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Brexit – The Meaningful Vote

Implications for UK Immigration Policy

Tonight in the House of Commons MPs will finally have an opportunity to vote on the agreement reached by the Government with the European Union on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the Union (“the Withdrawal Agreement”).

Following extensive debate in the House, and more widely across the country as a whole, it appears likely that the Government’s deal will be rejected by MPs.

What happens next?

If the House approves the Withdrawal Agreement, a transitional period will commence at 11pm on 29th March 2019 that is set to last until 31st December 2020. Whilst Britain will technically have left the EU at this point, the status quo will be maintained in terms of Britain’s membership of the Single Market and Customs Union until a new bilateral relationship has been negotiated with the EU.

During the transitional period freedom of movement for EU nationals into the UK will continue and EU nationals will continue to have a right to reside and work in the UK. They will however be required to register their stay here and apply for leave to remain under the new EU Settlement Scheme (“the scheme”).

EU nationals who have resided in the UK for a five year period will be eligible to apply for indefinite leave to remain under the scheme.

In December 2018 the Government published a White Paper on the “UK’s future skills-based immigration system”. The transitional period will give Government time to bring forward the legislation, rule changes and administrative architecture necessary to implement a new post-Brexit immigration system.

If the House rejects the Withdrawal Agreement, the Prime Minister is required to return to the House within three parliamentary working days to set out her alternative plan. Her options include:

  1. Returning to Brussels to obtain further concessions on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement ahead of a second vote in Parliament.
  2. Planning for a “no-deal” Brexit to commence on 29th March.
  3. Seeking a major renegotiation of the agreement. This would require an extension of the Article 50 negotiation period beyond 29th March.
  4. Calling a General Election to obtain a political mandate for her deal.
  5. Proposing another referendum. This would also require an extension of the Article 50 notice period.

The labour opposition may call a vote of confidence in the Government with the hope of securing a General Election. If this fails they have not ruled out supporting a second referendum.

EU Citizens and Immigration Policy

Whilst a rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement in Parliament will inevitably create uncertainty and anxiety regarding the way forward, it is important to note that the Government has already committed to implementing the EU Settlement Scheme for qualifying EU nationals and their family members residing in the UK prior to 29 March 2019 regardless of a no-deal outcome.

Specifically, in the event of a no-deal scenario:

  1. Any EU citizen living in the UK by 29th March 2019 will be eligible to apply under the scheme, securing their status in UK law.
  2. Those here by 29th March 2019 will have until 31st December 2020 to apply for status under the scheme.
  3. The UK will continue to honour the right of those who obtain settled status under the scheme to be able to leave the country for up to five consecutive years without losing their right to return.
  4. As there would be no transitional period, these guarantees would only apply to EU citizens who are resident in the UK by 29th March 2019.
  5. EU citizens with settled status would be able to be joined in the UK, by 29th March 2022, by existing close family members, such as children, spouses and partners, parents and grandparents living overseas at exit, where the relationship existed by 29th March 2019 (or where a child was born overseas after this date) and continued to exist when the family member applied.

The EU Settlement Scheme is scheduled to be implemented widely from 21st January 2019 regardless of the outcome of tonight’s vote. From that date the scheme will be available to resident EU citizens (and their EU citizen family members) with a valid passport, and to their non-EU citizen family members holding a valid biometric residence card.

Magrath Sheldrick LLP will continue to keep clients and professional colleagues updated on Brexit developments over the coming days.

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