ABIL Global: Brexit No-Deal Contingency Plans: An Overview

November 20, 2019

By Immigration Group

This article provides an overview of contingency plans in several countries in the event of a possible “no-deal Brexit.” It was prepared with the assistance of ABIL, the Alliance of Business Immigration Lawyers, of which Laura Danielson is an active member.



The federal Belgian authorities have prepared emergency legislation for a no-deal Brexit.

An Act dated April 3, 2019 (hereafter “the Brexit Act”) regulates the right to reside in Belgium for United Kingdom (UK) citizens and their family members between, in principle, the withdrawal date and December 31, 2020. Apart from one section regarding economy/insurance, the Brexit Act, and thus also its immigration rules, will take effect on the date confirmed by Royal Decree. This date will, logically speaking, be the withdrawal date in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The Brexit Act immigration rules will cease to be applicable on December 31, 2020, or an earlier date confirmed by Royal Decree.

The Belgian government has not yet issued a Royal Decree to confirm the date on which the Brexit Act will take effect. They await the outcome of the pending Brexit discussions.

The Brexit Act immigration rules can be annulled, amended, completed or replaced by a Royal Decree. They can, in principle, be summarized as follows:

  • UK citizens and their family members who hold a right to reside in Belgium before the withdrawal date maintain this right after the withdrawal date. Residence permits expiring between the withdrawal date and, in principle, December 31, 2020, will be extended until, in principle, December 31, 2020;
  • UK citizens and their family members who do not yet have a Belgian residence permit should apply for a residence permit prior to the withdrawal date. Applications that are still pending on the withdrawal date will be processed under the pre-Brexit rules;
  • Applications for residence permits filed after the withdrawal date will be processed according to the rules for third-country nationals, unless these applications are filed by family members of UK citizens, who are eligible to reside under the above-mentioned rules (they hold a right to reside on the withdrawal date or they have filed a residence permit application before the withdrawal date).

The Belgian government has also prepared Royal Decrees granting the right to work to UK citizens who reside in Belgium on the withdrawal date and who can continue to reside in Belgium after Brexit pursuant to the Brexit Act, until, in principle, December 31, 2020. This legislation has not yet been approved.

For UK citizens not protected by the Brexit Act, all three regions (Flanders, Brussels and Wallonia) have implemented a three-month work permit (for employees)/professional card (for self-employed) exemption during the transition period, i.e., between the withdrawal date and December 31, 2020.

The Flanders region has issued a no-deal Brexit decree, dated March 22, 2019. This decree holds that “a provision…exempts UK nationals who wish to pursue economic activities on the territory of the Flemish Region after Brexit from a work permit or professional card during the transition period, provided their performance is limited to a maximum of ninety days. If their performance exceeds the maximum of ninety days, UK nationals will have to request a work permit or professional card, according to the procedure for third country nationals. However, an accelerated procedure will then be provided.”

A similar provision is included in a decree for the Walloon region, dated April 4, 2019: during the transition period (this means until December 31, 2020), UK nationals can work as an employee or self-employed without a work permit or professional card, provided their work in the Walloon region does not exceed 90 days.

A similar short-term exemption during the transition period in a no-deal scenario has been implemented by a decree for the Brussels region, dated March 28, 2019. The text states that the exemption can be invoked “for a term of maximally 90 days, starting at the latest on 31 December 2020, in any 180-day period…provided a reciprocity measure exists.”


With decree 25 March 2019, n. 22, the Italian government has outlined the measures that will apply if the United Kingdom (UK) leaves the European Union (EU) without a deal. In particular, article 14 refers to the residency rights of British nationals and their non-EU family members living in Italy, and article 15 refers to Italian citizenship applications. The legislative measures taken by the Italian government ensure that UK nationals legally resident in Italy at the time of Brexit will have the right, and sufficient time, to obtain long-term resident status under EU Directive 2003/109.

Italy Details

United Kingdom

On the same day the House of Commons voted to try and rule out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, the Home Office released on September 5, 2019, an updated policy paper on no-deal immigration arrangements for EU citizens arriving after Brexit, currently scheduled for October 31, 2019.

In a no-deal scenario, EU citizens resident in the UK before that date are expected to be able to continue to reside in the UK and apply under the EU Settlement Scheme. On that basis, practitioners are advising that when possible, EU citizens wishing to reside in the UK seek to arrive in the UK before October 31, 2019.

There has been ongoing uncertainty. For example, since August 19, 2019, when Home Secretary Priti Patel announced that there would effectively be an end to free movement after October 31, 2019, there has been concern in relation to what will happen to EU citizens who arrive in the UK for the first time after October 31, 2019, if there is a no-deal Brexit.

UK Details