Fears over local impact of no-deal Brexit

Lituanica supermarket in Walthamstow High Street
Lituanica supermarket in Walthamstow High Street is one of many local businesses that relies on EU imports

Thousands of EU citizens in Waltham Forest have yet to obtain legal settled status, reports James Cracknell

EU citizens living in Waltham Forest are being urged to apply for the right to remain in Britain as the risk of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit rises ahead of the 31st October departure date.

The chances of the UK exiting the European Union (EU) without an agreement have risen sharply since Boris Johnson became prime minister in July – despite previously claiming the odds were “a million to one” he admitted last month it was “touch and go”.

Any EU citizen who has lived here for five years is entitled to obtain ‘settled status’ under the government’s EU Settlement Scheme, while others can obtain ‘pre-settled status’ allowing them to stay for five years, after which they must re-apply. The Home Office says the current 31st December 2020 deadline for applications will remain in the event of a no-deal, but the fate of those who either fail to obtain settled status or have yet to apply is less clear.

Alex Todorov, a Bulgarian shopkeeper working at Aida Supermarket in Walthamstow High Street, told the Echo he had yet to make an application for settled status and did not know how to go about it. “It it is not clear what will happen,” said Alex. “I spoke to my colleague about it [the EU Settlement Scheme] and no-one is really sure about it.

“I don’t want to go back to Bulgaria, I want to stay here. There is a Bulgarian newspaper that gives us information but that is it.”

Home Office figures show 12,970 EU citizens in Waltham Forest out of the total 25,235 living in the borough – just over half – had made a settled status application as of July.

Manola Di Battista runs Italian Bakery in St James Street and said: “We pay our taxes and have been here for three years so we will see. I want to buy a house here, I want to invest here and stay for the rest of my life, but even if I can’t get settled status I would like to say thank you to this country for giving me the opportunity to grow.”

Waltham Forest Council was given a share of the government’s £56million ‘Brexit Fund’ with a key aim being to help local people make applications through the EU Settlement Scheme. A spokesperson said: “Through our libraries we are offering the full range of services available to support EU residents to stay in the borough and this includes offering assistance on settled status applications seven-days-a-week in our two busiest libraries [Walthamstow and Leytonstone].”

The council has also set up a Brexit working group, chaired by deputy leader Clyde Loakes. Other local authorities have outlined key risks of a no-deal exit such as medicine or fuel shortages and disruption to supply chains, but while Waltham Forest Council has produced internal reports on such risks it has declined to make them public.