The UK government has three separate agreements with the 31 European countries that accept freedom of movement. Each agreement provides a strong level of protection for British citizens living or moving to Europe until the end of the transition period.
- The Withdrawal Agreement guarantees British citizens (who are lawfully resident in EU member states) broadly the same rights as they have now. They can continue to live, work and travel (although these rights would cease after a leave of absence of more than five years). The same would apply to British citizens moving to the EU during the transition period, which is expected to end on 31 December 2020. This is because freedom of movement would continue to apply during this time.
- A separate agreement with Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein – three countries that are not in the EU but have freedom of movement as part of their membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). This agreement mirrors the offer in the Withdrawal Agreement.
- An agreement with Switzerland – not in the EEA but accepts freedom of movement. It also mirrors the offer in the Withdrawal Agreement.
These agreements do not apply to British citizens who want to move to the EU, Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland after the transition has ended.
British citizens who are currently living in the EU, or who move there during the transition period, will need to apply for residence status in the country they are residing in by 30 June 2021. However, on 28 September 2020, the EU confirmed that some member states were looking to extend this deadline as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic. The exact terms and procedures for settlement vary between EU countries.
It is not clear whether British citizens living in EU countries will be able to move freely to other EU countries after Brexit. That will be dealt with in the negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU.
The rights of British citizens in Ireland (and vice-versa) are covered under the Ireland Act 1949, which will continue to apply after 2020. Under this arrangement, British citizens residing in Ireland will not need to apply for settled status. Their rights will remain the same.
However, both the UK and Ireland have yet to adopt necessary provisions for the automatic recognition of qualifications. Without them, there is a risk that diplomas obtained in the UK are no longer recognised in Ireland, and vice-versa. The Irish government encourages British citizens living in Ireland to have their British qualifications recognised by the appropriate Irish regulator; this will ensure they can continue to practice in Ireland and elsewhere in the EU unaffected.
What will happen to British citizens working and living in the EU if there is no UK-EU trade deal by the end of 2020?
Their rights are guaranteed under the Withdrawal Agreement, which became effective on 1 February 2020. It says that British citizens who are lawfully resident in EU member states before 1 January 2021 will be able to continue to live, work and travel (although these rights would cease after a leave of absence of more than five years). British citizens will have until 30 June 2021 to apply for residence status, although some member states have said that they will extend the deadline.
It is the responsibility of each member state to set up a settlement scheme to register British residents. The government has been stepping up its engagement with EU capitals on this. On 14 May 2020, Michael Gove, the British co-chair of the UK–EU joint committee, wrote to his EU counterpart asking that the EU Commission increase its support to member states following reports that British nationals were struggling to register in some member states. The Commission has promised that it would step up its outreach.
British nationals living in the EEA before 31 December 2020 will be able to return to the UK with close family members who are not British (EU and non-EU) providing the relationship began before 31 January 2020. They will need to apply for the government’s EU Settlement Scheme and will have until 31 March 2022 to do so.
Close family members who live with British citizens in the EU during the transition period (but who were not living together before 31 January 2020) will also be able to join British citizens returning to the UK by 31 December 2020. Family members will need to apply for the government’s EU’s Settlement Scheme. For those family members moving to the UK after 31 December 2020, they will need to apply in accordance with the UK’s existing immigration rules.
Children’s rights to British citizenship have not changed.
British citizens will not need a visa to travel to the EU until 31 December 2020. This is because freedom of movement will continue to apply during the transition period.
The EU has agreed to add the UK to the EU’s list of visa-exempt countries (of which there are currently 61). This gives British citizens the right to travel to the EU after the transition period for up to 90 days without a visa within any 180-day period. It would be conditional on the UK granting visa-free travel to EU citizens to the UK. Visas for short business trips and longer visits to the EU will be a matter for negotiation between the UK and the EU.
After the transition, EU border guards may ask people travelling from the UK for additional information including the duration and purpose of their stay. Passports must be valid for at least six months after the end of the trip. They will also need a valid travel insurance.
The automatic right to live and work in the EU ceases after the transition period. British citizens looking to move and work in an EU country will need to apply in accordance with that country’s existing immigration rules.
Those looking to work in the EU after 31 December 2020 will need to make sure that their professional qualifications are recognised in the EU.
The government has published advice for British citizens living in Europe, which covers:
- making sure their passports remain valid
- registering with local authorities
- exchanging their driving licenses (in most member states, foreign licenses only recognised for up to six months)
- applying for a car insurance green card.
- Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, Letter to Maroš Šefčovič on Citizens' rights in the Withdrawal Agreement, 14 May 2020, https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/885252/200514_Letter_from_Rt_Hon_Michael_Gove_MP_to_VP_Sefcovic.pdf
- Maroš Šefčovič, Letter to Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, 28 May 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/brexit_files/info_site/2020_05_28_letter_vp_sefcovic_to_the_rt_hon_michael_gove_mp_redacted.pdf
- European Parliament, Brexit: visa-free access to the EU for UK nationals and to the UK for Europeans, press release, 3 April 2019, www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190403IPR34801/brexit-visa-free-access-to-the-eu-for-uk-nationals-and-to-the-uk-for-europeans
- Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Living in Europe, GOV.UK, 30 January 2020, www.gov.uk/guidance/living-in-europe