COUNCILLORS debated whether there should be a review of how EU nationals will live once the Brexit process has been completed.
The motion, from Cllr Rachel Bishop-Firth, wanted the council to investigate how it can help with applications for settled status, help landlord and employees, explore how Brexit could affect EU nationals accessing Wokingham borough services and the likely impact n Wokingham of British citizens returning to the UK.
Cllr Bishop-Firth said: “As a council, it’s our responsibility to do everything that we can to foresee and mitigate the effects on our residents, with particular thought for those who may be elderly or vulnerable.”
She warned that many had lived in the UK for decades and if they were deported, it “leaves them vulnerable to becoming illegal immigrants in the country they call home. We have seen what happened to too many of the Windrush generation. We can’t risk that happening to anyone here in Wokingham.”
“I am delighted to see that since I first submitted this motion last autumn, the council has offered residents free help with obtaining settled status,” she added.
“We need to think about how we will ensure that all EU citizens in the Borough are aware of this help and the need for it, especially thinking about how we can contact all those who may have a language or technology barrier.”
And she said: “We need to look at – and monitor over the coming months – the likelihood of numbers of these expats returning to Wokingham and how this could affect our responsibilities to assist with housing and other services.”
Seconding the motion, Cllr Rachelle Shepherd-Dubey spoke from experience.
“As an immigrant myself I understand very well about uncertainty and lengthy and often not very clear rules instituted by the government and resultant forms and procedures of the Home office,” she said.
“The question is what Wokingham Borough Council is doing at this time to help our fellow resident on Wokingham who are citizens of the EU. What more can we do to help some of our local EU citizens to assist them to fill in forms correctly explain what documents they need for proof to get settled status and what are we sending out to employers in the borough to better explain what they have to do to comply with the rules before Brexit occurs in a few months.”
Cllr Pauline Jorgensen wished to make an amendment to the motion that would call on the council to undertake a review of the effects of Brexit on local residents and publicise what the council intends to do and what mitigations have already been implemented.
She said that the change was due to the motion being a year old, and it better reflected the current position, part of which came from a Brexit preparation committee that had met around Christmastime.
“I was a member of the WBC Brexit taskforce last year which took a lot of action preparing ourselves for Brexit,” she told the chamber.
“In that time we mapped out our processes and responses, worked with our partners to help them prepare, developed contingency plans and with the help of a scrutiny task and finish group ensured our preparedness was robust.
“In context in 2011 (latest data available) 14.1% of the resident population of the Borough was non-UK born and of them a minority of 2.8% were born in the EU (4,359).”
She added: “The statement in the motion that the original promise to not change the status of EU residents lawfully resident in the UK has been broken is incorrect. Boris Johnson used his first Commons statement as Prime Minister to ‘repeat unequivocally our guarantee to the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us’.”
And under the proposed rules, there were just two reasons why EU nationals wouldn’t be able to stay living here post 2021: they were either “serious of persistent criminals” or they can’t prove they were living in the UK previously.
“The point that a Windrush style scandal is likely is scaremongering seemingly intended to worry our most vulnerable residents,” she added.
“Despite my reservations over the messaging I would like to urge you to support this amendment, it is always useful to review the effectiveness of the comprehensive actions I have outlined and also to remind people of what we have put at their disposal.”
Cllr Lindsay Ferris asked for an adjournment to allow his group to discuss the amendment, which they then agreed, on provision that a report be published.
There was some confusion over which report would be published, and Cllr Jorgensen pledged to find out what information hadn’t been published, which pleased Cllr Bishop-Firth, who then called for a vote without further debate.
As no one wanted to speak against the amended motion, councillors went to the decision, which was passed by a majority.