Brexit: The clock is no longer ticking

After Brexit, the UE and UK have reached an agreement about the rights and obligations with impact on the citizens of both zones


Por Estefanía Palacio *

This 1st of January it is not an average beginning of the New Year. At least not for the UK. Apart from being isolated from the world due to a new strain of coronavirus, the United Kingdom has officially left the European Union.

For more than four years, the UK and the EU have been working on a deal to make this “divorce” as convenient as possible for both parties. Meetings in Brussels and London, Macron and Merkel showing their discomfort as pro-European, and the British and European people with nothing more than doubts.

But finally, on the 24th of December, Boris Johnson, announced that a Brexit deal was finally agreed. «It’s been four and a half years since the British people voted to take back control of their money, their borders, their laws, and their waters and to leave the European Union. I’m very pleased to tell you that we have completed [our] biggest trade deal yet”.

But what will change for good from today?

Going back to the start

The UK Referendum took place on 23 of June 2016 and the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. 51.89% of the voters choose to Leave, while 48.11% decided to Remain or to stay. This obvious polarity created a deep social, political and economic crack that will remain for generations.

The worst thing that could have happened was not being able to secure a post-Brexit deal. That would have caused disruption in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and would have ended more than 40 years of UK membership of the European Union in the worst possible way.

It is all about change

The Brexit deal is more than 1,500 pages of dense legal text which outline how the relationship will operate in the future. Both legislative bodies, the House of Lords and the House of Commons will sign off on the agreement. However, due to the short time left in the transition period, it will not be fully ratified until later, early this year.

Key points like fishing, trading goods, financial services, free mobile calls, data and security will not remain the same, but perhaps the most difficult thing for many people will be travelling, freedom of movement and immigration.

Despite having a deal, it will be impossible to minimise all disruption. Local companies and businesses will struggle, import or export goods will not remain the same, lorry drivers that come or go from or to continental Europe will now have to travel with permissions and the agreement does not include provisions on financial services, which make up four-fifths of the UK economy.

But also, the future of people could be at risk. From now on, there won’t be mutual recognition of professional qualifications, meaning British doctors, architects, and engineers, amongst other professions, will have to seek recognition in the member state they wish to practise in from 2021.

The way Britons and Europeans travel live, and work will also change. From now on, UK citizens will need a visa to stay for longer than 90 days in the EU and EU pet passports will no longer be valid. They will have to get their own travel insurance and should also have at least six months left on their passport before they travel. And from 2022, they will have to pay for a visa-waiver scheme to visit many EU countries, just like Europeans do with ESTA to go to the United States.

At airports or borders, British citizens won’t be able to use the EU passport queue, so the benefit of spending a short time at customs will also be gone.

Living in the UK from 2021

With these changes, moving to the UK from 2021 will be harder, but not impossible. The government announced that the UK will introduce a points-based immigration system. The new system will treat European citizens and non-European citizens equally. As they explain on their immigration website, «anyone coming to the UK for work must meet a specific set of requirements for which they will score points. Visas will then be awarded to those who gain enough points».

To achieve this, any person will have to receive a job offer from a Home Office licensed sponsor, have the set of skills needed for the position and prove the can speak English to the required standard.

Nothing is fully said yet, and the truth is the labour market will have to adapt to these new rules, so there is nothing more than waiting and see how this system will work.

Moving to the UK before Brexit: My experience

I am not only the author and journalist of this piece but also a 29-year-old woman who moved to London after years of planning. The idea of moving to Europe had been on my mind for a long time but living in Argentina made things hard. Not only distance but also saving money in Euros was every day more and more difficult. I also had a job (I was a TV producer) and the constant pressure of friends and family saying «don’t risk what you have» made the process more stressful.

However, I was not the only one having this idea. According to the Office of National Statistics, around 715,000 people moved to the UK during 2020 and at least 200,000 of those were Europeans with an intention of staying 12 months or more.

This was also my case. Like many other Argentinians, I have double nationality and besides my Argentinian passport, I hold a Spanish one, which was a major advantage.

But moving to the UK was not only saving money, buying a plane ticket during a worldwide pandemic, figuring out how I was going to leave Argentina during one of the longest lockdowns in the world and showing my passport at the authorities at Heathrow. It was also proving quickly that I was living and studying or working in the UK.

Something that came with Brexit was the «Transition Period» which gave the UK and the EU the possibility to slowly get ready for the break-up.

With that came the «EU Settlement Scheme (settled and pre-settled status)» that allowed people to continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021 when every relation with the EU will be over.

My journey (in every way)

I arrived in the UK on the 1st of October 2020. I was excited, happy, stressed, and scared. All emotions at the same time.

Nothing was easy. Finding a house to live, getting a new mobile phone contract, looking for work and opening a bank account. But all these things were what I needed to prove my residence in the country. With 50% of those done, I could apply to the pre-settled status and secure my residency in the UK until 2025 without losing any of my rights as a European.

The process was easy, using the EUexit app on my phone. The only difficulty was waiting. Usually, anyone applying for the Settlement will have to wait a bit more than a week to get their decision, but for me, and because of coronavirus, it took a month.

When you are abroad everything seems to take forever, and you just keep thinking negative. But the reality is that moving to the UK has been the greatest experience of my life. Not only I’ve started a new life, but also, I’ve found more stability and peace. I am glad to say that the sacrifice is paying off and that it was worth it.

The future for the UK

From now on many things will keep changing in this country, but the people that have chosen this nation to live won’t see the difference in a short period of time.

Maybe in a couple of years, the United Kingdom will be able to decide whether they made the right or wrong decision. Recent polls have shown that after four years of negotiations, now only 38% of the population believes Brexit was a wise decision.

For Boris Johnson, Brexit will be his biggest triumph after disastrous handling of the coronavirus pandemic. But the reality is that he will not be Prime Minister forever and that the future generations will have to deal with the fact that the island of Great Britain will finally be alone.

*Estefanía Palacio. es Lic. en Periodismo. Trabaja en Gran Bretaña.

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