So far, the large majority of
British and EU citizens have not felt the realities of Brexit. Though the UK
left the European Union on January 31, it follows the bloc’s rules until the
end of this year as part of a transition period to the new economic
That’s all set to change.
On January 1, Britain embarks on its new, more distant relationship with the EU
after nearly five decades of closer economic, cultural and social integration.
The change for Britain’s economy and people is the most dramatic since World
War II, certainly more so than when the country joined what was then the
European Economic Community in 1973.
“It’s a far bigger shock to our economic system and it’s going to happen
instantaneously,” said Anand Menon, director of The UK in a Changing
Europe think tank and a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at
King’s College London.
“All of a sudden you wake up in a new world at the start of January.”
Here are some of the changes to movement that people will start to feel almost
Even though the coronavirus pandemic has led to a collapse in the numbers of
people traveling between Britain and the EU, the end of freedom of movement
from January 1 will represent the most tangible Brexit consequence so far.
Under the divorce deal agreed by the two sides on December 24, the roughly 1
million British citizens who are legal residents in the EU will have broadly
the same rights as they have now. The same applies for more than 3 million EU
citizens who are in the UK.
But British citizens will no longer have the automatic right to live and work
in the EU, and vice versa. People who want to cross the border to work and live
will have to follow immigration rules and face other red tape such as ensuring
their qualifications are recognized.
The exception is people moving between the UK and Ireland, which have a
separate common travel area.
For many in the EU, the freedom to be able to travel, study and live anywhere
in the 27-nation bloc is among the most appealing aspects of European
Yet some in Britain and other parts of Western Europe became more skeptical
about the freedom of movement after a number of former communist nations in
Eastern Europe joined the EU in 2004 and many of their citizens moved to the UK
and other wealthier countries to work. Concerns over immigration were a major
factor in Britain’s 2016 Brexit vote. On January 1, the consequences of that
decision will become apparent for British and European citizens alike.
What are the new travel rules?
Although travelling for holidays will remain visa-free, British people will
only be allowed to spend 90 days out of every 180 in the EU, while the UK will
allow European citizens to stay for up to six consecutive months.
For retired British citizens who have been used to spending more than three
months at their second homes on Spain’s sun-soaked Costa del Sol, the change
may come as a shock. British travellers in Europe will also have to have at
least six months left on their passports and buy their own travel insurance. Britons
will no longer be issued the European Health Insurance Card, which guarantees
access to medical care across the bloc, but the UK says it is setting up a
replacement system so that UK visitors to the bloc and EU citizens visiting
Britain still have medical coverage.
What about pets?
For British citizens accustomed to taking their dog, cat or ferret on vacation
in Europe each summer, the situation will get more complicated as Britain will
no longer be part of the EU’s pet passport scheme, although the agreement
avoids the onerous months-long procedures that some had feared. UK pet owners
will have to have their animal microchipped and vaccinated against rabies at
least 21 days before travel, and will need to get an Animal Health Certificate
from a veterinarian no more than 10 days before departure.
Will driving be a hassle?
The deal means British drivers won’t need an international driving permit once
they cross the Channel. British motorists can travel in the EU on their UK
licenses and insurance, as long as they carry proof that they are insured in
the form of a “green card.”
What about working?
The end of freedom of movement will have a major impact on hiring at all ends
of the labor market.
A newly graduated British citizen on holiday in the Greek islands, for example,
won’t be able to walk up to a beach bar and seek part-time work without having
the necessary visa. The same applies for European citizens arriving in the UK.
They won’t be able to turn up at a sandwich shop like Pret a Manger and look
for work without the necessary documentation.
Larger businesses will also find it far more difficult and costly to hire
people from the other side. The deal does include provisions to allow
contractors and business travelers to make short-term work trips without visas.