News | Published August 20 2019

Freedom of movement to end overnight in no-deal Brexit

Boris Johnson has announced that freedom of movement would end as soon as Britain left the European Union under a no-deal Brexit. 

Former prime minister Theresa May had considered gradually phasing out existing rules should a withdrawal agreement not be ratified by the deadline, but this has now been ruled out by the Johnson administration.

Johnson reassured on Monday that the UK would not “become hostile to immigration” but rather seek to “democratically control” it after Brexit.

The move will affect the rights of EU citizens who arrive in the UK from November onwards.

The options considered during May’s office that have now been discarded included extending freedom of movement until January 2021 or allowing EU citizens to remain for three months before having to apply for a longer stay. The government is still working on an alternative approach.

Under the existing withdrawal agreement, negotiated by Theresa May and thrice rejected by Parliament, freedom of movement would remain for a two-year transition period after Brexit.

According to the Home Office, under the government's new proposals, EU citizens already residing in the UK will not be affected, having until December 2020 to sign up to the settled status scheme and secure the right to remain in the country.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Freedom of movement as it currently stands will end on 31 October when the UK leaves the EU.

"After Brexit, the government will introduce a new, fairer immigration system that prioritises skills and what people can contribute to the UK, rather than where they come from.”

The prime minister is understood to be keen to strike a new deal with the EU but is more willing than his predecessor to leave without one after October 31 should an agreement not be reached.

Liberal Democrat MP Sir Ed Davey called the new strategy “irresponsible and reckless” which will “hugely increase the damage” of a no-deal Brexit.

Davey also raised concerns about the lack of clarity regarding laws on employers having foreign workers.

Conservative MP Alberto Costa has echoed Davey’s words highlighting “a total lack of clarity”.

Costa added: "What we do with EU nationals post-Brexit will be mirrored by EU states towards British citizens in the EU.

"If the British government abruptly terminates the legal arrangements in respect of citizens it will directly negatively impact on innocent British citizens working in the EU.”

The inevitable disruption at major transport hubs such as ports and airports in the event of a disorderly Brexit have also raised concerns.

Should freedom of movement rules end abruptly, enhanced checks will need to be enforced which will increase the burden on port and airport staff.

Campaigners have also argued that ending freedom of movement without having legal provisions in place for those that have not applied for settled status would see “millions of lawful citizens” lose their legal status overnight.

Under no-deal, EU citizens who have a right to permanent residence in the UK already will not see their rights waived, while those already in the UK without this right can apply for settled status or pre-settled status.

EU citizens coming to the UK for holidays and short stays will not be affected, but ending freedom of movement will cause issues for those wishing to work or study in the UK.

However, British and Irish ministers agreed a deal back in May to guarantee free movement for their respective citizens crossing the Irish border, so ending freedom of movement will not apply to Irish citizens.

The agreement also guaranteed cross-border access for those wishing to study and those seeking health care.

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Authored by

Scott Challinor
Business Editor
August 20 2019

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