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Sports Q&A - What does Brexit mean for football transfers?

07 January 2020

Brexit finally does mean Brexit. The 2019 general election returned a Conservative government with a mandate to – as we repeatedly heard throughout the campaign – Get Brexit Done. What this means in the short term is that the UK will formally leave the EU on 31 January 2020.

So what does Brexit mean for the January 2020 transfer window? And for football immigration in the longer term?

January 2020 window implications

Brexit will not affect the ability of UK clubs to buy European footballers in the January 2020 transfer window. The UK will remain a member of the EU for the duration of the window, which closes on 31 January 2020 (the same day the UK is set to leave the EU). So freedom of movement – which flows from the UK’s membership of the EU – will continue throughout January 2020.

However, clubs may have one eye on youth transfers. FIFA transfer rules prohibit the international transfer of footballers under the age of 18. One exception to the rule is where the transfer is within the EU (the exemption saw the transfer of players such as Cesc Fabregas and Hector Bellerin from Barcelona to Arsenal). However, the UK will – as a strict matter of fact – not be a member of the EU after 31 January 2020. As a result, we can presume that the benefit of this exemption will simply fall away for British clubs on that date. Might this influence how clubs do business for young players on their radar in the January 2020 window?

Beyond Brexit

From 31 January 2020 to 31 December 2020, the UK will have a period of transition. During this time, the UK and the EU will negotiate their future trading relationship. Free movement will continue during this period. This means that UK clubs will benefit from free movement in the summer 2020 transfer window. The January 2021 transfer window will be the first window after free movement will have come to an end. All UK businesses – including football clubs – will be keenly waiting for details of the new immigration system that the government will implement from 1 January 2021.

The implementation of a new immigration system may mean that European players will have to obtain a “governing body endorsement” (GBE) to transfer to an English club, as is currently the position for non-European players. A GBE is currently only issued in respect of “elite players”. This usually involves showing that they have international caps or a high market value. In effect, GBE restrictions could stop European players coming to the UK as relatively unknown talents.

The FA has also proposed to use Brexit to amend the “homegrown” rule and cut the number of foreign players allowed in Premier League squads post-Brexit. The FA wants to reduce the number of non-homegrown players allowed in a squad from 17 to 13. On the other hand, the Premier League wants its clubs to have the ability to sign players from anywhere in the world, without restrictions on quality or qualification.

2020 will certainly be a fascinating year for watching how the various challenges posed by Brexit unfold. The new world of post-Brexit immigration will undoubtedly have an impact on football transfers for British clubs.

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