Minister insists process remains ‘relatively straightforward’ for the vast majority of applicants
Credit: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images
Michael Gove has responded to criticisms of the efficacy of the EU settlement scheme by stressing that “any computer system” will sometimes malfunction.
The chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster was last week giving evidence to the House of Commons Committee on Exiting the European Union. Committee member Wera Hobhouse raised the issue of the settled status scheme and put it to Gove that “the whole operation doesn’t seem to work very well”.
She cited the example of a constituent of hers who, despite living in the UK for more than 30 years, has only been granted pre-settled, rather than settled status. Hobhouse claimed that he was just one of “thousands and thousands living in limbo” as a result of the failings of the programme.
“There is a definite risk of a gap after we leave and before we get a data adequacy rating… businesses can take proactive measures to ensure that, even in the absence of data adequacy being granted, data can flow freely.”
Gove responded: “I absolutely take the point, and as with any system, any computer system owned by government or by the private sector, there will inevitably be occasions where an individual who has put in a properly constituted application—for whatever reason, the system may not respond to that appropriately. When that happens, that is wrong. We should move quickly to put it right, but it is the case that if people have the appropriate evidence of their residency here over that appropriate period and they are EU citizens then the granting of settled status, or pre-settled status, should be relatively straightforward.”
Committee chair Hilary Benn suggested to Gove that “an MPs’ hotline” could be established for EU citizens to raise any issues with their application. He added that, despite its requests, the committee is still yet to hear evidence from any ministers at the Home Office – the department that runs the settled status scheme.
Gove agreed to “take back” these points to the Home Office.
Elsewhere in the evidence session, he was asked about the likely arrangements regarding data adequacy. This is a status conferred by the European Commission on non-European Economic Area nations to certify that they have sufficient data-protection measures – thereby enabling the free transfer of personal data between the EU and the countries in question.
Switzerland, Andorra, the Faroe Islands, Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, Argentina, Uruguay, Japan, and New Zealand have all been granted adequacy, while Canada and the US have a partial status. South Korea is currently in talks with the EC.
Gove said that he is “pretty confident” the UK will be granted adequacy. But he counselled UK firms that need to transfer data to and from the EU that there may be an interregnum between Brexit and the obtainment of the status. These businesses should take steps to ensure they are prepared for this, according to Gove.
“There are jurisdictions that are currently outside the EU but are crown dependencies—Jersey, Guernsey and so on—which have data adequacy. I cannot see any reason why we should not,” he said. “There is a definite risk, however, of a gap after we leave and before we get an adequacy rating, but for any company that needs to get personal data from the EU into the UK, there is information on the Information Commissioner’s website about how to make sure you have standard contractual clauses that, in effect, mean that you can carry on with the free flow of data as before.
Gove added: “Adequacy is a great thing to have—it relieves businesses of a particular worry—but businesses can take proactive measures to ensure that, even in the absence of data adequacy being granted, data can flow freely. Mitigation measures can be put in place.”
Gove was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster during the reshuffle conducted by Boris Johnson during his first few days as prime minister in July. The position is effectively a roving role wherein the postholder can be deployed to a government policy or operational area that is in particular need of attention. Gove is understood to be at the forefront of the cross-government preparations for the possibility of leaving the European Union without a deal.
“With any computer system… there will inevitably be occasions where an individual who has put in a properly constituted application—for whatever reason, the system may not respond to that appropriately. When that happens, that is wrong.”
At the same time as Gove was appearing before MPs, the Home Office published updated immigration guidance for EU citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The department effectively backtracked on previously announced plans to end freedom of movement entirely and abruptly on 31 October.
Until at least the end of next year, EU citizens will be able to cross the UK border without the need for any documentation beyond their passport – regardless of whether or not they already live in the UK or, if they do, whether or not they have yet attained settled status. The deadline for obtaining settled status remains 31 December 2020.
Non-UK-resident EU citizens arriving in the UK after 31 October will be able to apply for free for the right to stay in this country for up to three years under the new European Temporary Leave to Remain programme, according to Home Office guidance.