Brexit – what does this mean for EU Nationals currently residing in the UK?

Following on from my article last month covering the potential impact of Brexit on UK Employment Law, the debate goes on as to the possible implications for workers. So – what happens to the roughly 3.6 million EU Nationals living and working in the UK going forwards?

Prior to the Referendum, the Vote Leave campaign assured us that any new immigration system would have no effect on EU citizens already living in the UK and that these individuals would "automatically be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK and will be treated no less favourably than they are at present". The Remain campaign however warned of a different outcome, stating that "all current EU citizens here would lose their automatic right to come and work in the UK. This means that living and working in the UK would be significantly more difficult after a leave vote for EU citizens, and is likely to involve restrictions and barriers in the form of permits, visas or other costs and bureaucracy".

A recent study by think tank the Social Market Foundation, found that on the basis Article 50 is triggered next year and the process takes two years to complete (i.e. until 2019), more than 80¢ of the 3.6 million EU citizens living in the UK would meet the 5 year requirement to remain. This would mean that the vast majority of all EU citizens who arrived in the UK prior to 2014 and continuing to live here, would have the right to permanent residency by the time Britain leaves the EU.

The study also found however that up to 590,000 EU Citizens living in the UK may not have the right to remain once Brexit is complete.

New Prime Minister Theresa May has been under intense pressure from many Eurosceptics to impose a hard line Brexit that would mean EU citizens would lose their right to automatically come to the UK, however she recently told nearly 800,000 Poles living in the UK that she “wants and expects” them to remain in the UK after Brexit.

What are the likely implications of Brexit on UK Employment Law/HR practices?

Employers may not be aware that much of the current legislation in place to protect employee rights actually derives from the European Union – for example, working time regulations, rights of the employees on a business transfer (TUPE) and family leave rights to name but a few. Indeed some Politicians for the ‘Leave Campaign’ will no doubt have argued that such laws were inhibitive to British businesses and produced too many rules and regulations having a negative effect on both time and profits.

What is likely to happen?

In reality it is doubtful that the UK Government would look to repeal any employment law which implements minimum EU requirements, the reason being that many of these laws simply complement existing UK law (equal pay rights for example). In addition, much of our existing employment law simply reflects good/acceptable practice in business (or indeed life generally!) such as the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of sex, age, disability etc. Furthermore some UK Laws actually go above and beyond the minimum requirements of EU legislation – in respect of holidays for example, the EU Working Time Directive 2003/88/EC only requires EU Member States to provide for a minimum of 20 days’ annual leave for employees, whilst the UK statutory minimum leave entitlement is actually 28 days inclusive of normal bank and public holidays.

As a final point it is worth noting that despite a (potential) Brexit, the UK will still need to maintain strong trading relations with Europe. If the UK is a member of the EEA (European Economic Area) it would be required to remain subject to many aspects of EU employment law.

In light of the above, whilst in my view the majority of employment law legislation will not be repealed or significantly changed, the UK Government may look to alter some employment law that UK businesses have struggled with. The following are areas that may be most susceptible to change: