E.g., 09/25/2020
E.g., 09/25/2020

Brexit on the Backburner: Citizens’ Rights and the Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in a Pandemic

Policy Briefs
September 2020

Brexit on the Backburner: Citizens’ Rights and the Implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement in a Pandemic

Just weeks after the United Kingdom’s formal departure from the European Union on January 31, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic hit Europe with full force. The outbreak drew public and political attention away from the implementation of the withdrawal agreement, while also straining many public administrations, including agencies responsible for residency applications. With the clock ticking down on the transition period, set to end on December 31, 2020, many EU countries have yet to announce the details of the systems that will govern the future status and rights of their UK-national residents.

The United Kingdom is further along, having rolled out its pilot EU Settlement Scheme to resident EU nationals in 2019. But of the 26 EU countries with responsibilities for citizens’ rights, only Italy, Malta, and the Netherlands had launched registration schemes before the pandemic began. And even where implementation had begun, many systems faced setbacks as in-person government services were suspended by lockdown measures.

This has created considerable uncertainty for UK nationals in EU countries, and EU nationals in the United Kingdom—as well as their families—who will have six months after the transition period ends to acquire a new post-Brexit status. As this policy brief details, the pandemic has put some in an even more precarious position, including families with third-country-national members that have been separated by travel restrictions, and the newly unemployed, who may no longer meet the conditions of the EU Free Movement Directive (the foundation of the withdrawal agreement).

This brief sets out steps governments on both sides of the Channel can take in the coming months to “pandemic-proof” their implementation plans. These include: investing in smart outreach to would-be applicants, streamlining status-adjustment processes, and supporting civil-society groups that can help applicants through the process.

Table of Contents 

1  Introduction

2  Challenges at the Crossroads of Brexit and the Pandemic
A. Health-Care Challenges
B. Economic Uncertainty
C. Implications of COVID-19 for Residency
D. Specific Categories at Risk

3  Implementing the Withdrawal Agreement: Emerging Trends
A. Almost an Even Split between Declaratory and Constitutive Systems
B. Implementation Is the Exception, Not the Rule
C. Registration Windows Are Narrow and It Is Unclear What Will Happen If You Miss Them
D. Many Registration Systems Will Be Localized, Creating a "Postcode Lottery"
E. Deeper Questions of How to Prove Immigration Status in a Digital World
F. Online Systems Are More Resilient in the Pandemic but Exacerbate Some Barriers

4  Key Considerations for Ongoing Implementation
A. How Should People Be Kept Informed?
B. Who Will Provide Information and Support?
C. How Do We Make the Most of the Limited Time Available?
D. How Should Governments Determine Whether an Extension Is Needed?
E. How Can Governments Offset Uncertainties and Miscalculations?

5  Recommendations and Conclusion