The vote by the Lords to accept the passing the Brexit Bill unamended will leave many European nationals in the UK with a continuing sense of uncertainty that has been felt since the referendum. From Adam Williams, Partner and specialist business immigration lawyer at leading law firm DMH Stallard.
The opportunity to make a formal commitment in law to protect the rights of EEA nationals living in the UK has passed. Some comfort can be taken from the belief that the government took this stance so as not to tie its hands in the Brexit negotiations, rather than as any overt political statement of intent on the underlying issue. We are no closer to knowing what the position will ultimately be regarding the rights of EEA nationals living here or, indeed, the rights of UK nationals living in Europe. However, there are a number of reasons why it remains unlikely in my view that the government will take an approach that results in the forced removal of those already lawfully living and working in the UK.
Taking a hard line would be economically damaging for many sectors of the UK economy which heavily rely on labour from the EEA (e.g. construction and care). It could also have catastrophic consequences for the NHS. The EU has not given any firm commitment with regard to the treatment of UK nationals residing in EEA countries, so that group faces the same broad uncertainty as EEA nationals living here. In that sense, parity has been maintained. Although employers cannot provide their EEA national workers with the certainty and comfort that they may understandably crave, they can (and many are) engaging with staff on the issue and providing support and information where they can. Some are engaging outside experts to provide briefing sessions for staff on their existing rights and options, and others are looking to existing employee assistance programmes as a channel for support.
Many EEA nationals living in the UK will be looking at issues like permanent residence, family related rights, and citizenship (including naturalisation) with a view to protecting their status. For those who wish to stay in the UK in the long term we would certainly encourage this, because there are significant legal, economic, and political difficulties associated with the government seeking to retract these rights once established.”