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BREXIT - Possible Outcomes for Citizens [Updated 20/02/2019]

, 22/02/2019

On 15 January 2019, the United Kingdom parliament voted overwhelmingly (by 432 votes to 202) against the withdrawal deal negotiated between the government and the EU. On 16 January the UK prime minister survived a no confidence vote. A debate and vote on the government's "plan B", and on amendments to it, was held on 29 January 2019, with no more clarity as a result.

While the article 50 process means that, as things stand, the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019, with or without a ratified deal, there are several ways that no-deal Brexit may be averted before then:

A UK government request for an extension of the article 50 period may be approved by the EU, for example in order to hold a general election, or a second referendum to ratify the withdrawal agreement;
Parliament may approve a different withdrawal agreement, which would however also need to be acceptable to the EU (the UK government would probably have to drop some of its “red lines” to achieve this, and the EU is only likely to agree changes to the political declaration on a future relationship);
The government may unilaterally revoke article 50, effectively cancelling Brexit.

Here we look at possible outcomes for EU and British citizens, especially in the case of a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit with Withdrawal Agreement

If the deal is eventually ratified:

Free movement will continue until the end of the transition period (31 December 2020 unless extended);
All EU citizens in the UK before this date will have until 30 June 2021 to register, through the EU Settlement Scheme;
Family members in a relationship with the EU citizen before the end of the transition period will be able to join those with settled status at any future date;
New immigration rules, applying to EU nationals arriving after transition, should come into effect by January 2021. EEA workers will be treated the same as non-European nationals under the existing points-based system, but with some amendments to the system. The government’s proposal is analysed in detail here.
The rights of UK nationals resident in the EU before the end of the transition period will be similarly protected, though registration schemes will vary between members states;
The UK has reached agreement with the EEA EFTA states (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway), as well as with Switzerland, on protecting citizens' rights after Brexit.

No-Deal Brexit

EU Citizens in the UK Before Brexit

On 6 December 2018, the government published a policy paper outlining the UK government’s proposals for protecting EU citizens’ rights in case the UK leaves the EU without an agreed and ratified withdrawal deal.

In a no-deal Brexit scenario, with no transition period, the EU Settlement Scheme will still operate but the cut-off dates will be brought forward:

Only EU citizens already in the UK by Brexit day (i.e. 29 March 2019) will qualify, and they will have to apply by 31 December 2020;
Family members in a relationship with the EU citizen before Brexit day will be able to join those with settled status until 29 March 2022.

Other differences in the case of no deal include:

The Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) would not have jurisdiction as regards EU27 citizens in the UK (under the withdrawal agreement it would have residual jurisdiction for eight years after the end of the transition period.
EU citizens would have no right to an appeal to an immigration judge.

EU Citizens Arriving in the UK After Brexit

On 28 January 2019, the UK Home Office published a policy paper outlining its proposals for how it will treat EU citizens arriving in the UK after a no-deal Brexit.

According to these proposals, subject to parliamentary approval of the necessary legislation in the event that the UK leaves the EU without a ratified withdrawal agreement on 29 March 2019, temporary, transitional arrangements will apply from 30 March 2019 until 31 December 2020, after which a new immigration regime will be implemented. This means the UK would unilaterally grant EU citizens arriving after Brexit largely the same rights as entrants before Brexit, until the new immigration rules take effect, including the right to enter, stay, work and study, bring family and access benefits, only not backed by the legal authority of the European Court of Justice.

However, as the EU Settlement Scheme would not apply to new arrivals (in a no-deal scenario), their long-term rights would depend on a further unilateral offer from the UK, bilateral agreements with individual member states or a future relationship agreement with the EU.

See our analysis of these no-deal temporary transitional arrangements.

UK Nationals in the EU

If the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019 without a ratified withdrawal agreement, then UK nationals will become third-country nationals immediately:

UK nationals wishing to visit the EU for up to 90 days will likely be able to do so without a visa, provided that the UK reciprocates for EU nationals (subject to the necessary legislation).
Falling under the visa-free regime means UK nationals will need to apply for ETIAS travel authorisation prior to a trip to the EU, after 1 January 2021.
UK nationals wishing to enter an EU member state for stays of more than 90 days will require a visa.
UK nationals wishing to enter an EU member state for work will need to apply for work authorisation, like other third-country nationals. They may qualify for short-term work permit exemptions where available.
UK nationals already resident in an EU member state by Brexit day will likely be able to stay and continue to work if they register in time, although this will depend on unilateral arrangements made by individual member states, which in turn may depend on a reciprocal offer by the UK.
Note that, after Brexit, a residence status in one member state will not provide work or residence rights in any other member state.

EU member states are in the process of establishing emergency arrangements for British citizens in the case of a no-deal Brexit, often with the proviso that a reciprocal offer by the UK is confirmed. The following are details of measures already proposed by member states - details will be updated as plans are announced and clarified.


The Austrian government has announced that British citizens resident in Austria will have their rights protected in the case of a no-deal Brexit, and that a law is being developed to implement this.


The Belgian government is preparing a draft bill and has approved a draft royal decree which, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, would introduce a transitional period from 30 March 2019 to 31 December 2020 in which UK citizens already resident in Belgium can continue to live in Belgium. Family members arriving after 29 March would be able to join these British citizens, but new UK national arrivals would be treated as third-country nationals.


On 30 January 2019, the Bulgarian government approved an action plan in case of a no-deal Brexit, including a commitment that UK nationals residing in Bulgaria by Brexit day would keep their existing rights and have an easy registration process.


The government has sent a letter to the UK government stating that, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, the rights of British citizens currently residing in Cyprus will be protected.

Czech Republic

The Czech government and lower house of parliament have approved a draft law ("Lex Brexit") which provides for a 21-month transition period (until the end of 2020) to allow British citizens who have already applied for residence in the Czech Republic by Brexit day to legally stay. During this transitional period, those with a certificate of temporary residence must apply for a long-term or permanent residence permit for third-country nationals. Those who already hold a permanent residence permit need to upgrade to a new biometric residence card.


The Danish government has published details of a planned temporary transitional scheme extending, for an undetermined period, the rights of British citizens already resident in Denmark on 29 March 2019, in the event of a no-deal Brexit.


The Finnish government has decided that a special act extending the right of residence of British citizens in Finland will be drafted for the eventuality of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement.

Under this special act, British citizens who are living in Finland and who have registered their EU right of residence by 29 March 2019 can continue to stay and live in Finland without any separate measures for a fixed time period that will be specified in the act.


The French parliament has passed legislation enabling the government to rapidly issue decrees in response to a no-deal Brexit situation. These decrees include one protecting the rights of UK nationals resident there by Brexit day.

On 7 February 2019, the first order on the residence and employment of British nationals in France in the case of a no-deal Brexit was published in the official journal.

According to this order, in the case of a no-deal Brexit, British citizens would have a grace period of between three and twelve months (to be decided by a future decree) to apply for the relevant residence permit. If working in France with a permanent or fixed-term employment contract before Brexit, they will not be required to obtain a work permit.


National residence and/or work permits will be required for UK nationals who wish to continue to reside and/or work in Germany after a no-deal Brexit, as they would be considered third-country nationals.

However, UK nationals will not need to leave Germany by this date, but will have a three-month grace period in which to submit an application for a work and/or residence permit with the relevant local immigration office. If they have not already done so, they will also need to register with the registration authority at their place of residence. They will then be able to continue to live and work in Germany (along with their family members) until their application has been decided

The authorities in Berlin have introduced an online registration system for UK national residents, who will have until 30 June 2019 to register in the event of a no deal Brexit.


On 15 February 2019, the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs wrote to his UK counterpart, stating that: "Our state services work expeditiously on fast-track draft legislation that will be voted in time before 29 March 2019 and will give British citizens and their family members already living in Greece before the withdrawal date (29 March 2019), the opportunity to remain here and continue to live, study and work, as well as enjoy social security and health care benefits."


The Italian government has announced that it is preparing legislation that will allow British citizens residing legally in Italy to remain resident in the event of a no-deal Brexit. British citizens registered as residents at their local registry office (‘anagrafe’) at their town hall (‘commune’) by 29 March 2019 will be granted the rights and enough time to apply for the long-term resident status as per EU Directive 2003/109/EC.


In a no-deal scenario, after 29 March 2019, British nationals living in Luxembourg will need to apply for a residence permit as a third country national.

Those British nationals already living in Luxembourg on 29 March 2019 will be able to continue using their existing residence card as proof of residence until 30 March 2020. After this date, they will need to have a third country residence permit and will need to apply for one before 31 December 2019.

British nationals, who wish to begin residing in Luxembourg after 29 March 2019, will need to follow the existing third country national registration procedure. They are required to apply for a residence permit before entering Luxembourg, and can only reside in Luxembourg once their application has been approved.


The Maltese government has stated that it intends to offer UK nationals ten-year residence visas.


If no withdrawal agreement is reached, the Netherlands will introduce a transition period from 29 March 2019 until 1 July 2020. Before 29 March 2019, the Dutch Immigration Service (IND) will send all UK citizens and their non-EU family members living in the Netherlands a letter which will serve as their temporary residence permit during this transition period.

After this transition period, UK nationals and their family members who wish to stay, work, study in the Netherlands will require a residence permit, which they can obtain if they meet the same residence requirements that apply to EU citizens. The IND will send invitation letters to apply for a residence permit no later than 1 April 2020.


On 11 January 2019, the Polish government announced draft legislation including a one-year transition period (i.e., until 30 March 2019) to allow UK nationals and their family members to secure their residence status in a no-deal situation. Temporary residence permits will be issued for a period of three years under the same conditions as for all third-country nationals. Also, fingerprints of all applicants will have to be submitted. Those who, on the day of submission, have already been in Poland for the last five years, will be able to apply for a permanent residence permit.


Without a withdrawal agreement, all those UK nationals and their family members who are already in Portugal by Brexit day will have until 31 December 2020 to apply for a registration certificate. If they have held a registration certificate for five years, they can apply for a permanent residence card.


The Slovak government has stated that it is working on all necessary legislative changes to ensure that as of 29 March 2019, the status of British citizens living in Slovakia will be preserved even in the case of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement. These measures will only be put into place on the basis of a reciprocal offer from the UK to Slovakian nationals.


The Spanish government has drafted contingency plans to allow UK nationals to maintain their rights and to change their status as EU citizens to a legal residency status under Spanish law. More information is available here.


The government has issued a memorandum proposing that UK nationals and their family members who lose their right to live and work in Sweden as a consequence of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU without an exit deal will be exempt from the work and residence permit requirements during a one-year transitional period, effective 30 March 2019.

Proposed legislative amendments, which would be effective from 1 July 2019, aim to facilitate work and residence permit applications for UK nationals and their family members.


The agreement reached by the Swiss and UK government protecting the rights of Swiss nationals currently residing in the UK and the reciprocal rights of UK nationals currently residing in Switzerland, after the UK leaves the EU, also covers a no-deal scenario.

The agreement enters into force on 1 January 2021 in a deal scenario (after the transition period), or on 30 March 2019 in a no-deal scenario.

The Swiss Federal Council has also decided that, in the event of the UK’s disorderly exit from the EU (i.e., without a ratified Withdrawal Agreement), a separate quota of work permits will be made available from 30 March 2019 to British citizens who wish to enter Switzerland to work.


The separation agreement reached between the UK, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, protecting citizen's rights after Brexit, does not cover a no-deal scenario, but the governments have also reached an EEA EFTA No Deal Citizens’ Rights Agreement to protect the rights of UK nationals living in the EEA EFTA states and EEA EFTA nationals in the UK, in a no deal scenario.

Action Items

Employers who may be affected by Brexit are encouraged to contact their immigration specialist for case-specific advice.