As I write, the Prime Minister has just survived a vote of no confidence and remains in post, for now. The potential Withdrawal Agreement remains on equally shaky ground, still with little hope of being approved by Parliament in its current form. The cumulative effect of these latest development is perhaps to bring closer the possibility of an immediate “hard” Brexit on 29 March 2019. As the leader of Pinsent Masons’ immigration team, that is a situation which I know is causing a significant amount of concern for those clients who employ EU nationals in their UK workforces.
There have been two recent developments which are of significance.
First, on December 6, the Government published a policy paper, confirming its approach in the event of a No Deal Brexit. The policy adopted a harder line than many anticipated. Only those EU nationals who are resident in the UK prior to March 30,2019 would be able to apply for Settled Status – i.e. confirmation of their permanent right to live and work in the UK. Under the proposed Withdrawal Agreement, the deadline would be December 31, 2020. A No Deal Brexit therefore brings significant resourcing pressure to bear on employers much sooner than the transition arrangements proposed by the Government.
Employers therefore face the very real possibility that with effect from 1 April 2019, they will not be permitted freely to recruit and employ new staff unless they are UK citizens.
Second, the publication of the Government’s White Paper on EU immigration following the end of the proposed transition period was delayed until after the intended 11 December vote on the Withdrawal Agreement, and is now postponed indefinitely, pending clarification as to when a vote is going to happen. The White Paper is important, because it will set out the rules for employing EU nationals in the UK after Brexit. The fact that publication was postponed until after the vote was widely interpreted as indicating that the content was likely to discourage MPs from voting in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement – in other words, it would be softer on immigration than hardline Brexiters might have wanted to see.
Whilst that might encourage employers hoping to see a more relaxed environment for recruiting EU nationals in future, the consequence of the withdrawal of the December 11, vote means that the publication of the White Paper will be pushed further into the future.
The result of all that is that the date at which our recruitment of EU nationals becomes more restricted is getting nearer, but the point at which we can make informed decisions about future resource planning is getting further away.
Employers can and should take steps now to protect their workforces against the effects of the political turmoil in Westminster.