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A Home Office that cant handle Windrush is not fit for purpose

Leading MEP Guy Verhofstadt is a troublemaker when it comes to Brexit, set on making life difficult for Britain as it leaves EU, often via the medium of Twitter.

The vast majority of the time, his insights into UK politics should be taken either with an industrial container of salt, or better yet ignored completely.

But just as a stopped clock is right twice a day, so the former Belgian Prime Minister occasionally gets it spot on. And his warning on Wednesday that EU nationals living in the UK must not face the same “bureaucratic nightmare” as the Windrush generation is currently experiencing should be emblazoned on the front of the Home Office building in flashing lights.

Read more: The Windrush crisis is cast-iron proof of the Prime Ministers incompetence

To recap, pre-1970s when the economic, political, and social landscape in the UK was very different, Caribbean nationals were invited to migrate and settle in Britain. They worked, paid taxes, raised families, and were assumed to have indefinite leave to remain.

Since then, the wind has changed, and new policies designed to crack down on more recent, illegal immigrants have meant that the Windrush cohorts inability to produce proof of their status (which does not exist) has been used as evidence that they are here illegally. There have been reports of people losing jobs, being denied access to services, and even facing deportation.

There is now a dispute over the original landing cards, which it seems the UKs Border Agency destroyed some years back for reasons of “data protection”.

The left has been blaming this decision on Theresa Mays tenure as home secretary, while the Prime Minister hit back at PMQs yesterday and revealed that the decision was actually taken in 2009 by the Labour government.

But whichever administration is at fault, this is a side issue, as these cards were never proof of legal residency anyway. The point is that no such documentation was provided at the time, or in the intervening 50 years, because none was needed.

The potential logistical similarities with the current 2.9m EU citizens living and working in Britain are obvious.

They have had the legal right to free movement to this country for decades. Any retrospective requirements to prove residency, employment or tax status are therefore likely to indeed cause a “bureaucratic nightmare” – who among us could provide proof of address for the past 10 years, along with tax documentation from every job weve held in that time?

Already there are stories of EU nationals who have been here for years – some with spouses and children who are British citizens – struggling to jump through the Home Office hoops to attain the residency rights they are legally entitled to.

However, theres a wider problem here about the perils of letting short-term politics dominate a complicated issue that spans lifetimes.

The Windrush migrants who came here 50 years ago are suffering now because the mass anxiety over immigration circa 2010 pressured David Camerons team towards an unrealistically tough stance.

The previous Labour government had mostly ignored the issue; the new Tory-led one focused on reducing the numbers. Neither attempted to have an honest conversation about the different types of immigration, the skills and resources brought by newcomers, or how their contributions could benefit the country.

If they had, they would have found that even migration-sceptic factions of the public have a more nuanced view than headline polls suggest.

The vast majority of people – from both sides of the Brexit debate – understand the value of skilled migrants. There is little appetite for the Home Office turning away desperately needed doctors and other healthcare professionals to stick within quotas, for example.

Even with low-skilled workers, there is popular support for allowing people to come here to work, provided they follow the rules. The enthusiasm among Brexit campaign heavyweights for an Australian-style points system underlines this.

It has predominantly been the lack of control over our national borders (thanks to the EU) and the worry that the system is being exploited which fuels concern around immigration. And our post-Brexit immigration system, for both EU and non-EU nationals, must have this understanding at its core.

The dangers – politically as well as morally – of getting it wrong could not be clearer after the past week.

The outrage over the treatment of the Windrush generation has come from all points along the political spectrum. The British people feel the injustice of penalising individuals who have broken no rules, contributed to society, and now face the horrendous ordeal of battling through soulless bureaucracy.

The short-sightedness and ineptitude of the Home Office under both major parties, thanks to politicians timidity when it comes to this hot-button issue, is now ruining lives.

So yes, Verhofstadt is stirring up trouble, playing a crisis that has nothing to do with the European parliament to his advantage. But that doesnt invalidate his concern.

If the Home Office cannot cope with the Windrush migrants now, what faith can we have that it will be fit for purpose in accommodating those trying to make Britain their home in the future?

Read more: May shifts blame over Windrush documents to Labour

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