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Brexit means... it's the end of free movement as we know it

18 January 2017

As expected, Prime Minister Theresa May today laid out plans for what has come to be known in the press as a “hard Brexit”.

Prime Minister Theresa May has delivered a long-awaited speech on the UK’s exit from the EU, setting out her negotiating objectives and priorities.

The headline points in relation to immigration are:

  1. Ending free movement and controlling immigration will not only be a key priority for the UK – it is a bottom line. Ms May said that the UK “will always want immigration”, but the referendum showed that the British people want control over immigration from the EU. Quite what this will mean in practice remains unclear. However, it seems likely that Europeans who want to come to the UK post-Brexit will face new restrictions. Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said that a work permit system was “one of the ways we are looking at, but it’s not the only way”.
  2. The government wants to guarantee the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK, and the rights of Brits living elsewhere in the EU, “as soon as possible”. Ms May indicated that most EU leaders favour such an agreement.
  3. Ms May favours a “phased process of implementation” at the conclusion of the two-year period following the triggering of Article 50. This would probably include transitional arrangements for the new immigration rules, whatever they may be.
  4. Ms May will also prioritise the maintenance of the Common Travel Area (CTA) with Ireland. She said that “nobody wants to return to the borders of the past” and wants to develop a solution that allows the minimal border controls of the CTA to be retained, while also having control over migration into the UK.

Whether Ms May can get everything she wants remains to be seen. The period of uncertainty for businesses and individuals will therefore continue until final agreement is reached on the many issues on the agenda. However, judging from Ms May’s speech, an end to free movement appears to be certain.

In the meantime, we continue to advise EEA nationals and their family members to apply for documentation confirming their current rights of residence in the UK. Doing so will help secure their position in the UK post-Brexit.

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