon software is untrustworthy and use that acquittal to overturn all the convictions as well as cancelling any cases that are in progress.

    This may mean identifying all the relevant people - I'm sure there are any number of journalists who can submit a complete list at the touch of a button. It should then be possible to give absolute priority to those cases so they are heard in court within a matter of days - no one case should take more than about 10 minutes.

    The issue of compensation is twofold.

    Since the government owns the PO it can pay compensation to the postmasters even before any acquittals are processed.

    But I think the lawyers also need to pay compensation. Those who prosecuted the cases for the PO should return their fees on the basis that they were too willing to believe the lies from the PO that the Horizon software was unimpeachable, when they should have established for themselves whether that evidence was trustworthy. Those whose attempted defence of the postmasters failed so dismally should admit that they were unqualified to mount an effective defence and should also return their fees.

    It's been suggested that postmasters should sign a "I didn't commit fraud" declaration, but that some will see this as weakening their case in the event of any future action against them. The problem here is that they don't trust the government. This is of course now a widespread issue, from lies on the side of a bus to the EUSS View and Prove system.

    As to the Post Office investigator Stephen Bradshaw boasting that he is not 'technically minded' - that really is an indictment of British society today. I worry that the same boast may be made by those running the Covid-19 enquiry.

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  26. I am afraid this is not an accident. For all the talk by Brexiters (some of whom meant it) that they had nothing against Europeans etc according to Farage the crucial factor in winning the referendum was immigration, and when it comes to Brexit voters I defer to Farage's understanding of their motivation.
    Immigration is still being treated as a hot issue now. For all the talk of "sovereignty" and trade deals, many leave voters basically wanted rid of "foreigners". They are largely Tory voters and/or red wall voters. There is no political advantage to Sunak in even trying to sort out this problem, and actually disadvantages since it exposes him to criticism from the populist right, always quick to claim Brexit is being "betrayed".
    The Home Office clearly regards its function as being to stop foreigners coming here and if possible to kick out as many as it can, by hook or by crook. Making the bureaucracy as slow and difficult as possible is a soft discouragement.
    While the rest of us stand appalled, including at least some Brexiters, many Leave voters will actually be quietly satisfied this is happening. I repeat this is not an accident.

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  27. to rejoin some "recanting" from brexiteers wont be enough by far. the eu would want a written constitution and abolishment of the first-past-the-post election scheme. this probably wont happen in decades.

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  28. The thread running through all these scandals is the class war. As Guardian columnist Kenan Malik said it some days ago: the contempt for the little people.

    But I would go even further and claim that some British politicians seem to regard their Britons not as citizens but just as numbers of their population. So they seem to think that their underlings do not deserve the 'luxury of citizen rights'. It is made clear by your comparison of the difference of priorities between the EU and the UK while negotiating Brexit.

    (By the way: that very blog post by Monique Hawkins was the initial trigger for me to start a thread on Brexit myself on a message board for movies. Though it did reach 100 pages it sadly isn't accessible anymore as the admin decided to stop the section for politics last year. Your weekly blog posts were the most important ingredient to this thread, so a big, big Thank you! )

    Here Kenan Malik:

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/jan/14/post-office-grenfell-windrush-scandals-contempt-lives-destroyed

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  29. Disclosure: not a UK citizen.

    If I were to design the settlement scheme, I would not have a deadline, because it seems to me that the right that derives from free movement during EU membership should not expire. I also, of course, fully agree that the refusal to provide a paper certificate is a travesty.

    But surely it is extraordinarily puzzling how a functional, adult EU citizen in the UK who hasn't fallen into a coma in early 2016 cannot have realised during all that time, with Brexit going on around them as front page topic number one, that they need to look into their residency status and find out if they need to do anything? Again, I think there should not be a deadline, but I cannot help but marvel at the complacency.

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    1. I hear you. But if you already had a Permanent Residency card, it is also rather unexpected that this should be revoked, effectively, because of Brexit. Makes non sense.

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    2. That's what permanent would suggest, I will admit. Still, if it was me, I would at least vaguely realise that the rights of EU citizens appear to have been mentioned in the media and start worrying, then do some research. It would be critical to my own life, after all. Again, I think the settlement status should be automatic even if people are complacent, so this isn't about blaming, it just weirds me out how can one be so complacent about one's status after having moved countries.

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