Last Thursday, an unexpected 51.9% voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The result was a shock to both the political establishment and the global markets. It is not yet clear how the UK will proceed with its relationship with the EU or what the ramifications of the decision to leave will be. A key element of the leave campaign was immigration and a desire to reduce the current levels of immigration. This has left many people unsure of their immigration status in the UK.
The result has caused turmoil on the financial markets and the UK has had its credit rating downgraded by the ratings agencies. The value of sterling has tumbled to thirty year lows and confidence in the British economy remains shaky in the face of the unknown. Immigration played a huge part in the campaign leading up to the referendum and the decision to vote leave has created a cloud of uncertainty for the future of free movement and the status of EU citizens in the UK. It has also created concerns over the future of the EU itself, with various Eurosceptic and right-wing alliances across Europe calling for similar referenda in their own states. These factions however remain a minority and there have been no moves towards holding such a referendum in any of the other member states.
Immigration formed a large, and controversial, element of the leave campaign. The Leave Campaign included multiple calls to withdraw from the free movement principle and adopt an Australian Points Based System. The Australian Points Based System requires migrants to score a certain number of points based on their profession and labour shortages. It is unclear at the moment if, how and when such a system would be introduced. In any case, the Remain Campaign was quick to point out that Australia has a higher proportion of migrants than the UK and that the Points Based System is intended to increase levels of migration.
The PM has reiterated his stance in Europe that the UK will need more control to restrict free movement of people in any negotiations to take place on its future relationship with the EU. The argument that the UK can negotiate special access to the free market without the free movement of people principle has been put forward as the way to proceed by many leave campaigners. However, this approach has been widely rejected by EU leaders. There has been a broad consensus that any future agreement will not allow the UK to pick and choose which elements they wish to sign up to, and that any future deal will not amount to a better deal than the UK currently has as a member of the EU. It has been made quite clear today that the EU is adamant that access to the free market requires acceptance of the free movement of people.
There is one exception to the refusal to allow limitations on the free movement principle in the form of Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein is a member of the broader EEA, but not the EU, and has been allowed to impose restrictions on free movement into Lichtenstein. However, the key difference here is that Lichtenstein has a population of approximately 40,000 people, compared to the UK’s 64 million, and as such a restriction on the free movement of people can be justified on public policy grounds.
If the UK becomes a member of the EEA, remaining outside of the EU, like the oft cited example of Norway, than the principle of free movement will be retained. There have also been soundings of negotiating reciprocal agreements with countries that have large British communities, such as Spain. However, given the public statements coming from the EU, that no individual or informal negotiations will take place in advance of Article 50 being triggered, it seems unlikely that any EU Member State would break ranks to negotiate a separate reciprocal deal regarding citizens.
These conflicting opinions across the UK and EU have left many unsure of their immigration status and has seen a surge in applications to the Home Office. However, it is not only EU citizens that are fearful for their rights, there has been a surge in British citizens applying for Irish passports with the hope of retaining EU citizenship and its associated free movement rights.Conversely, the British passport has lost some of its value on the index of quality of citizenship in the face of its potential loss of free movement to the 27 other EU Member States.
There have been repeated reassurances that EU citizens in the UK, and UK citizens living in other EU states, will have their current status protected. However, this current status is tied up with EU Citizenship and there are no formal guarantees or retained rights to be relied upon at the moment.
The legal status of the Referendum
The legal status of the Referendum is adding to the current uncertainty. The referendum itself was advisory and non-binding and it will be to Parliament to decide whether to implement a withdrawal from the EU. Almost 500 members of parliament declared themselves in favour of remaining in the EU and it remains to be seen how they will exercise their parliamentary vote on the issue. Many have already stated that the result of the referendum should be respected and implemented as the will of the people, however others have raised the potential for a second referendum or a general election to solidify a decision.
The next few weeks should determine at the very least whether Parliament will accept the result of the Referendum and proceed with withdrawal. As it stands, both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have stated that the result should be respected, however, one incumbent has resigned and the other faces an uncertain future. It has been advised that EU citizens that are already in the UK secure in their status where possible.It would be wise to formalise one’s status in the EU where possible by applying for permanent residency or a residence card.
For further advice on making an application for a residence card, permanent residency, or any further immigration inquiries, please contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org or +44(0)2035812620.