After almost a decade of coalition and minority governments in the United Kingdom (“UK”), Prime Minister Boris Johnson won an 80-seat majority in the December 2019 General Election with the simple slogan: “Get Brexit Done.” This mandate meant that, after years of wrangling and tortuous procedural battles in Parliament, the Withdrawal Agreement Bill was passed and, on 23 January 2020, received Royal Assent to become law as the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020.  Just over three and a half years since the referendum, this means that the UK will formally leave the EU on 31 January 2020. But what happens next with respect to free movement?

  • The UK will enter into a transition phase to the end of 2020 in order for a new relationship with the EU to be negotiated. The status quo will be maintained for entry to the UK, and the right of free movement for EU nationals will continue throughout 2020.
  • EU citizens entering the UK on or before 31 December 2020 will be eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme for either settled or pre-settled status. They will have until the end of June 2021 to do so.
  • During this transition phase, the UK government will develop its plans for a new legal framework for immigration control from January 2021.  In early 2020 the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) will report its findings on the future framework and, in particular, its ideas and recommendations for an “Australian-style” points based system.  Home secretary Priti Patel has vowed to change the immigration system, in particular with respect to controlling the level of migration for unskilled workers.
  • There will therefore be no immediate change to compliance or process requirements for the sponsorship of non-EU nationals. These changes will be developed over the course of 2020.
  • The future pathway however is now clear, and there is no realistic possibility of a second referendum or a change in approach. This provides greater clarity and certainty for business.
  • British citizens will also continue to benefit from freedom of movement across EU27 throughout 2020.

To read more about Brexit’s impact on employers, data privacy, intellectual property, and information technology matters, please see our Legal Update.