The government yesterday released a Policy Paper setting out its position on the right of EU nationals to remain in the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
In light of the continued political uncertainty, this will no doubt be welcome news for those that currently employ a significant number of EU staff.
Earlier this year, the government published details of the EU Settlement Scheme – the agreed means by which the rights of EU nationals to remain in the UK would be secured post-Brexit.
The Settlement Scheme was very much predicated on the basis that the UK would secure a deal upon its exit from the EU. However; recent negative reaction to the proposed Withdrawal Agreement amongst MPs has brought the possibility of a no-deal Brexit sharply into focus.
The intention is that the rules will operate in a similar manner to the Settlement Scheme, subject to the following key points:
The government is still seeking reciprocal agreements with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland – nations who are not in the EU, but to whom the free movement principles of the EU apply. The Policy Paper confirms that nationals of these countries will be entitled to remain in the UK post-Brexit and also notes that reciprocal commitments have been made by these nations. However, no written agreements relating to this have yet been published.
In the Policy Paper, the government refers to the possibility of a no-deal Brexit being "unlikely" on account of the UK and EU having "agreed a good deal for citizens". The vast majority of press and commentary to date suggests that most Westminster MPs do not agree with these sentiments; whilst the Scottish Parliament has already voted against (albeit in a non-binding vote) the adoption of the Withdrawal Agreement. The possibility of a no-deal Brexit is therefore very much on the table, with some even suggesting that remaining in the EU may still a realistic option.
In light of this continuing uncertainty, employers would be well advised to continue staff auditing processes in order to ascertain the number/identity of staff that are working in the UK under EU free movement rules. It isn't possible at this stage to provide such individuals with definitive concrete assurances as to the means by which they can attempt to secure their future rights in the UK. However, open dialogue and explanation that there will be a Settlement Scheme (in some shape or form) in either a deal or no-deal scenario will no doubt be welcomed by employees.
This publication is intended for general guidance and represents our understanding of the relevant law and practice as at December 2018. Specific advice should be sought for specific cases. For more information see our terms & conditions.