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'Misconceptions' warning over EU Brexit chief's settled status comments

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

The Home Office has rejected comments from the European Parliament's Brexit co-ordinator on EU citizens who remain in the UK, and warned against "misconceptions".

Guy Verhofstadt said on Friday that he had won assurances from Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay that there would be no automatic deportation of those who miss the deadline to apply for settled status.

And he said, after meeting Mr Barclay in London a day earlier, that the Government had conceded over allowing EU citizens to have a hard copy of their settled status confirmation.

But the Home Office had already said extensions would be granted if there are "reasonable grounds" for missing the deadline and added that there has been "no change to our digital approach".

A statement added that "some of the misconceptions we've seen about the settlement scheme have been unhelpful when our focus is on providing reassurance".

Campaigners raised concerns of another Windrush-style scandal when Home Office Minister Brandon Lewis said in October that EU citizens may be forced to leave if they miss the deadline, which is June 30 2021 including a grace period.

With hundreds of thousands of people yet to apply for the right to live and work in the UK after Brexit, Mr Verhofstadt said he had questioned Mr Barclay over previous "contradictions".

"I wanted to be sure that there is no automatic deportation of these people even after the grace period because it can be people who are very vulnerable," Mr Verhofstadt told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The idea would be that even for these people after the grace period they will have the possibility to apply giving the grounds for why it was not possible to do it within the normal procedures."

But the Home Office stressed that this was already the case in response to Mr Verhofstadt, who has previously threatened that the European Parliament will veto the Brexit deal if it does not win assurances over EU citizens.

"We have made it clear that, where people have reasonable grounds for missing the original deadline, they will be given a further opportunity to apply," a statement said.

Downing Street also confirmed the position, which the Home Office had stated back in October when clarifying Mr Lewis's comments.

"We've been clear that we want those who have made the UK their home to be able to stay, which is why we have provided certainty to millions of those citizens around the country," a No 10 spokesman said.

Mr Verhofstadt also said that those successful in claiming settled status had been told to use a screenshot of their confirmation on their mobile phone as proof but that this could change.

"They (the Government) said we are going to look at it so people can print it so they have a physical document," he told Today.

"People will have the opportunity to have a printout, probably a PDF document."

The Home Office replied: "There is no change to our digital approach. It has always been the case that people could print a copy of their confirmation letter, but this can't be used as evidence of status.

"The EU settlement scheme grants people with a secure, digital status which future-proofs their rights. Physical documents can get lost, stolen, damaged and tampered with."

So far, more than 2.7 million people have been granted the right to live and work in the UK under the settlement scheme.

But a significant number still need to apply if they wish to remain, as there are an estimated 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK.

On Friday, Mr Lewis said: "EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we value the huge contribution that they have made to our country.

"The UK is their home and the EU settlement scheme has already granted status to 2.5 million people so they can stay."