25 January, 2021 - 00:18

The new UK/EU relationship: implications for employers

The conclusion of the UK/EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement provided some much-needed good news during a sombre festive season, writes David Mills, Partner at Mills & Reeve LLP. As its full name suggests, it is not only about goods, but also includes a wide range of other reciprocal measures. 

Some of these are of particular interest to organisations employing EU citizens, or with business interests in continental Europe which will need to be serviced by UK-based employees.

Employers have been able to prepare in advance for the abolition of free movement of people from the EU and its replacement with a new UK immigration system, which from January 1 has applied to all foreign nationals arriving in the UK. However, it was not known until the last minute what reciprocal measures the UK and the EU would agree to ease the flow of people across the UK/EU border, or indeed whether a deal could be secured at all.

The following provisions in the Agreement are of particular interest to employers:-

  • Confirmation that both parties will continue to allow visa-free travel for short term visits by each other’s citizens 
  • Measures to facilitate short-term business visits, subject to a number of conditions and exceptions
  • A framework for mutual recognition of professional qualifications (though the previous mutual recognition rules have not been carried forward).

Looking further ahead, there is also the Agreement’s long-term impact on domestic employment law to consider. Now that the transitional period has ended, the UK is no longer subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and has no obligation to implement any new EU directives. 

However, as a result of its decision to preserve EU-derived employment law as it stood at 31 December 2020, the UK starts 2021 with exactly the same employment law rule book. 

In addition, as part of its level playing field provisions, the Agreement contains a commitment not to take steps to weaken existing employment law protections on either side of the Channel “in a manner affecting trade or investment between the Parties.” 

So in short, even if the political climate were favourable to such a course of action, major changes which would dilute workers’ rights in the UK are unlikely to happen in the foreseeable future.

However, perhaps the most important feature of the Agreement for all of us is that it has avoided a no-deal Brexit. While this would have undoubtedly caused additional economic damage, it would also have damaged the UK’s relationship with its closest neighbours. 

The Agreement is far from perfect but it does provide a framework for future negotiations to plug some of the gaps that there was not time to fill in the rush to secure a deal by the end of 2020. 

We are hoping to see further progress in 2021 on mutual recognition of professional qualifications, cross-border litigation and data adequacy among other topics of interest to employers.

For more information email me at: david.mills [at] mills-reeve.com

You can read more about the wider implications of the Trade Agreement in a briefing on our website. Also, a briefing by Mills & Reeve’s head of immigration has more information about the UK’s new immigration regime. See: https://www.mills-reeve.com/insights/publications/new-post-brexit-immigration-system

Newsletter Subscription

Stay informed of the latest news and features