Many who have a deep interest in Brexit and how it happened have read Tim Shipman’s book All Out War. As political editor of the Sunday Times, Mr Shipman understands the dark and dastardly behind-the-scenes workings of British politics, which even the best immigration solicitors would struggle to contemplate outside of Michael Dobb’s acclaimed novel (later adapted for TV) House of Cards.
Someone as experienced as Mr Shipman probably predicted most of the contents of British Prime Minister, Theresa May’s speech well before it was delivered on Friday in Florence. Some commentators believe she chose the city because it stood at the heart of Renaissance Europe and symbolised the rebirth of a new relationship between Britain and the EU.
Business leaders, lobbyists and top London immigration lawyers have spent the last few days scanning the speech, so they can plan for future Brexit developments. Here are the key takeaways from Theresa May’s third big speech on Brexit.
The government will seek a status quo transitional period
One of the biggest fears of our UK Sponsor Licence holder clients is the financial and trading ‘cliff-edge’ that could occur if Britain crashes out of the EU without a trade deal. Unfortunately, much of this fear was caused by endless misrepresentations by leave campaigners and the media. Professor Duggen, Professor of European Law and Jean Monnet Chair in EU Law, at the University of Liverpool, stated in his now-famous lecture on the consequences of Britain leaving the EU that he found it “surreal” the way the media “give a completely distorted view of how the world actually works.” Here are the facts: The Treaty of the European Union states that exiting nations have two years to negotiate and formulate the ‘divorce settlement’. The divorce settlement, or more formally, the ‘mechanics of withdrawal’, is about severing ties between the exiting State and the bloc and deals with issues such as, what to do with EU nationals residing in the exiting State, and how much the exiting State must pay to settle their account with the bloc.
Experts believe that the future trading framework agreement with the EU (which is entirely separate procedurally and legally from the divorce talks) will take roughly a decade to negotiate.
Given this, to prevent economic collapse in Britain a transition period was always going to be essential. What has not been made clear to the public, but what any professor of constitutional law and/or economics already know, is that the “strictly time-limited period” assigned to the proposed transition, may continue for a minimum of a decade as a trade framework is negotiated.
The problem with this scenario is thus – the EU states that Britain must abide by EU rules and regulations throughout the transition period. While media focus is always on free movement, there is a far greater impediment for leaving the bloc in place during this time – no member state is permitted to negotiate independent trade deals.
And consequently, as Professor Duggen has pointed out, it is highly unlikely that any nation such as China, Australia or Brazil will enter into any trade talks with the UK until its trading agreement with the EU is known.
Therefore, unless the UK can convince Brussels to allow it to negotiate trade agreements with other countries whilst negotiating a trade framework with the EU in the comfort of a transition period, where access to the free market and customs union is preserved (an almost laughable idea), it is almost impossible to see how an economic cliff-edge can be avoided.
Concessions on citizens’ rights
After a series of Home Office blunders, the 27 other EU states are looking for strong assurances on citizens’ rights. In a significant gesture, Mrs May offered to write legal protections for EU citizens living in the UK into the actual exit treaty.
“I want to incorporate the agreement fully into UK law and make sure British courts can refer directly to it,” she said. This represents a considerable strengthening of the UK’s earlier proposals, which would have allowed MPs to alter EU citizens’ rights.
In a further concession, Mrs May said she accepted a role for the European Court of Justice in settling rights disputes: “I want UK courts to be able to consider the judgments of the European court of justice with a view to ensuring consistent interpretation.”
At this point, the best advice immigration solicitors can give to EU nationals living and working in the UK is to obtain an EU Permanent Residence Card if they have been living in the country for five or more years. Not only with this solidify your residency rights, but it will also allow you to apply for British Citizenship (provided you meet other criteria).
Paying the EU bill
To restart negotiations, Theresa May sought to assure Brussels that EU member states would not have to pay more because of Brexit during the current budget round ending in 2020. She did not mention a sum, but it should be about €20 billion (£18 billion).
The EU is eyeing up a far greater sum, around €50-60 billion. Theresa May was therefore quick to assure that the UK was committed to meet all its financial obligations to the bloc. This is something that enrages hard-line Brexiteers, who cannot understand why the UK should have to continue paying into the EU budget once we have left.
Conclusions to be drawn from the Florence speech
The only major development that appears to have come out of Theresa May’s speech in Florence is that the British government seems to have finally accepted the reality of leaving the EU. What is so immensely frustrating is that, for anyone who understands EU law, the points made in the speech were obvious concessions which should have been made at the very start of the process.
One consequence of the continued bluster (for example, Boris Johnson’s 4,200-word essay in The Telegraph where he hinted the NHS could still receive the mythical £350 million per week) from hard-line Brexiteer politicians and media is the uncertainty suffered by EU nationals residing in the UK.
EU citizens are being treated as pawns in the Brexit game, and the rest of us as fools. Reality and truth will prevail, but it looks like the road will be long, slow and bumpy.
OTS Solicitors is one of the most respected immigration law firms in London. By making an appointment with one of our immigration solicitors, you can be assured of receiving some of the best legal advice available in the UK today. We will provide clear, practical advice on what EU nationals and their families should do to solidify their right to remain in the UK post-Brexit.
If you wish to discuss any of the points raised in this blog, please phone our London office on 0203 959 9123.
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Posted on: Tuesday, 26 September, 2017