The Hostile Environment

Settled Status and Pre Settled Status refer to the new legal status created for EU nationals resident within UK and Northern Ireland. Applicants have till June 30 2021 to apply, but they must be in country by end of 2020 to do so. We believe that this is not what was promised by the Leave Campaigns or indeed the UK government and this leaves our many EU residents in a weak position. Our specific concerns are: Hostile Environment, People missing out and EU family members of UK nationals who wish to return home.

Settled Status must be applied for - it isn't a basic grant. This means that if people do not apply for it, they will not get it. Even before the Pandemic, there was a real and material risk that many would miss out, due to a variety of factors, like being vulnerable adults or children, poor language skills, access to legal advice or basic information, lack of technological prowess (applicants must use a smartphone) or just bad luck with timing (like being overseas for a sudden emergency when a deadline passes). The Pandemic has made everything harder and Settled Status is no exception. Whilst it is easy to apply for compared to other immigration statuses, it still requires preparation and work. When people are distracted due to their safety, jobs, or mental health, they will not always be able to find out things they need to know. 

The Hostile Environment is a general term for the UK government policy of making reducing illegal immigration by making it harder for illegal immigrants to live in the UK, through reducing access to healthcare, housing, social services and employment. The policy was outlined by Labour's then Minister for Immigration Liam Byrne in May 2007, who said:

"We are trying to create a much more hostile environment in this country if you are here illegally".

The actual policies were then introduced by Conservative Party Home Secretary Theresa May and progressively extended throughout her tenure in office. By 2018 there was widespread public anger at the impact of these policies on many long term residents of the country who had come to the UK from the Caribbean, many of whom live in Lambeth. The practical impact of the policies has been to make it very hard for people who are deemed illegal, even if they should have lawful rights to live in this country (or indeed are citizens) to live and work here. Landlords and employers are not able to engage with people deemed illegal, as they must check immigration documents before renting or offering contracts. Many people suffered greatly, losing jobs or housing. Some especially suffered by being deported to countries that they either had not lived in for many decades, or had no real connection except via their parents, due to their age at migration. The Windrush Scandal as it is known led to Amber Rudd resigning as Home Secretary. We are still working through the negative effects of this.

The Government is intending to subject EU/EEA residents to the same wider Hostile Environment policies, as demonstrated by the passage of the 2020 Immigration Bill into law in November 2020 and and in December 2020, the new immigration regulations. Far from learning from their mistakes and cruelty to our Windrush friends and family, they intend to vastly extend the scope to include millions more people. This is a far cry from their Referendum promises. Levelling up Britain seems instead to mean punishing migrants for being unlucky. 

So what to do? The hard fact is that the immigration law has changed and the Hostile Environment remains in place. The Liberal Democrats opposed this in parliament and attempted to mitigate some of the harsh impacts, like lack of a written confirmation of Settled Status, but this was unsuccessful. We were especially annoyed at the Physical Proof issue as the Conservative government decided that EU nationals should not get the same written proof that all other migrants get. Imagine making your home in a country and that country refusing to let you have a written document confirming your right to live there! We supported European citizen rights organisations efforts to overturn this rule in the House of Lords, but this failed when the Labour Lords decided to no longer support our motion in the final stage. Several Labour Lords voted with us, as did several Conservative Lords, but after Labour withdrew support, we (just) lacked the numbers to win.

What can we do now? 

We need to ensure that all EU nationals know about their new obligation and that they get Settled or Pre Settled Status. This means lots of work to meet people and communities to ensure they are aware. It is a numbers game. We Lib Dems are well known for flooding people with leaflets but this is exactly what needs to happen now. Both the UK government and Lambeth Council need to make repeated efforts to reach people, by regular mail outs and focused contact with at risk groups. 

We also need to ensure that there is advice available. There are volunteer groups like Settled helping EU residents work through the process and of course the CAB and volunteer legal advice services, but given the scale we need specialist Settled Status advisors who are multi-lingual.

We will be writing to the Lambeth Council leader to ask them to redouble their efforts on this matter over the next 6 months and we will report back on what we find.

More generally we must all work together to remove the cruelty from the immigration system. Whatever the concerns are that people have of immigration and how it may effect them, that is no reason, nor no excuse to institutionalise cruelty to those who chose to migrate to the UK. Polling has shown a trend nationwide that people are becoming more positive towards immigration and immigrants - we must embrace this!

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