Looming no-deal Brexit ‘puts thousands at risk’

Volunteers answering calls at Citizens Advice Enfield in Ponders End
Volunteers at Citizens Advice Enfield are ready to offer advice to EU citizens on how a no-deal Brexit might affect them

East European Forum founder warns EU citizens could be put in legal limbo, reports James Cracknell

Preparations for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit are being stepped up by Enfield Council amid warnings that European Union (EU) citizens living in the borough could face “enormous problems”.

The chances of the UK exiting the EU without an agreement have risen sharply since Boris Johnson became prime minister in July – despite previously claiming the odds were “a million to one” he admitted last month it was “touch and go”.

To co-ordinate local preparations the council established a Brexit panel last December and in March – before Brexit was postponed until 31st October – it produced a report identifying major risks to the borough; they included fuel and medicine shortages, disrupted supply chains and civil unrest.

The panel comprises senior council officers alongside representatives from Citizens Advice Enfield, Metropolitan Police, Enterprise Enfield and London Fire Brigade. It is now meeting every fortnight and an updated ‘risk register’ is being compiled. Panel chairperson and council deputy leader Ian Barnes said: “I will ensure this council does everything within its powers to safeguard Enfield’s residents as much as possible.”

The council has been given £315,000 from the government to assist Brexit preparations, with a key aim being to provide assistance for EU citizens wishing to remain in the UK. Any such person who has lived here for five years or more is entitled to obtain ‘settled status’ while other residents can obtain ‘pre-settled status’ that allows them to stay for five years, after which they must re-apply.

Nishan Dzhingozyan is an Enfield resident originally from Bulgaria who set up the Eastern European Forum, representing 45 organisations. He says many of the borough’s 26,000 EU citizens risk “losing everything” from a no-deal Brexit. “There is no legal framework to protect EU citizens after a no-deal Brexit, especially those who don’t get settled status,” Nishan told the Dispatch.

“Most Bulgarians have not managed to get settled status – only 40% in London have got it – so what does this mean for them? After no-deal they will have no rights, they will lose everything.”

The government has maintained that the current 31st December 2020 deadline for settled status applications will remain in event of a no-deal. But the fate of those who either fail to obtain settled status or have not yet made an application is uncertain.

Nishan said: “We [East European Forum] are being bombarded by phone calls from EU citizens saying they are already being asked about their immigration status – this should not be happening. It is going to create enormous problems.

“What will happen if they lose their rights to work and study in the UK? It is going to be a mess. There is a lack of information. They need to be made aware of what they need to do. What if businesses in Enfield run by EU citizens have to close? What will be the impact on the local economy?”

Home Office statistics show around half of the borough’s EU citizens have so far obtained settled status. Enfield Citizens Advice is running drop-in sessions at three borough libraries to help with the application process. Chief executive Jill Harrison said: “I would encourage any EU resident who hasn’t yet applied to come to one of our drop-in sessions for the latest guidance. There’s no need to make an appointment.”

Cllr Barnes added: “I call on Boris Johnson to end this madness and stop the looming no-deal Brexit. In the meantime I urge EU citizens to safeguard themselves as much as possible.”

Drop-in sessions for EU citizens take place from 10am-4pm on Tuesdays at Edmonton Green Library, Wednesdays at Enfield Town Library and Fridays at Palmers Green Library. For more information:
Call 0300 330 1167
Visit citizensadviceenfield.org.uk/contact-us

For more information about Enfield Council’s preparations for Brexit:
Visit new.enfield.gov.uk/services/your-council/enfield-and-brexit