“We cannot turn our backs on Europe. We are part of Europe. Our children and our grandchildren will continue to have a wonderful future as Europeans traveling to the continent, understanding the languages and cultures that make up our common European civilization … But there is simply no need in the 21st century to be part of a federal system of government based in Brussels that is imitated nowhere else on earth. It was a noble idea for its time but it is no longer right for this country.”
(Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London and Tory Member of Parliament)
Thus, the “settled order” of the UK’s membership in the European Union (EU) came to an end today. Restrained shock seemed to be felt on all sides.
Immigration Played a Big Role in Today’s Decision
Over the past several months, reasons for leaving the EU have ranged far and wide. A few that have been voiced are as follows:
“British Sovereignty” – Britons want a Parliament and their Sovereign (the Queen) not to be held accountable to the European Parliament and EU bureaucratic agencies in Brussels.
“Free Trade for Britain” – Britons should leverage non-EU trade agreements. As the EU is a global trade bloc, negotiating trade deals generally require that all member countries negotiate trade deals in a unified way. Some British say that by leaving the EU, the UK will have more freedom to negotiate its own trade agreements and political agreements with countries, most notably its very own 53-member Commonwealth countries.
“UK Money Goes to Pay for the EU” – Britons have raised concerns that social services, such as the National Health Service and public education, have suffered for all the UK pumps into administering the EU.
“Britain for British” – “Born and bred” British nationals voicing fears ranging from: becoming a minority in their ancestral homeland; loss of affordable housing; loss of traditional manufacturing jobs where the UK has become a “net importer” of goods; or perceiving fading cultural cues, such as not hearing a “British” accent in public spaces.
What British political and social pundits are observing is that whether actual voting numbers broke along rural vs. urban and socioeconomic lines, an important, central issue was the British public’s perception on immigration.
When the EU enlarged its borders in May 2004 to accede 10 Eastern European countries (termed as the Accession 10 or “A10” countries), unlike other existing EU-member countries having a phased integration of Eastern European workers into member labor markets, the UK granted to A10 nationals the unrestricted authorization to work in the UK.
The UK’s open intra-EU immigration policy has been invoked as a primary reason for the “leave” or “Brexit” narrative. Left-leaning, Labor Party voters, whose ranks included economically disenfranchised working class voters, were becoming increasingly upset over British politicians (e.g., Labor Leader Jeremy Corbin) refusing to endorse caps on immigration and instituting no real changes to free movement of labor from Europe. Conversely, the right-leaning Tory Party leader, the departing Prime Minister James Cameron, voiced that portraying immigration as a socioeconomic ill for the UK held no merit. “Remain” voters noted that the areas of highest income and standard of living in Britain are those having notable inbound migration. One “Bremain” voter viewed those voting to leave the EU over an influx of EU skilled migrants as engaging in a “victory of blame” – showing the world the UK is not truly inclusive of new people.
The Beginning of New Endings?
Whether Brexit was caused by intra-European migration, the rise of ethnic nationalism, workers struggling to find work in the modern British economy, or the perceived draining of British coffers … Britain is set to leave the EU.
Facts are few and there will be short-term pressures both politically and financially as the world adjusts to the news. Now, what is more important to consider is where the dust will start to settle and who the players will be in the near future.
Article 50 – No country has ever “left” the EU. The closest we’ve come in recent history of any exit of note was Greece’s July 2015 “GREXIT” referendum to withdraw from the EU’s monetary union, the Eurozone.
Now that the British have spoken, it is up to the UK to formally announce its total withdrawal from the EU using the legal process outlined in the 2009 “Article 50” of the Lisbon Treaty. The UK must negotiate with the remaining 27 member countries of the EU the rapidity of exit by holding talks on altering their trade, economic and immigration policies. As the baseline of negotiating a formal exit is a period of two years, it remains to be seen how quickly the EU ministers will demand Parliamentarian elections to select a new Prime Minister and push the new government to not unduly delay exit negotiations.
British Economy – Today, the British Pound valuation was around US$1.38, the lowest it’s been since 1985. The Central Bank of England and other EU Central Banks are now meeting to review their banking contingency plans. The International Monetary Fund has announced it will also be working with Britain to stabilize world financial markets. The British banking industry, the largest and most influential in the world, will be looking at its options to maintain their City of London addresses or move to more tax favorable cities in the EU or elsewhere in the world. Multi-national corporations with headquarters, or those having significant investments in the UK, will also be appraising how trade will be affected and whether to move offices and manufacturing out of the UK.
EU Club – Now reduced from a membership of 28 to 27 member countries, some of the remaining 27 member countries of the EU are voicing unfriendly remarks about if “the UK is out, it’s out”. Basically, some members of the EU have said that negotiating favorable trade and immigration terms for the UK would send the wrong signal to other countries that may be considering exiting the EU. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is calling for a Monday, June 27 EU Trade Bloc conference to discuss how best to open new trade negotiations, ascertaining how taxation will work between the UK and the EU trade talks. Now that Britain has raised the flag on leaving the EU Club, other countries with increasing right-wing governments (France, the Netherlands and Sweden) are voicing their own versions of FREXIT, NEXIT and SWEXIT.
European Economic Area (EEA) – In 1992, the European Free Trade Area (“EFTA”) countries of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway joined the European Union to promote free movement of goods, capital, services and people within a new, single market. Under EU rules, as the EFTA countries chose not to accept a centralized, legislative governance from Brussels, the condition of acceptance was that EFTA countries could not participate in certain EU voting privileges.
The other EFTA-member country, Switzerland, does not have full access and freedom of movement privileges within the EEA, but does have a degree of favorable trade and immigration status with other EEA-member countries. Therefore, the Swiss Government limits the amount of EEA-national workers who can work in Switzerland through quota systems. Now that the UK has signaled its departure from the EEA, it remains to be seen if Switzerland will negotiate new, separate quotas for British national workers.
There has been some speculation if the UK could negotiate with the EU the same freedom of movement privileges that Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway currently enjoy. However, as the British ostensibly voted for leaving the EU because of concerns over open intra-European immigration, much remains to be seen if the remaining EU-member countries would agree to open trading without a reciprocating open immigration policy from the UK.
Immigration – According to the British Government, there are no immediate plans to announce major changes in the points-based system of issuing work authorization for non-EEA nationals (e.g., Tier 2 ICT’s). British passport holders are expected to continue traveling and working in the EU until negotiations are ironed out on whether there could be an “EEA-style” freedom of movement or if more formal border controls would go into place. There is a note of concern regarding what type of passports will be issued to those British nationals with expiring passports. However, as the UK was never part of the EU’s Schengen Area, British passport holders will still be required to present their passports when entering and departing the exterior boundaries of the Schengen Area, or upon request by any Schengen member country’s border officers.
NATO Membership – Even though the UK is leaving the EU, thus far it is understood that the UK does not intend to relinquish its membership in Europe’s foreign security and economic policy alliance.
Scotland – According to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, after Scotland voted to remain in the UK in order to preserve its membership in the EU, The BREXIT decision represents a “significant and material change” in Scotland deciding to hold yet another referendum to leave the UK and apply for EU membership.
Today’s vote signals an unmistakable and monumental shift in the UK’s post-World War II attitudes towards a “United Europe” since Britain joined the “Treaty of Rome” in 1973. The enlightened idea of true “freedom of movement” of goods, capital, services and people across historically contentious borders within Europe was a tremendous and arduous journey for all member countries. While trying to provide some rhyme or reason as to “why did this happen?”, there are too numerous complexities to discuss here and, to a degree, it’s irrelevant now.
We can’t answer the question of “what’s next?” The dust is too thick to battle until the furor settles, hopefully starting over this weekend. Luminary will work closely with its UK immigration partners to understand what changes will come for the British, what the EU will require of the British, and how the British will choose to adopt new policies. Policies concerning such things as new qualifications and protocols to issue work permits, conducting international trade, enforcing borders and customs, and how well Britain integrates with the rest of the global economy will be told through the passage of time. We trust, however, that there will be good-faith compromises made and new, maybe even better, opportunities for the UK.
If there was ever a time to say “God Save the Queen”, it is now.
About Luminary Global Immigration, LLC
Luminary Global Immigration is a consulting firm offering global immigration solutions to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and multinational corporations. Our services are for all outbound destination countries, except the United States. For any matters pertaining solely to inbound U.S. immigration, we provide referrals and support to a trusted network of U.S. firms.
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