After months of domestic political differences and negotiations with the EU, Brexit continues to dominate British politics. The long-term effect of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU remains unclear and much needs to be agreed before the future implications of Brexit can be fully understood.
The government suffered a momentous defeat over the EU Withdrawal Agreement on 15 January. The House of Commons voted against the Prime Minister’s deal by 432 to 202, a majority of 230 – a historic margin of loss. In response to the defeat, Theresa May said “it is clear the House does not support this deal. It does not tell us what the House does support.”
Following this, Jeremy Corbyn tabled a motion of no confidence in the government. The motion, which was defeated by 325 votes to 306, would have forced Theresa May to resign, and a new government to be formed within 14 days. Although Theresa May has seen off Labour’s challenge, the Party has warned that it may use the tactic again, and again, until it achieves the desired result of forcing a general election.
Despite a momentous week in Parliament and Brexit, the UK is set to leave the EU on the 29 March, unless there is an extension of Article 50 – the UK’s notice of withdrawal from the EU. From this point, the transition period will begin, during which the government enters negotiations over the full details of the future relationship with the EU, including a future trade deal. During this time, most aspects of the UK’s membership of the EU will stay the same, including free movement of people and membership of the customs union and single market. The transition period is scheduled to end on 31 December 2020. Of course, Brexit will continue to develop quickly, so this is all likely to be subject to some change.
15 January – The House of Commons voted against the Withdrawal Agreement by a majority of 230.
16 January – A motion of no confidence tabled by Jeremy Corbyn was defeated by 325 votes to 306.
29 March – Unless there is an extension of article 50, the UK will leave the EU on this date.
Post 29 March – Trade talks and the transition period will begin to determine the UK’s future relationship with the EU. If no withdrawal agreement has been reached by this time the UK will leave without a deal and will default to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules.
31 December 2020 – End of the Transition Period with the EU.
Travelling to Europe
At present, British citizens are entitled to travel anywhere in the EU simply by presenting their passport. Future travel arrangements however will depend on how Britain exits from the block – with a deal, or in ‘no deal’ scenario.
Travelling in the event of a no-deal
If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, British passport holders will be considered ‘third country’ nationals by 26 countries within the Schengen area. This means British citizens will need to comply with different rules to enter and travel around these countries. According to the Schengen Border Code, third country passports must:
Travelling in if a deal is secured
If a Withdrawal Agreement is, in some form, accepted by Parliament, nearly all current EU law would continue to apply to the UK, including travel law and regulations, until the end of the transition period in 2020.
However, this will change after the end of the transition period in 2020. A spokeswoman for Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has said visitors from post-Brexit Britain would have to fill out an online form and pay £6 for a visa waiver, which would be valid for three years. After 2020, the EU has also indicated that it will introduce the European travel information and authorisation scheme (Etias). This will apply to all non-EU citizens entering the border-free European zone and will allow multiple trips within a three-year period.
Healthcare for UK citizens living in the EU
At present the European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) guarantees British citizens access to medical treatment in Europe at a free or reduced cost. It covers pre-existing medical conditions as well as emergency care if you have an accident or become ill on holiday. The use of the EHIC card ensures that people don’t have to worry about falling ill when travelling or working in Europe. In the government’s Brexit White Paper, published in July, the government said it wanted “UK and EU nationals to continue to be able to use the EHIC to receive health care should they need it while on holiday.” But, the future of the EHIC card is uncertain and it will be discussed during the transition period from March 2019 to December 2020. Emergency measures may be put in place to agree reciprocal deals with individual EU countries and the government is currently proposing a new law to implement this, but the outcome is still uncertain.
In a scenario where Britons no longer benefit from reciprocal healthcare arrangements, it is expected that travellers will instead be reliant on private insurance to cover the costs incurred. This is likely to have the biggest impact on people with existing health problems including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, who may have to seek specialist insurance.
Before the referendum vote there was speculation that leaving the EU could lead to increased pressure on public spending, leaving some important older citizen’s protections vulnerable to government cuts. Concerns were initially raised around a possible end to the ‘triple lock’ on the state pension. Theresa May has however confirmed that the triple lock will continue to the end of this Parliament in line with previous commitments. We welcome this important assurance from the government.
It is still uncertain whether British Citizens living abroad will receive annual increases of their State Pension in line with inflation. These annual increases are currently paid to people in the EU, the European Economic Area (EEA) and a limited number of other countries with whom the UK has reciprocal agreements. At present the State Pension and any other benefits payable abroad continue to be paid on the same basis and there is no further information about whether, and if so when, this position will change.
Social care in the UK
Social care services could face significant challenges after Brexit. The sector is dependent on a European migrant workforce to provide services for elderly people.
Approximately 60,000 of the 1.2 million NHS workforce are from other EU countries. Charities have said that post-Brexit migration restrictions could lead to a significant shortage of care workers. Left unresolved, these workforce shortages could deny older people the support they need to live a comfortable life in a care home or remain in their own home environment following a period of illness or an accident. Ensuring there is still enough EU staff available will be a key social care objective for the government after Brexit.
In recognition of the challenges facing the social care sector, the government’s proposals for an immigration system after Brexit outlined a transnational measure that would allow social-care workers to come for a maximum of 12 months, with a ‘cooling-off’ period of a further 12 months to prevent people working in the UK permanently.