On 7 December the Government finally reached an agreement with the European Union to move past the initial stages of the Brexit negotiations so that they could focus on the UK’s future trading agreements with the other Member States. There were three areas that had to be agreed on to allow this work to move forward:
- Protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and of UK citizens in the rest of the EU
- The status of the Irish border and regulation in Northern Ireland
- The cost of the financial settlement for departing the EU
Whilst it was the Irish issue that caused the most controversy and drama, there are some key points and principles in the text of the joint report issued on 8 December which provide some very positive principles as to how existing European rights will be enjoyed in the future.
Bringing family members into the UK
As already agreed, there will be a 2-year period following Brexit in which EU nationals will apply to confirm lawful residence. We now know that those nationals will still be allowed to bring in their family members in the same way they do now. This will depend on who you wish to bring in; the categories agreed are:
- Partners and dependants if they were related to the EU national as of the date of Brexit
- Children born or adopted following Brexit where one parent is British, and the other is an EU national (protected by the withdrawal agreement)
- Children born or adopted following Brexit where there is a sole parent who is an EU national (protected by with withdrawal agreement) and it is in the best interests of the child to enter
Any other family members wishing to enter the UK will be governed by standard UK Immigration Rules.
It is significant to note that there is not a fixed time limit on this. These rights will only expire on the passing of the individual EU nationals.
More information was given about those who already hold a right of Permanent Residence under EU law and how this is converted into the new ‘settled’ status. The best news is that, after it initially appearing these applications would cost as much as getting a new passport, it has now been agreed that it will be free of charge.
There will remain suitability and criminality checks, and evidence will need to be provided of ongoing residence in the UK. It has also been agreed that those with Permanent Residence can leave the UK for up to 5 years without losing their rights to continue residing in the UK on return. Previously this had been 2 years. This seems to be reciprocal; UK nationals in other EU states with Permanent Residence there would also be able to leave for 5 years without losing their right to reside.
Other matters of note
UK nationals can continue to receive reciprocal healthcare if they hold an EHIC or other recognised form of insurance that allows for reimbursement.
Existing decisions regarding mutual recognition of professional qualifications will remain in place for both UK nationals working in the EU and for EU nationals in the UK. This may reduce the impact of Brexit in some industries.
The European Court of Justice will continue to be the final authority for deciding how free movement rights are to be interpreted; both those of UK nationals in the member states and of EU nationals here who are covered by the withdrawal agreement. The UK Government will have the right to intervene in these cases, and likewise the EU Commission will have the right to intervene in matters arising in the UK concerning free movement that have not yet reached the Court of Justice. How rights are to be implemented and applied remains an open question. The UK is to establish a new, independent body to monitor this and to deal with complaints. This is a matter for the next phase of negotiations.