Good news was announced for Irish Citizens living and working in the UK (and British Citizens living and working in Ireland) as the UK and Irish governments agreed and signed a Memorandum of Understanding last week.
Irish citizens’ right to live and work and study in the UK is currently provided through our shared membership of the European Union under the right to freedom of movement for European workers. However, many of these rights are also provided by the various historical understandings agreed between the UK and Irish governments since Ireland gained its independence in the 1920s. A key part of this was the Common Travel Area agreement.
As a result, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, an Irish citizen’s right to live and work in the UK should be protected by the Common Travel Area and associated agreements. Unfortunately, these rights were never clearly set out in a formalised way, leading to uncertainty and concerns about what would happen if they had to be relied on in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
To assuage these concerns, last week’s agreement clearly sets out that Irish Citizens in the UK (and British Citizens in Ireland) will be able to continue to benefit from the same rights as they do now after Brexit. These rights include:
Free movement between UK and Ireland;
Right to work and study in either country;
Access to education and educational funding and support, such as home tuition fee loans;
Right to vote in each other’s elections;
Right to stand for public office in each other’s countries;
Access to social security and pensions in either country.
It does not, however, deal with the question of the status of the border between Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Although a Memorandum of Understanding does not have the same legal status as an international treaty, it does provide clarity and political guarantees of these rights, and should provide reassurance that these rights will be protected after Brexit.
As David Lidington, Cabinet Office Minister, said of the deal last week, “Our message to Irish citizens in the UK is that your rights will not change. You will still be able to move freely between Ireland, the UK and the islands… Above all you will be welcome.”
This agreement is a political commitment to protect the reciprocal rights currently enjoyed by British and Irish Citizens in the event of a no-deal Brexit – including the rights to work, vote and access to pension and social security funds.
This agreement does not cover citizens from any other European countries – after the Brexit transition period, they will lose the right to free movement within the UK. Instead, a Points Based System of sponsored employment will apply. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, it is intended that the new Points Based System will apply from 1 January 2020.
What does this mean for employers?
This agreement is good news for employers, who will be able to reassure any Irish employees that their rights will be protected after Brexit. It is also good news for Irish companies and those UK companies with bases in Ireland as they should still be able to employ British nationals without any visa concerns.
However, the position for other EU nationals remains that those already in the UK will need to apply for settled status under the EU Settlement Scheme in order to maintain their right to live and work in the UK after Brexit. For those EU nationals wanting to come to the UK after the Brexit transition period, they will require sponsorship by a UK employer.
If your company employs EU staff, or is likely to in the future, we recommend you should consider:
Urgently registering as a sponsor
Invest in compliance training to understand how to protect your valuable sponsorship licence
Assist existing staff to apply for EU Settled Status
Consistent with our policy when giving comment and advice on a non-specific basis, we cannot assume legal responsibility for the accuracy of any particular statement. In the case of specific problems we recommend that professional advice be sought.