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Government app to register EU citizens after Brexit ‘won't work with iPhones’

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
A Brexit supporter shows their support with their iPhone during the EU referendum campaign (Getty)

Technology being developed by the government to allow EU citizens to apply for settled status in the UK after Brexit isn’t fully compatible with Apple phones, it has been claimed.

The government is building a mobile application which will help the three million EU citizens living in the UK with their application to remain in the country.

Home Office officials gave a presentation on the app to members of the European Parliament in Brussels today in a bid to dispel fears that Brexit could spark a new Windrush-style scandal affecting EU citizens.

But it emerged that there’s a problem with the app that will hit the huge number of iPhone users, according to British MEPs who were in the room for the behind-closed-doors briefing.

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said a Home Office official suggested EU citizens get round the problem by making their application on the Android phone of a friend or family member.

“He said that some of it works on iPhone, the iOS, but you could ‘borrow somebody else’s Android and do it,’” she revealed.

“It’s just beyond belief.”

Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder said the problem with the app is “beyond belief” (European Parliament)

Labour MEP Claude Moraes explained the problem stems from the fact that iPhones can’t read the biometric chip on passports.

That isn’t going to be necessary for every application because it’s also possible to make an application by uploading a photo of the passport page.

But Mr Moraes said: “If you ever have to do the chip alone, then Apple won’t do that.

“They’ve [the Home Office] acknowledged that Apple cuts out the biometric chip so they have to work their way around it.

“At the moment the safe thing is just Android phones but that does cut out more than 50% [of people].”

The Home Office said the app is only to help with part of the registration process and that there will be other ways to apply for those who do not have Android devices.

The technical problem threatened to overshadow a meeting that was designed to build trust over the treatment of EU citizens in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said after the meeting: “After the Windrush scandal there was a lot – and there is still a lot – of anxiety among our EU citizens living in Britain that they could have the same experience in their future.

“So, for us, it’s important that the system that will apply after the withdrawal is a smooth system.”

European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt (Getty)

But Green MEP Molly Scott Cato said the Windrush scandal showed the treatment of EU citizens shouldn’t be considered a “technical point.”

“What happened with Windrush wasn’t about form filling, but the fact that a hostile culture was established,” she said.

“Imagine if Brexit goes ahead and we have a rise in unemployment and British people are saying ‘I can’t find a job’ and the new Home Secretary comes in and shifts the culture and says actually we’re going to have a more hostile environment for our European neighbours.

“They [EU citizens] have no guarantees, which is why they say they still want the protection of the ECJ (European Court of Justice) and you can entirely understand why they’d want that.”

She added that the government should have sent a politician to address MEP’s rather than what she described as “four guys and a glamorous assistant” from the Home Office.

Mr Verhofstadt said he would not push to extend the role of the ECJ in the UK after Brexit, saying the eight-year period written into the Withdrawal Agreement was sufficient.

He said though that he wants the registration system to be cost free and work on the basis of one application per family rather than one per individual.

He also wants it to be a system of registration rather than application.

“It means that if people fill in all the data that is necessary that from that moment on there is this status and it not necessary to wait for weeks or months, not to say years, before the Home Office is agreeing,” the former Prime Minister of Belgium explained.

A Home Office spokesperson said:

“We are developing from scratch a user-friendly scheme for EU citizens to safeguard their right to stay in the UK after we leave the EU.

Our voluntary settled status scheme will be opening later this year and we continue to closely engage with technology companies.

There will be alternative non-digital routes available to all applicants to prove their identity.”