Open Brexit - Bar Bosses call for free movement and bespoke deal for City

16 March 2017

Legal chiefs say the Government should give EU citizens unrestricted access to UK jobs in post-Brexit Britain and claim that British workers do not lose out to EU migrant labour.

But they agree that the UK Government, not the EU, will now call the shots.

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In a comprehensive and easy-to-read legal guide on Brexit, the Bar Council also tells the Government it should defend employment rights of UK workers, make a strategy to keep London as the global centre for financial services, and write up a solid 'Plan B' in case no deal is reached with the EU two years after Article 50 is triggered.


Migrant labour

The Bar Council's proposals for a worker registration system would allow EU citizens into the UK without a visa, let them seek work without restriction, and give free movement to students, the self-employed, and those with means to be self-sufficient.

Chair of the Brexit Working Group, Hugh Mercer QCsaid: "Our post-Brexit immigration policy must be able quickly and efficiently to fill gaps in the labour market, facilitate the supply of services, and stimulate entrepreneurial activity.

"The evidence shows immigration does not reduce the number of jobs available to British born workers, and it doesn't lower wages, but the big worry for many people is that as a member of the EU, the UK has been unable to set its own rules.

"The Brexit Papers outline a legal scheme that will give the UK complete sovereignty and autonomy over immigration policy and allow the Government to control how EU citizen workers access UK benefits. It will also help the Government to identify the parts of the economy that benefit most from immigration and to set its own rules for refusing or granting admission to the UK where that is necessary.

"This is straight-forward legal solution that is capable of meeting the needs of British business and making sure that, on immigration policy, it is the elected UK Government that makes the rules."


Protect rights of UK workers

The Brexit Papers also claim that key employment rights currently enjoyed by British workers could be scrapped if the Government does not transfer them when the UK leaves the EU.

Hugh Mercer QC said: "The Great Repeal Bill will bring EU regulations that protect UK workers into UK law, but that is only part of the story. Some employment rights are already part of English Law but have been interpreted in the European Court of Justice, and if we want to give UK workers the same rights as they have now, the effect of the judgments must be incorporated in to UK law too."

"These include preventing employers from rolling up holiday pay with normal pay, which can discourage workers from taking annual leave. There could also be changes to discrimination law and the rules on compensation for workers who have been discriminated against. At present, EU judgments put an obligation on employers to justify pay gaps between men and women where they do work of equal value, but this too could be at risk.

"We don't want UK workers to lose out."


Financial Services

The UK's top spot as the global hub for financial services is also at risk unless the Government creates a bespoke agreement with the EU to deal with the loss of the financial services "passport", according to the Bar Council.

Hugh Mercer QC said:"Financial services make up 7% of UK GDP and directly employ 1.1 million people, two-thirds of whom work outside of London. Larger, firms cannot wait until the conclusion of the Article 50 negotiations to know what will happen. Many are in the process of developing their contingency plans on the basis that the UK does not remain a member of the single market and will no longer benefit from the existing passporting regime.

"Other mechanisms used by countries outside the EEA to access financial services markets, such as the equivalence regime and the emergent third country passport, will not fill the gaps created by the loss of the passport, and WTO terms, will not suffice.

"What we need is a bespoke agreement with the EU, replicating the status quo as far as possible and covering the gaps created by the loss of the passport regime.

"Any such agreement must also grant legal and other essential services sufficient rights so that they can continue effectively to support the financial services sector."


Plan B: The 'no deal' scenario

The UK businesses face a cliff-edge if the Government does not agree a deal with the EU before the two year deadline, the Bar Council warns.

Hugh Mercer QC said:"A 'no deal' scenario will have serious consequences for UK citizens and businesses. Legal rights will disappear overnight and it would cause serious economic damage.

"Our trading relationship with the EU would be under WTO terms, which would mean an increase in tariffs on goods and services and uncertainty for millions of UK citizens living abroad about their rights to residency, work, healthcare and state pensions.

"The possibility of a "no-deal" is sufficiently real that we must have a 'Plan B'."



Notes to editors 

  • The Brexit Papers offer Government, parliamentarians, the media and the public a concise and informative evaluation of the legal challenges posed by leaving the EU, and their practical implications for the economy and society.

  • They offer a series of recommendations to Government, and each can be read as a stand-alone document.

  • The Brexit Papers first emerged following a Bar Council roundtable meeting for civil servants from a range of Government departments to discuss how Brexit would impact areas of law including crime, competition, tax, intellectual property, insolvency and family. They also looked at the implications for the legal services sector and the importance of the mutual recognition of UK and EU judgments.

  • This second edition represents an expansion of the legal fields covered, which now include immigration, financial services, employment, consumer law, traffic accidents and an updated paper on intellectual property. The second edition also includes a paper commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Select Committee on the legal implications of the UK leaving the EU in a 'no deal' scenario.

  • Further information is available from the Bar Council Press Office on 020 7222 2525 and

  • The Bar Council represents barristers in England and Wales. It promotes: 

  1. The Bar's high quality specialist advocacy and advisory service

  2. Fair access to justice for all

  3. The highest standards of ethics, equality and diversity across the profession, and

  4. The development of business opportunities for barristers at home and abroad.

The General Council of the Bar is the Approved Regulator of the Bar of England and Wales. It discharges its regulatory functions through the independent Bar Standards Board