May publishes Brexit white paper on status of EU nationals in UK

2 Feb 17



Prime Minister Theresa May has published a white paper in which she sets out her government’s strategy for Brexit negotiations due to start March 31, including how the U.K. will deal with European nationals currently living and working in the country.

Key Points:

The U.K. will seek to negotiate a future relationship with Europe, outside the EU and the single market. The white paper says the U.K. will be guided by 12 broad principles, including:

  • Controlling migration. Post-Brexit, in 2019, high-skilled migration by the “brightest and best” will be prioritized, but the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to U.K. law and control of numbers. The government will consult businesses and ensure that any changes are phased in to minimize impact.
  • Securing rights for EU national in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU. Officials “want” to reassure the 2.8. million EU nationals in the U.K., but their future status remains conditional on terms offered to the 1 million UK nationals in the EU once Article 50 negotiations start.
  • Protecting ties with Ireland. The Common Travel Area that allows visa-free travel between the U.K. and Ireland will be maintained outside the EU.

Background: May outlined plans for a “hard Brexit” on Jan. 17, shortly before the Supreme Court judgment that the government must obtain Parliamentary approval before invoking Article 50. While MPs voted overwhelmingly in favor of getting Brexit negotiations started, the white paper was published reluctantly following MPs’ continuing demands to be allowed to scrutinize any Brexit deal.

BAL Analysis: The white paper adds little to the statements May made on Jan. 17. EU nationals and their U.K. employers must continue to wait for real details to emerge once the Article 50 talks start in March. While the message that EU nationals in U.K. with five years continuous and lawful residence are automatically considered permanent residents may reassure some, questions still exist around how government officials are interpreting “lawful” in practice. The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales will likely continue to lobby for greater access to the single market. BAL will continue to follow Brexit-related immigration developments and will provide regular updates to clients going forward, and understands that at this point all options for future immigration systems for EEA nationals are still on the table.

This alert has been provided by the BAL Global Practice group in the United Kingdom. For additional information, please contact

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