With the United Kingdom Government giving formal notification this week that the UK is leaving the EU, there are concerns about the rights of the estimated 3.3 million Europeans who are living in the UK and the 1.2 million Britons who are living in EU countries.
Of particular concern is how Brexit will effect disabled people.
Yragael Drouet, who came to the UK from France with his mother when he was 4 years old and has received out of work disability benefits, is one of those affected. There is no guarantee over his right to reside and to continue claiming benefits in the UK once a Brexit deal has been struck.
He said, “The state obviously believes that I was unable to do full time work so surely there should be some sort of get-out clause for disabled people (like me).”
He says that if he was denied free healthcare he would have to return to France. “I am 41 and came here with my mother when I was four. It would be crazy. I have family there but I have nowhere to live.”
So what options are there? Securing rights of permanent residency in an adopted country would be a solution – but for many disabled people, this solution is out of reach. EU countries, individually, have their own approaches to this issue, but under UK law, “permanent residence status” for EU-born citizens will only be granted if the person has lived in the UK for 5 years, continuously, as a “qualified person”.
This brings its own particular set of problems, particularly for the long term disabled. A “qualified person” is someone who is a citizen of a European Economic Area (EEA) or Switzerland and who is either working, studying, self-employed, self-sufficient, or looking for work.
So permanent residency will be denied where a disabled person has been unable to work, and has claimed out of work disability benefits. This will also apply to carers, since the UK Government does not consider the contribution of a carer to be “work” in the sense given above.
Given the current uncertainty, the Home Office maintains a “wait and see” scenario. On 24th February 2017, the blog, “Home Office in the Media”, stated, “The rights of EU nationals living in the UK remain unchanged while we are a member of the European Union.
“The Home Secretary has been clear that she wants to protect the status of EU nationals already living here, and the only circumstances in which that wouldn’t be possible is if British citizens’ rights in European member states were not protected in return.”
A workshop took place in London last week which focused on the impact that Brexit will have. It heard evidence from many citizens like Yragael Drouet, and attempted to provide information about their rights. The workshop, part of the Brexit Takeaways Project, was led by the European Citizen Action Service (ECAS).
There is also an online petition calling for the system of permanent residency in the UK to be reformed. This has been supported by over 35,000 people. If it secures 100,000 signatures it will be considered for debate in Parliament.