- One million EU citizens living in the UK have so far failed to apply for the scheme, which was launched last year.
- Lewis claimed his words had been taken "somewhat out of context" and a Home Office spokesperson said EU citizens who miss the 2020 deadline will be given "further opportunity" to apply.
LONDON Thousands of EU citizens could be deported from the UK if they fail to register for the "settled status" registration scheme after Brexit, UK security minister Brandon Lewis has said.
Figures released by the Home Office this week show that one million of the estimated three million EU citizens living in the UK have so far failed to register for the scheme, which is designed to allow EU citizens to remain in the country after Brexit.
In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt, Lewis said EU citizens living in the UK risk being deported if they fail to apply for the scheme by the end of 2020.
"If EU citizens have not registered by then without an adequate justification, the immigration rules will apply," he said.
Asked whether those citizens who don't apply in the next 14 months will be deported even if they fulfill all legal conditions for residence, Lewis replied: "Theoretically yes. We will apply the rules."
Maike Bohn, spokesperson for the3million campaign group which represents EU citizens, said the government had gone back on its promises.
"We have pressed the government for years on what happens to those who do not have a status in 2021," she said.
"Today, after much wait, it is confirmed that hundreds and thousands of people will be punished with the threat of removal from their home. This is no way to treat people, let alone what was promised.
"We don't know at all how many people will need to apply there are no reliable data on the number of EU citizens living in the UK and there will never be a 100% success rate for a new scheme like the EU settlement scheme.
"Those people who miss the tight deadline will face the full force of the hostile environment. That is the grim reality of the UK government's position, no matter how many times they repeat the phrase 'EU citizens and their families are our friends, neighbours and colleagues and we want them to stay'."
The group called on the government to guarantee the rights of EU citizens who are legally entitled to remain in the UK even if they do not apply the scheme.
'The government have not learned the lessons from the Windrush scandal'
Lewis said on Twitter that his words had been taken "somewhat taken out of context," while aHome Office spokesperson said EU citizens who miss the 2020 deadline will be given "further opportunity" to apply.
"The EU Settlement Scheme is a free and easy way for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need," they said.
"We have received two million applications and are looking for reasons to grant status, not refuse, and EU citizens have until at least December 2020 to apply.
"We've always been clear that where they have reasonable grounds for missing the deadline, they'll be given a further opportunity to apply."
Yvette Cooper, the Labour MP who chairs the House of Commons home affairs select committee, said: "It's outrageous that the security minister is saying that people who have a legal right to be here may be deported in just fourteen months' time.
"This goes against all the reassurances given by the government that they would do everything to make sure people who have made their lives here can stay."
"It is clear that the government have not learned the lessons from the Windrush scandal, which showed how easily individuals can fall through gaps in the system through no fault of their own, and how easily lives can be destroyed if the government gets this wrong," she said.
Christine Jardine, the Liberal Democrats Home Office spokesperson, said she was "absolutely appalled" by the remarks.
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