The Government’s Brexit White Paper reiterates the importance of providing certainty on the immigration status of EU workers already based in the UK and UK nationals already working in the EU.
The document sets out in more detail the UK’s 12 objectives as it enters negotiations on exiting the EU.
Prime Minister Theresa May set out the objectives in a speech on 17 January 2017. Among those of particular interest to employers are:
- controlling immigration (objective 5);
- securing rights for EU nationals in the UK and UK nationals in the EU (objective 6); and
- protecting workers’ rights (objective 7).
The White Paper suggests that, while immigration from EU countries will definitely be limited after Brexit, there will still be a route into the UK for highly skilled EU migrant workers.
It stops short of setting out how a post-Brexit immigration system might work, but says that “there may be a phased process of implementation to prepare for the new arrangements”.
The Government goes on to stress the importance of securing the status of:
We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law” – Brexit White Paper.
- EU nationals already in the UK; and
- UK nationals already based in EU countries.
It is estimated that there are 2.8 million EU nationals resident in the UK, many of whom originate from Poland.
Estimates put the number of UK nationals resident in other EU countries at one million, with Spain, France and Germany being popular locations.
Brexit is unlikely to lead to wholesale changes to UK employment law, according to the White Paper. The Government provides examples of UK employment laws that already go above and beyond the minimum levels required by EU law, including:
- holiday entitlement, where the EU entitlement is four weeks (20 days for an employee working five days per week), but UK law provides for 5.6 weeks (28 days for an employee working five days per week); and
- maternity leave, where the EU entitlement is 14 weeks, but UK law provides for 52 weeks.
Reacting to the White Paper, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that it “tells us little we did not already know, and still leaves working people exposed to risks to their rights and jobs”.
O’Grady continued: “It says nothing about how the NHS and our public services will be protected in trade deals from predatory international companies.
“While it’s good to see the Government maintain its commitment to protecting existing workers’ rights, people need to know the Government won’t seek to compete in a race to the bottom that allows their rights to fall behind workers in the rest of Europe.
“So Theresa May should confirm that future trade deals with the EU will include a commitment to abide by minimum EU requirements for workers’ rights.”
The European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. The legislation authorises ministers to give notice under art.50 of the Treaty on European Union of the UK’s decision to withdraw from the EU.
The legislation is expected to be complete its passage through Parliament and come into effect in time for Theresa May to invoke art.50 by 31 March 2017.
The UK Government’s 12 priorities when negotiating Brexit
1. Providing certainty and clarity
2. Taking control of our own laws
3. Strengthening the Union
4. Protecting strong and historic ties with Ireland/maintaining Common Travel Area
5. Controlling immigration
6. Securing rights for EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU
7. Protecting workers’ rights
8. Ensuring free trade with European markets
9. Securing new trade agreements with other countries
10. Ensuring the UK remains the best place for science and innovation
11. Cooperating in the fight against crime and terrorism
12. Delivering a smooth, orderly exit from the EU