Brexit: Fears as reality of leaving the EU is discussed at Brent Council’s Time to Talk event
- Credit: Archant
All 55,000 Europeans living in Brent will have to register to settle in the UK if Brexit happens or be considered “illegal” with no rights to remain.
More than 100 people gathered at Brent Council’s Time to Talk event on Monday which focussed on the impact of leaving the UK - the eve before the government was due to vote.
Mandy Brammer, the council’s head of registration and nationality and Barbara Drozdowicz, chief executive of the East European Resource Centre, were on hand to answer questions, allay fears, and give advice despite no clarity on the situation.
Not all questions asked by participants had an answer, such as one man’s enquiry: “Will Brent have access to the money that is not going to the European Union but staying in this country? How do we know we’ll get our share of that?”
With the whole room in limbo, Cllr Tom Miller, lead member for community safety, told the group: “When we set up this meeting we thought there would have already been a meaningful vote.
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“We invited the government to send somebody, a minister, a civil servant, it was important for somebody to come and give the other side. They didn’t want to take that up. That for me was a big problem.”
During November’s full council meeting, Labour councillors approved a motion for a People’s Vote in defiance of their party leader’s stance.
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He added: “Some 40,000 citizens were registered to vote here at the last general election and it’s really quite unbelievable that a population as large as 40,000 in one borough found themselves unable to vote in a referendum which is going to profoundly affect their living and working conditions and those of their families. Simply put, this is not right.”
Ms Brammer explained the rules around Europeans remaining, with all those who have lived in the UK for five years or more paying £65 to register for settled status, and those who have lived here for two years paying the same for ‘pre-settled status’.
Children pay £35 each and those Europeans who already have permanent residency pay nothing but must still register, which one attendee said was “very annoying”.
Registering opens on March 30 the deadline for applications due in June 2021, Ms Brammer said it was easy to apply online, on a tablet or android phone, where proof documents can be scanned.
There is an option to do so by post but all original documents would have to be sent. “Failure to apply means you won’t have rights when the window closes. It’s imperative you make the application,” she warned.
Ms Drozdowicz, who works with vulnerable groups, added: “It’s £65 which doesn’t look like a lot of money but quite significant groups will struggle to pay – rough sleepers, people living in shelters, victims of trafficking. Someone will have to pay the money. If there’s an expectation charities will cough up, they won’t, they can’t.”
In groups participants were asked to write down what they thought the likely impact of leaving the EU would be.
One person said: “People registering for status, it will be like a second Windrush in 20,30 years.”
Many participants feared the rise in casual racism. One Romanian worker said: “Just because somebody comes here from a different country it doesn’t mean they are here to take their jobs. How are our rights protected? We deal with it on a daily basis.”
People feared a fight for “shrinking resources” in poorer areas and a breakdown of community cohesion, with “discriminatory behaviour becoming more prevalent”.
They asked if people’s human rights would be affected, about imported food, food safety standards and animal welfare.
Hope Zampogna, an American married to an Italian, said: “We shouldn’t have to apply for something else when we have permanent status. We are due to leave in two months and two months before we leave we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Dermot Carlin, a freelance photographer from neighbouring Harrow, said: “It’s madness. I’ve the opportunity to move to Australia and I’m grabbing it with both hands.”
Carolyn Downs, Brent’s chief executive, said: “If the result is we leave the EU we need to do this thing (event) again and think about what the issues are affecting people in Brent.
“If the outcome is we don’t leave the EU – I’m from up north, most of my family voted to leave, it’s because they don’t feel the establishment is listening to what they have to say – we really need to take that on board. Forty per cent voted to leave in Brent. We have to understand why people voted that way.”
Cllr Muhammed Butt, council leader, said: “I am incredibly proud that there are more EU nationals living in Brent than any other London borough. They are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and they make our community in Brent stronger, more prosperous and more diverse and open.
“We’ve been working hard since June 2016 to give EU nationals in Brent the information they need about Brexit. It was important to hear the concerns of residents at the public meeting and to understand what more we need to be doing to support them. As a council, we will continue to call for the government to give the British people a meaningful vote on the final Brexit deal.”
To register for settled and pre-settled status visit www.gov.co.uk