Members of Parliament narrowly passed an amendment during an emergency session on Saturday, October 19, 2019, to postpone the decision on whether to vote “yes” or “no” to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal.  Parliament said it needed more time to review the deal, which Prime Minister Johnson concluded last week with European leaders.  The primary aim of the amendment is to ensure the UK cannot leave the EU on October 31, 2019, the current Brexit date, without enacting detailed legislation governing the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Saturday’s vote effectively required the Prime Minister to request a third extension of the withdrawal date, which would postpone Brexit until January 31, 2020.  Prime Minister Johnson, who had vowed never to seek an extension, sent an unsigned letter to the EU asking for the required three-month extension.  But he also sent a signed letter to European Council President Donald Tusk urging EU leaders to turn down the extension request, and has stated he will bring his proposal back before Parliament on Monday, October 21, 2019.

The UK legislature also announced plans to resume debate on the agreement, providing lawmakers a further chance to vote on a deal as early as Monday, October 21.  The EU is reported to have said the UK government must inform the EU executive of its next steps “as soon as possible,” as the EU leaders face the decision of whether to grant an extension and if so, when to make that call.

Prime Minister Johnson’s deal, as reported by Mayer Brown in an October 18 alert, Prime Minister-Proposed, EU-Endorsed Brexit Deal to Be Vetted by UK Parliament on October 19, 2019, sets out the timetable for a transition period; ongoing rights for citizens of the EU, the “EEA” (Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Norway, collectively), and Switzerland who live in the UK; the amount of money the UK has to pay the EU; and a special arrangement for Northern Ireland that would require customs checks on goods arriving there from elsewhere in the UK.

In terms of citizen’s rights and the movement of people, including the transition phase to 2021, there is no change to the previous agreement proposed by former Prime Minister Theresa May. As described in our alert, Brexit: Steps Employers Should Take Now (September 2019), freedom of movement  will continue during the transition until a new immigration framework is introduced in January 2021. The EU Settlement Scheme will remain open until June 2021.

In a “no deal” scenario, employers also may expect that citizens rights and freedom of movement wlll remain the same as described in our prior alert:

  • EEA and Swiss nationals will continue to be admitted freely until the end of 2020.
  • EEA and Swiss nationals wishing to stay beyond the end of 2020 can apply under the European Temporary Leave to Remain scheme.
  • The EU Settlement scheme will be open to all EEA and Swiss nationals who entered on or before October 31 and will remain open for applications until December 31, 2020, and is available now for online enrollment for either settled or pre-settled status, depending on whether the individual has accumulated five years of continuous residence in the UK.

With regard to the impact of Brexit to UK nationals in the EU, EU Member States have set grace periods, which vary from country to country but would apply even in a “no deal” scenario, during which UK nationals living in Europe could remain but would need to take steps to protect their residence and work permit rights. Similar provisions exist based on bilateral engagements for UK nationals living in EEA countries and Switzerland.