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#Brexit and Immigration; Will Free Movement of Workers Remain?

Last week we brought you our early predictions on what employment law changes #Brexit could bring with it.

With #Brexit still a huge topic of conversation amongst many, and news reports citing increased levels of racism against nationals from other EU counties who live and work in the UK, we take a look at what Brexit means for those exercising their right to free movement under EU legislation.  Don’t forget, this not only applies to nationals of others EU countries living in the UK but also UK nationals living elsewhere in the EU.

Nothing has changed.  Yet.

Our legal rights and obligations have not changed…yet.  Despite the outcome of the referendum, until the UK’s exit from the EU is negotiated (which will take considerable time), the UK remains a member of the EU and EU legislation, which includes free movement, will continue to apply for the time being.

This brings with it a great deal of uncertainty but something which, without a doubt, is clear is that the UK will remain geographically within Europe and our national football teams can continue their marred pursuits of glory at Euro 2020 (having heard a comment raising concern on this recently, we thought it would be remiss not to address).

Free movement

Some may consider free movement of people to be a cornerstone of EU policy.  What will happen to those who have exercised their right of free movement, such as UK citizens living in other EU countries or other EU nationals living in the UK, is shrouded by ambiguity.

International case law suggests there is a precedent that if a person has exercised a right under an international treaty, they should continue to enjoy that right even when the treaty comes to an end.  If Brexit follows this precedent, people will not be “sent back” to their country of origin.


Once Article 50 (the process for a member state leaving the EU) of the Treaty on European Union has been triggered by the Government, negotiations will begin on how Brexit is actually achieved.  No country has ever left the EU before, so that in itself could cause difficulties given the UK would be entering unchartered territory.

One focal point is likely to be the UK’s future relationship with the EU’s internal market.  This market seeks to guarantee the free movement of goods, services, capital and people between all EU member states.  

Despite not being member states, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland all have agreements in place to allow them access to the EU internal market which is beneficial to their economies.  If the UK became party to the European Economic Area Agreement (EEA), it would remain subject to EU rules.

If the UK wishes to continue its relationship with the internal market, free movement of workers will remain.  Alternatively, the UK may look to negotiate a free trade agreement with the EU, meaning it would not have to abide by those rules.


Unfortunately, we do not have a crystal ball to predict what will happen.  The only thing we can predict is uncertainty whilst the negotiations about the UK’s withdrawal are ongoing.

As a niche employment law firm, we keep ourselves up to date on employment law news as it breaks to ensure we are in a position to advise businesses on legislative changes as they arise.  If you require advice or have any queries, please contact me on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

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