No-deal Brexit could abruptly end freedom of movement, says Home Office

20 Aug 2019 By Elizabeth Howlett

Government rethinking proposals that would allow a transition period in the event no agreement was reached

The UK could abruptly end freedom of movement upon leaving the EU on 31 October if no deal is reached, the Home Office has said, adding to the growing uncertainty among employers about the availability of labour if the the UK does crash out without a deal.

The announcement, which initially leaked from the Home Office but has since been confirmed, means that previous plans to ease the transition in the event of a no-deal could be scrapped and replaced by an as-yet-unannounced ‘new approach’.

The Home Office has said EU citizens will still be able to come to the UK for short trips, but that arrangements for people coming to the UK to work or study would change. It has not outlined any details, but said there will be “tougher criminality rules” compared to current EU rules.

Former prime minister Theresa May had initially proposed either extending free movement rules or introducing a temporary leave to remain scheme in the event of a no-deal Brexit, under which EU nationals would be free to enter the UK but would have to apply for temporary leave if they wished to stay longer than three months.

It is not clear to what extent either of these options are still being considered.

Karendeep Kaur, senior immigration consultant at Migrate UK, said prime minister Boris Johnson’s unwillingness to phase out the current immigration rules have not allowed for EU nationals currently in the UK, or those looking to enter before 2021, to organise their affairs. 

She added that although reassurances had been made that the rights of EU nationals currently living in the UK would be protected and that they would be able to remain under settled status, this would still depend on what new immigration laws come into force.

But Kaur added: “New rules have not been put in place, and the threat to end free movement is a mere 72 days away. This only adds to the uncertainty of EU nationals currently in the UK and employers across the country, who until yesterday had been planning for a December 2020 deadline.”

Joanna Hunt, managing associate at law firm Lewis Silkin, said May’s plans to introduce a temporary leave to remain scheme were “inherently flawed” and could create confusion for employers. “[Settled status] would leave employers having to decipher who was and who was not a new arrival, creating the potential that they could ultimately be employing EU nationals who did not have the lawful right to work in the UK,” she said.

But, Hunt added: “Going back to square one will only serve to heighten the fear that the UK is simply not prepared for a no-deal exit. What is needed is a clear and coherent policy about what will happen following a no-deal Brexit so that businesses can be sure that they will be able to source the labour they need post 31 October and EU nationals wanting to work in the UK can make plans for the future.” 

The Home Office confirmed that EU citizens and their families still have until at least December 2020 to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

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

Since March, one million EU nationals have successfully applied for settled status, giving them the right to live in the UK, but the Home Office is urging the estimated remaining two million EU nationals to apply for settled status to avoid potential difficulties.

A statement from the Home Office also reveals plans to bring in a new single sponsorship system for businesses looking to bring in talent from abroad, which will aim to reduce the overall burden on individuals, businesses and employers by reducing bureaucracy.

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