European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom who fail to secure permission to remain post-Brexit will be deported, according to people who claim to have seen draft government papers on the issue.

The Reuters news agency says the UK will only be lenient in “exceptional circumstances”, with exemptions possible for people with physical and mental impairments and children whose parents failed to apply on their behalf.

Reuters said it learned about the deportation plan from immigration lawyers who read the government’s draft immigration guidelines a few months ago.

One of the lawyers told the agency: “We are looking at a fairly high threshold, saying ‘I forgot’ won’t be good enough. If someone fails to apply before the deadline, they will have no lawful residence. Then, the process to deport them will kick in.”

According to UK government statistics, around half of the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens living in Britain have so far sought permission to remain after the Dec 31, 2020 date on which they lose their automatic right to stay simply because they are EU citizens.

The draft guidelines are understood to be part of a massive shake-up of the UK’s immigration system that will end the favorable treatment of EU citizens and instead prioritize people with specific skills.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said in a statement: “We will reduce immigration overall while being more open and flexible to the highly skilled people we need, such as scientists and doctors.”

The BBC reported that the opposition Labour Party’s shadow business minister, Laura Pidcock, had noted that the ruling Conservative Party has made similar claims in the past and “broken every single commitment (it has) ever given” on immigration.

Christine Jardine, the home affairs spokesperson for the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, said the Conservative Party’s anti-immigration stance is “an insult to the millions who have come to the UK and made it their home”.

The latest government figures show net migration into the UK totaled 226,000 in the year ending March 2019. The total population is 66.5 million.

European Council President Donald Tusk, meanwhile, has reminded Britons, who will choose a new government in a general election on Dec 12, that they can still decide to remain in the EU.

He said leaving the bloc would mark the “real end of the British Empire”.

“Can things still be turned around?” Tusk asked in a speech at the College of Europe in Bruges. “The only words that come to my mind today are simply: Don’t give up.”

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