May yields to opposition on £65 settled status fee, in only Brexit concession

Ben Wray

May offers minimal changes to Brexit deal that she says will not be voted on again until February

PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has abandoned her government’s plan to force millions of EU citizens to pay £65 to apply for “settled status” after Britain leaves the EU, following a campaign of opposition including from the Scottish Government.

May made the U-turn as she sought to raise more support for her Brexit deal, which was roundly defeated in the House of Commons last week (Tuesday 15 January) when it fell by 230 votes, the worst ever defeat faced by a sitting government.

Confirming the surrender of the fee, May said: “I can confirm today that when we roll out the scheme in full on 30 March, the government will waive the application fee so that there is no financial barrier for any EU nationals who wish to stay. Anyone who has applied during the pilot phase will have their fee reimbursed.”

The Home Office had said the fee would bring in between £170-190 million to the Exchequer.

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The Scottish Government had promised to cover the cost of the fee for NHS and other public sector workers as part of a campaign of pressure against the charge.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, responding on Twitter, said: “Glad that the UK Government has belatedly dropped its plan to charge EU citizens a fee for settled status applications. The Scottish Government had already committed to covering cost for those working in devolved public services. Still regret that they will have to apply at all to stay in their home.”

Kirsty Blackman, SNP Westminster Depute leader, tweeted: “A win for The 3 million campaign and the SNP here. We’ve been campaigning on this since it was announced. Still many, many issues caused by the scrapping of free movement but this is positive news.”

The concession was the most substantive in May’s attempt to breathe fresh life into her proposed withdrawal agreement, agreed with EU leaders.

Other measures included promises to keep MPs better informed on a future relationship with the EU through private committee hearings and further discussions with her own and DUP MPs to assuage fears about the proposed Irish backstop.

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However May said she did not want to delay the Brexit date, or hold a second referendum on EU membership – a so called ‘People’s Vote’.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the Prime Minister was in “denial” about the defeat of her deal.

He said: “The Prime Minister seems to be going through the motions of accepting that result, but in reality is in deep denial.

“The logic of that decisive defeat is that the Prime Minister must change her red lines because her current deal is undeliverable. So can she be clear and explicit to the house: which of her red lines is she prepared to move on?”

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on Friday 29 March. Sturgeon is urging the government to extend Article 50, while Corbyn is calling for a General Election to break the political deadlock.

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