No queue-jumping for Britons seeking to return to UK with EU spouses

Whitehall officials have indicated there will be no queue-jumping for Britons who want to return to the UK with EU spouses post-Brexit, it has emerged.

Despite government pledges that their rights would remain the same after the UK’s departure from the bloc, officials have written to the Brexit-supporting Conservative MP Esther McVey to say they cannot prioritise applications for paperwork for British nationals affected by Brexit.

“While we are able to expedite applications, this is reserved for the most critical and compassionate cases,” said the official in an email to McVey after she intervened on behalf of one of her constituents who has been waiting since March for a family permit to allow his French wife and their children to return to the UK as a family unit.

On 1 September he received a rejection from the Home Office on the grounds that his paperwork was not complete.

The rejection was a shock to Ben Bramich, 46, and wife, Valerie, who had made detailed plans to return home to the UK with new jobs, home and school for their two children, aged four and six, including selling the family home.

Confident of his rights to come home, Ben, a middle manager in the automotive industry, moved back to Wilmslow in August while his wife went to France for a holiday with the children to see her parents before the big move across the channel. But after the Home Office letter, he has returned to Brussels.

“We are living in an Airbnb, have to move again to another Airbnb for another three days because someone else has booked this one, and then move again. We have minimal belongings and no toys at all for the kids. A friend dropped into the house a few days ago and brought us some things for the children,” he said.

His nightmare is one of countless being recounted by Britons trying to make the move home to be near elderly parents, take up new jobs or get children in school.

Under the post-Brexit rules, Britons married to EU nationals must get a family permit for their spouses to enter the UK as a family unit, but dozens of families who have contacted the Guardian have spoken about nightmarish experiences.

Ben said the most frustrating thing about the experience was being left in the dark, with outright rejections instead of phone calls asking for supplementary documents. He had provided birth certificates, marriage certificates and government-issued certificates showing who had lived in his house in Brussels since 2014 and a full permanent residency history for the past 20 years.

“There should be a service-level agreement on turnaround times. When you are doing an international move, you need certainty. Everything they asked for I could have provided in 24 hours – that is what is so upsetting,” he said.

The official email said there was “no service standards for this type of application” and the 15-day and 60-day turnaround pledges given to other visa applications do not apply. Those, the official said, applied to “other entry clearance routes but are not applicable to EU settlement scheme family permits”, they added.

Faced with a choice of staying near his mother in Wilmslow or his wife, he chose to return to Brussels to be with his family. His mother is so bewildered that she has written to Boris Johnson about the matter.

Jane Golding, co-chair of British in Europe, a coalition of groups for UK nationals in the EU, has called on the government to extend the 29 March cutoff date for spouses of British nationals who want to return to the UK. She said the problem was that “we were promised a three-year grace period, but what we got instead was a 15-month window”.

“Now the clock is ticking. There are just over six months left of that window and Covid backlogs are running that time down further. The Home Office needs to put more resources into this and communicate better what people need to do.

“Of course, the fair thing to do would be to extend – and give people three years from the date on which the rules actually changed, 1 January 2021, and for the government to honour its promises to its citizens in the EEA and Switzerland.”

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