Great Britain is changing

Brexit will become a reality in everyday life: what will change on January 1, 2021?

With the end of the Brexit transition phase, the UK's exit from the EU will have noticeable consequences despite an agreement being reached. What are the practical implications in particularly important areas?

Which border controls are necessary now?

Even if the trade agreement makes tariffs and quotas superfluous, there will be no smooth trade exchange at the new EU external border. Since the EU's production rules and standards no longer automatically apply in Great Britain after leaving the EU internal market and the goods must therefore be checked for their origin, controls are required when goods are exported and imported across the English Channel. The long-term goal on the British side is to create a “smart border” at which the necessary controls can be carried out digitally as far as possible and without long waiting times. But this is still a long way off at the moment. Trade exchanges will definitely become more difficult with Brexit.

Will this lead to traffic jams on the Channel Coast?

Because controls are necessary, the trucks carrying imports are stopped at the Channel Tunnel or in the Channel ports and cannot simply continue as they have before. The drivers also have to have the correct papers ready, which is not guaranteed, especially at the beginning. The British authorities want to be pragmatic at the beginning and have relaxed the requirements - but for legal reasons, too, indulgence cannot be expected on the French side.

There is a risk of traffic jams on the streets of the southern English county of Kent if the trucks cannot translate quickly enough. Pessimists anticipate a line of thousands of vehicles in the first few days and weeks. The British government wants to alleviate such a congestion of the road network with a regional entry regulation for trucks on the way to Kent and additional parking spaces. If this does not succeed, there is a risk of a serious delay in deliveries in trade with the continent.

What is the state of the preparations?

In Great Britain, the government, administration and business have gone to great lengths to prepare for the situation after the Brexit transition phase. However, it is very questionable whether this is sufficient at the beginning. After almost thirty years of belonging to the EU internal market, the export rules for all products change overnight. It remains to be seen whether the newly developed IT systems are up to the challenge and whether all companies know what to do. The software was developed late and some customs details were late to be resolved.

It is also uncertain whether the traffic-related precautions such as the additional parking space for trucks will be sufficient. Boris Johnson's government also faces a dilemma in preparing for the post-Brexit period: in general, it tends to downplay the difficult economic consequences of Brexit while urging companies to adapt to major changes. This was not exactly conducive to the corresponding efforts.

How has Northern Ireland been affected? Are there any controls now in the Irish Sea or on the border with the Republic of Ireland?

The UK's only land border with the EU was the biggest hurdle in negotiating the separation agreement in 2019. The aim has always been to make border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland superfluous and thus not endanger the Northern Irish peace process. The solution is tantamount to squaring the circle and is historically unique: Northern Ireland remains a British customs territory, but the EU customs rules are applied. Controls at the border with the republic are thus superfluous, but to avoid an unsecured gateway to the EU internal market, goods that reach Northern Ireland from Great Britain must be checked.

This creates a customs border in the Irish Sea. The EU external tariff may apply to goods transported from the UK to Northern Ireland even though the goods are physically located in the UK. The decisive criterion is whether the goods could theoretically be transported to the Republic of Ireland and thus to the EU internal market. If they remain in Northern Ireland, the duty would be reimbursed.

Although she agreed, this complicated process has always been a thorn in the side of the Boris Johnson administration because it sees it as a division of two parts of the United Kingdom. It therefore declared in September 2020 that it would ignore some aspects of the Northern Ireland settlement and break the international treaty. The EU protested against this. On December 8th, however, the British government announced that it wanted to withdraw the controversial clauses from its planned internal market law. The reason for giving in was the agreement on the design of the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol in the Brexit agreement.

What is changing now for EU and Swiss citizens living in the UK?

So far, the free movement of people has applied between Great Britain and the rest of the EU (and via the bilateral agreements with Switzerland as well). From 2021 this will no longer be the case. While the new immigration for work purposes from all third countries is regulated with a visa and points system (see below), EU citizens who already live in the UK must have their right of residence confirmed by mid-2021. You have to take action yourself because Great Britain does not have a population registration system.

What will change for Switzerland and for Swiss people who want to work in Great Britain?

With a view to Brexit, Switzerland concluded a number of agreements with Great Britain at an early stage, which are intended to secure the existing conditions in trade relations for the future. However, some questions for companies, for example with regard to the movement of goods, have not yet been clarified because they depend on the solution negotiated between Brussels and London.

As a Swiss citizen who would like to work in Great Britain in the future, like any foreigner, you need an appropriate visa. Great Britain has developed a new immigration system based on the model of Australia. There are no quotas for travelers from certain countries. Rather, the visa depends on the qualification and employment of the applicant, who must achieve a certain number of points. Those who want to study also need a visa.

For tourists, however, nothing changes: because Great Britain is not part of the Schengen area, border controls have always been common for people entering from Switzerland. Tourist visits for EU citizens are possible for up to six months without a visa; Swiss citizens do not need a visa due to a bilateral agreement. However, from October 2021, entry will generally only be permitted with a passport and no longer with a national identity card, whereby the passport for Swiss citizens - unlike EU citizens - does not have to be valid for at least another six months.

What changes for the British when they travel to the European continent?

For Brits, traveling to the Schengen area will be more complicated from 2021. Your passport must be valid for at least six months when you start your journey; British citizens will no longer be able to queue for passport controls at the priority counters for citizens of the EU, EEA countries and Switzerland. While Brits could easily get medical treatment when traveling within the EU thanks to a European insurance card, in future they will have to take out travel insurance.

Brits who own a house in France or Spain but have their main residence in Great Britain are also annoyed. In future, they will only be allowed to stay in the Schengen area for a maximum of six months within a year, and after an uninterrupted stay of three months they will have to wait three months before their next entry. After all, the British mobile operators have announced that they will not charge the British with any new roaming charges when they are in the EU.

What will change for companies that want to recruit British people to work in Switzerland?

With the abolition of the EU's free movement of people, Great Britain is also a third country for Switzerland. Until a new bilateral migration regime has been agreed, Switzerland will allocate quotas for residence permits to workers from the United Kingdom. In 2021 this quota will be 3,500 places: 2,100 for residence permits (category B) and 1,400 for short-term residence permits (L).

Compared to the 8,500 places that are available for all other third countries, that's quite a lot. The permits are issued by the cantons on a quarterly basis and are not subject to the approval of the federal government. For the British, who are already working in Switzerland at the turn of the year, nothing will change. Around 43,000 British people have settled in Switzerland.

What will change for trade between Switzerland and Great Britain?

Thanks to several agreements with the United Kingdom, Switzerland is in principle prepared for Brexit. Bern and London have concluded agreements in the areas of road and air traffic, insurance, migration and trade. But with the latter, they couldn't quite regulate everything. Because Switzerland has harmonized some regulations with those of the EU, including in the area of ​​agriculture and technical barriers to trade. The two capitals can only tackle the last remaining loopholes now that the relationship between the EU and the UK has been clarified.