European Union citizens living in the UK could be deported if they do not apply for settled status after a no-deal Brexit, a British government minister has warned.
Security minister Brandon Lewis told a German newspaper that the government will "apply the rules" and remove residents who haven't applied to stay by the end of 2020, even if they meet the conditions necessary for a residence permit.
Around 1 million of the UK's 3 million EU citizens have not yet applied for settled status, the UK Home Office revealed on Wednesday.
Lewis told Die Welt that "if EU citizens have not registered by that time and have no adequate justification for not doing so, the current immigration rules will be applied." Asked if the same approach would be taken if legal conditions for residence are met, Lewis said: "Theoretically yes. We will apply the current rules."
Anti-Brexit groups had pressed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to confirm what would happen to EU citizens who did not meet the deadline for the scheme, which was introduced by his predecessor Theresa May.
"Finally, a Home Office minister publicly confirms the outrageous implications of the settled status scheme," Scottish National Party (SNP) lawmaker Stuart McDonald said on Twitter, calling for an "automatic grant of permanent residence to all EU citizens here."
"Utterly contemptible behaviour from the Tories in Westminster. Oh how small are these islands becoming with this ridiculous attitude," added Chris Law, an MP from the same party.
Lewis later said his comments had been "somewhat taken out of context." In a tweet, he added that there was "plenty of help available" to EU citizens and that the government has "always said we'll allow time for those with reasonable grounds for missing the deadline."
The settled status scheme asks EU nationals to prove their identity and that they live in the UK, and to declare any criminal convictions.
Just over 1.5 million applications for the scheme have been concluded, according to the government's latest figures, with more than half a million applications coming in September.
Of the resolved applications, the Home Office said "61% were granted settled status, 38% were granted pre-settled status, and two applications were refused on suitability grounds." Pre-settled status can be upgraded to settled status once a resident has lived in the UK for five years, but they must apply again to make the change.
A Home Office spokesperson told CNN in a statement: "EU citizens are our friends, family and neighbours and we want them to stay. The EU Settlement Scheme is a free and easy way for EU citizens to get the UK immigration status they need."
"We have received 2 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," the statement added.