Britons in Europe face post-Brexit discrimination, UK home secretary says

Photo: AP British Home Secretary Priti Patel

British nationals living in the European Union are having difficulty accessing benefits, services and jobs, Home Secretary Priti Patel said Wednesday, speaking on the fifth anniversary of the Brexit vote. For EU citizens living in Britain, immigration officials have announced a 28-day period to apply for the right to remain.

In an article in The Daily Telegraph, Home Secretary Priti Patel accused EU countries of treating British people unfairly, five years after more than 51 percent of Britons voted to leave the bloc following a campaign led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Patel cited "a number of reported instances of UK nationals in the EU being asked for residence documents they do not need to hold, being prevented from accessing benefits and services, and having trouble with their right to work".

Moreover, she said, Britons have had problems merely travelling to the EU, saying some British nationals have "faced disruption on boarding and entry".

Patel stressed it was "only right that the EU uphold their obligations on citizens' rights, just as the UK has done for EU citizens in the UK", describing the UK's settlement programme for EU citizens as "very generous".

The deadline for EU citizens to apply to stay is 30 June. Around 5.3 million EU citizens have applied for residency rights in the UK, according to government figures. But the BBC reports that around 400,000 cases remain outstanding.

Patel urged EU nationals to meet the deadline to apply for UK residency but said those who miss it on reasonable grounds will still be able to apply. Immigration Minister Kevin Foster said Wednesday that such exceptions would include children whose parents failed to apply for them or people who had a serious illness that prevented them applying. Foster said immigration officers will be able to issue 28-day notices to people they encounter who may be eligible to apply, such as when conducting immigration raids.

Many EU countries have windows of a year or less for their equivalent schemes for British nationals, Patel pointed out, noting that "France's is currently open for less than nine months".

Following the 2016 Brexit referendum, settled status was introduced for citizens of the EU or the European Economic Area who were living in the UK, which allows them to retain the same rights of residence, travel, employment, and access to healthcare and benefits.

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