A Polish chef who has worked with Mary Berry and Jamie Oliver is leading a revolt by UK-based Poles against the Home Office’s requirement that EU citizens apply for settled status as part of Brexit.
More than 7,000 people have signed a petition launched this week by Damian Wawrzyniak on the UK government and parliament website to change the wording of the settlement status process from “application” to “registration”. At 10,000 signatures, the government must respond.
Wawrzyniak, a former chef at Noma in Copenhagen who has worked in Britain for 15 years and established his own UK restaurants, originally backed Brexit on the basis that it would make it easier for restaurants to select British produce. But he has changed his mind and says he will ultimately refuse to apply to live in the country he now calls home.
Backing has already come from the food writer Nigel Slater and the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, who tweeted that “future generations will be appalled that to appease the hard right we made EU citizens apply to stay in their own homes”.
“When the scheme went live, I said to myself: ‘I’ve been here for 15 years, working, running businesses and employing people, so why should I have to apply to stay in my own home?’” said the chef, who owns a restaurant called House of Feasts on the outskirts of Peterborough and also runs a consultancy business.
I’m just not going to apply as the scheme stands, and from conversations with friends and others from the Polish community here, I get the sense that a lot of people feel the same way.”
Wawrzyniak had originally supported Brexit “from a chef’s perspective” in the belief that those in the catering sector could more easily order produce almost entirely from UK sources.
“Now, I don’t think it’s worth it. If it does happen on a no-deal basis and I didn’t apply for settled status then I would become an illegal person here and would be stripped of my rights to bank accounts or residential status.”
Wawrzyniak, who first rose to prominence on the BBC showing Berry how to make his signature babka cake and has cooked for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on a royal visit to Poland, also spoke of the impact on UK-born children.
“Mine were born in the UK and go to British schools but they also have to apply. As well, we had a Polish woman in our restaurant who had come here after the war. Her daughter was born here and has lived here for 30 years but she has to apply as well.”
More than 600,000 EU citizens have already applied to stay in the UK post-Brexit, Home Office figures revealed earlier this month. However, the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration has said more attention is needed for vulnerable applicants and those who want to challenge a decision.
The deadline for applying will be 30 June 2021, or 31 December 2020 in the event of no deal.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The EU settlement scheme is designed to make it easy for EU citizens and their family members who want to stay in the UK to apply for the UK immigration status they need to remain in the UK. They only need to complete three key steps: prove their identity, show that they live in the UK, and declare any criminal convictions.
“Our starting position is that we are looking for reasons to grant people status through the scheme because we want everyone to receive the status they are eligible for.”