Brexit update 23 June 2017 – Negotiations start and an offer is finally on the table for EU nationals living in the UK

A week into Brexit negotiations, we are starting to see the first signs of how the UK Government intends to move things forward.  This has been shown in two ways this week; the Queen’s speech of Wednesday 21 June, and then on Thursday 22 June, an ‘offer’ made to EU nationals already living in the UK. 

The Queen’s Speech 2017- Brexit and Immigration policy

In her annual address, the Queen set out the objectives of the UK government for the year ahead. Unsurprisingly, the dominating objective, or the ‘priority’ as Her Majesty described it, was the Government’s aim to secure the best possible deal in leaving the European Union.

Within this objective, the Queen addressed 8 pieces of proposed legislation, regarding the following areas:

  • Immigration
  • Trade
  • Customs
  • Agriculture
  • Fisheries
  • Nuclear Safeguard
  • International Sanctions

A bill is proposed to allow the Government to repeal all EU law on immigration, primarily the free movement of EU nationals and their non-EU family members. These repealed laws will then be converted into UK law, and those EU nationals and family members who are affected will be subject to UK law instead.  This should allow the migration of EU nationals to the UK to be managed; the Government claims that talented migrants will still be able to relocate here, while those with less desirable skills will be kept out. 

The announcement in the speech is not surprising, and it does nothing to address the two crucial issues caused by Brexit in an immigration context:

  • What happens to EU nationals already living in the UK?
  • What measures will be introduced to manage EU migration in future? 

UK settled status

The first question has been partially answered, following the announcement last night of a new ‘UK settled status’ to become relevant in post-Brexit Britain.  Similar to the permanent residence status that currently exists under free movement provisions, it will effectively act as a 2-year ‘grace period’ to allow EU citizens already here to complete a 5-year qualifying period and then secure permanent permission to stay.  However, UK settled status already poses a lot of questions: what happens to non-EU family members and extended family, for example?  What happens to EU nationals who have lived in the UK for less than 3 years on Brexit day; those individuals cannot complete their 5-year qualifying period through reliance on the 2-year scheme, so do they have to leave?

The assurances offered by Theresa May that ‘no one will face a cliff edge’ as a result of the Brexit negotiations do not go far enough for many.  The European Commission has already expressed concern that guarantees need to go further, although the plans have been welcomed as a ‘good start’ by German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

What else can we expect?    

As negotiations continue, further plans will be announced, including the scheme which will replace freedom of movement.  At present, we can only guess how that will work, although it seems likely that a system completely different to the current Immigration Rules will be needed.  While the rhetoric remains of ‘top talent vs low skilled labour’, the UK is doing nothing to address the gaps which are opening up in major industries such as construction, manufacturing and agriculture.