07:52, November 01 174 0 theguardian.com

2018-11-01 07:52:05
Home Office says minister was wrong over EU right-to-work checks

Employers will not be expected to do extra checks on EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the government has said, contradicting comments made by immigration minister, Caroline Nokes.

In a statement sent to campaign groups including the3million, the Home Office said employers would still have to do the normal checks, requiring EU citizens to present a passport or ID card when they seek work, but they would not have to work out whether an EU citizen had just arrived in the country or been living in the UK for a number of years.

“Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit,” the Home Office said said.

The statement piles further pressure on Nokes, who made the error when questioned by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper at a parliamentary select committee meeting on Tuesday.

“If somebody hasn’t been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work,” Nokes said, in an apparent new policy disclosure.

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, also contradicted Nokes’s statement, telling ITV’s Peston show there would be a “sensible transition period” for EU citizens in a no-deal scenario. “We’ve just got to be practical,” he said.

Nokes’s remarks dismayed business leaders, including the Confederation of British Industry, the British Chambers of Commerce and employee unions, who said they had received “no guidance” on what to to do in the event of no deal.

Some sectors, such as hospitality in London, draw 40% of their staff from elsewhere in the EU. The NHS, banking, agriculture would suddenly be burdened with extra requirements, business leaders said.

There was also alarm that landlords would be required to conduct checks, leading to the prospect of widespread discrimination against EU citizens who have made the UK their home.

Nicolas Hatton, the co-founder of the3million, a grassroots organisation of EU citizens living in the UK, said Nokes’s comment “raised the prospect of widespread discrimination against 3 million EU citizens”. It wants the rights of EU citizens to be ringfenced and will take part in a protest in Westminster on Monday.

One of the biggest issues with Nokes’s statement was that EU citizens in the UK do not have any means of proving they have the right to work in the country, as Britain does not require any registration on arrival.

The Home Office is testing a new registration system, but so far only 924 people have secured “settled status” ID numbers in a trial that has just completed in Liverpool.

The Home Office statement issued on Wednesday night said: “We will protect EU citizens’ rights when we leave the EU, in either a deal or no deal scenario, as the prime minister has made clear. We are considering a number of options for the unlikely event that we reach March 2019 without a deal, and will set out more information shortly.

“Employers already need to carry out right to work checks on EU citizens, as they do with all prospective employees. That will not change next March in the event we leave the EU without a deal. EU citizens will continue to be able to evidence their right to work by showing a passport or national identity card. Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit.”

Separately, the Home Office has released analysis of the settled status trial in Liverpool involving 1,053 volunteers among staff at 12 NHS trusts and three universities.

Of those, 924 decisions were made on applications, with 591 granted “settled status” and 333 granted “pre-settled status”, a category for those who have lived in the country for less than five years. No cases were refused.

The trial, however, indicated a number of issues with the application process. About 15% were required to provide additional information to prove they were eligible, and 30 people did not have national insurance numbers.

Automatic matching of HM Revenue and Customs data did not work in all cases, with 4% not possible due to “name matching issues” or “applicant errors”. A further 1.4% could not be matched “typically because of data errors, such as national insurance numbers and passport records not matching”.