Jacqueline de Gier

About Jacqueline de Gier

Jacqueline de Gier is a journalist and author with an allergy for pot-noodle journalism. She has written extensively on Turkey, Iran and the Middle East. Her other job is as Theologian with an interest in Early Christianity and St. Paul, and religious affairs in general. She lives in London.

Britain: The country that can leave itself, but not use an app

As we shuffle closer to Brexit, the incompetence builds. On the back of developing a crucial citizenship app that half the population can’t use, I suspect it might be deliberate.



This morning, Boris Johnson redoubled his plan to enable a Brexit. Either they’ll agree, or he’ll leave without a plan. It’s the same ploy that his predecessor suggested.

We are not going to re-run that bad circus, but there is a lot of work to be done.

But, a mobile phone app devised to “process” the 3.6 million EU citizens who, in the language of passive-aggressiveness, “wish to stay after Brexit” – an app said to be “as simple as an online account with (fashion retailer) LK Bennett” – does not work. That is to say, it works but only on Android phones – but not on iPhones, the phone used by most people, including children over three years old. There are 700,000 EU kids who all have to apply individually – not as part of a family unit – for “settled status”.

Home Office officials travelled to Brussels to demonstrate the app to Guy Verhofstadt, the EU coordinator for the European Parliament in the “Brexit” talks. First, they were late (they missed the Eurostar train) then they admitted that the app had not, as previously claimed, been “extensively tested”. Verhofstadt lost his temper when one snapped that “people can always borrow someone else’s phone.”

So that is the attitude. There are 3.6 million EU citizens, who were first turned into human ransomware by then Prime Minister Theresa May, who then did the most insincere u-turn and said, “We want you to stay,” and who now have to earn “settled status”. It is a spurious business, for EU citizens or nationals, who are now conveniently called “EU Migrants” and “EU Workers” and even “parasites”, are legal residents. EU Treaty Law protecting citizens’ rights is very simple and straightforward. So “settled status” is an exercise in new rules and applying them retrospectively, a form of re-immigrating, not unlike this bad show in the US of de-naturalising naturalised American citizens. Was it not Napoleon who said, “the English don’t stick to treaties”?


Filing cabinets overflow – this is real – with paperwork of applicants. The Home Office demands paper, originals, bank statements dating back five years or more, all stamped and with a scribble for “verification”.


You don’t have to do a Netflix binge on The Crown to know that the English cannot be trusted, they play dirty (Brexit is an English thing, England über alles) and that they are never far from a farce, sneering disdain, insults and name-calling. So it was all in the house style to snub those who lose their cool with bungling.

The drum roll for the greener field over the hill has died down. There are still diehard Brexiters who peddle the second coming of the new English Jerusalem, but they are fringe operatives. Jedi of a kind, who send each other memos, like some Masonic sect with – and I am not making this up – Empire 2.0. They are in their own Galaxy. One must not forget that Utopia, be it Thomas More’s or Beatrice Potter’s, is another English thing – Jemima Puddle-Duck gone walkies. As such a user friendly, civilised Home Office, far from the nasty reality, fits the bill.

The Home Office is notorious for incompetence and its lack of grasping technology. It has even been said by one observer – I believe it was me – that it is easier to hack the Home Office systems than a pouf.

As such the Home Office is a cross between Graham Greene’s The Ministry of Fear and Fred Flintstone’s IKEA flat-pack home office. The filing cabinets are overflowing – this is real – with the paperwork of applicants. Even a routine extension of a residence visa takes six months. While we are all trying to save the planet, the Home Office demands paper, originals, bank statements dating back five years or more, all stamped and with a scribble for “verification”. What has been exposed is a system so Byzantine and banal that you only believe it when it happens to you. The application form for permanent residence or a visa for a spouse who is not an EU citizen is 86 pages. Fill in with a black ballpoint pen for the photocopier.

The statistics for the loss of documents, all demanded, and sent in good faith, is staggering: passports, birth and marriage certificates, tax records, scraps of “evidence”, is staggering. Once lost, they often cannot be replaced.


The application form for permanent residence or a visa for a spouse who is not an EU citizen is 86 pages. Fill in with a black ball point pen for the photocopier.


It is tempting to blame it on incompetence. It gives it the veneer of human error, but it is not. There is a plan behind an overzealous bureaucracy and in Britain it can take on dizzying dimensions. The Records Department in Orwell’s 1984 at The Ministry of Truth is a place where the civil servant rewrites the story to fit in with the party. Once a normal citizen falls into the paws of the apparatchik, he gets thrown into the spinner, sucked into a black hole. In spite of EU Treaty Law, more than half of EU applicants for permanent residence are refused, not because they do not fulfil the criteria, but because they used a blue pen instead of a black one, because they forgot a date, or because they forgot a signature on one sheet of the 86 page form.

Every sheet needs a scribble.

It was Theresa May who, as Home Secretary, introduced the “hostile environment” (her words) on immigration, as it was her idea to use legally resident people as bargaining chips. A regime was installed that terminated all contact with “the people”. Phones were no longer answered. The diktat was, and is, “refuse out of hand”.

How difficult can it be to run an efficient administration? Or to devise an app, in an age when you run your electricity account on one, or your grocery deliveries? The simplest explanation for an algorithm is a sequence of steps to solve a problem – the instructions for your coffee maker and washing machine, how to operate your steam iron, or your scooter or car. Even people with little education can handle smartphones and use mathematics in its most basic form.

But a state institution in one of the wealthiest countries can not?

All that is now to change. I believe it when I see it. I had a letter from the Home Office Secretary, Sajid Javid.

Dear Jacqueline,

As Home Secretary I take immense pride that so many EU citizens like you have made your home here. Etc. etc. etc.

He writes that soon the system will be up and running, and it will be user-friendly. The Home Office is recruiting more than 1,000 extra staff to man customer help centres. Caseworkers will answer phones and call or send an email to iron out little mistakes. The app does not work yet on Apple, he admits, but negotiations with Apple are in full swing. And, it will be a straightforward matter of checking the databases of the tax office and police. Only truly serious criminals may face refusal. “Not someone who once had a parking ticket.”

The casual reader will miss it, or think it is some English banter, but it is not. People were refused for having parking tickets. In guidance notes for caseworker, it is stated that being of “good character” no longer matters. “A parking ticket of once taking the bus without a ticket, may cost you dearly.”

Sajid Javid, “the son of a Pakistani bus driver”, could be seen by the cynic to be a “politically correct” choice, the “ethnic” choice, but that is too simple. Mr Javid, who voted Remain in the referendum, is of proven competence. It is no mean task, as he has to clear up the sinister double-dealings of his boss and the sheer hysterical nonsense of his predecessor who wanted to name and shame companies that employ Europeans.

Call me silly, but I was quite charmed by that letter. It was the first time in two years that there was any communication.

The Home Secretary was mugged recently in front of a railway station in London, by a scooter gang, who lifted his mobile phone.

He was deeply shocked, “It was a brand new phone.”

We wonder what type it was. And all that is now to change? If there is zero trust, then it is for all the right reasons.






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