The long running debate on what form the post-Brexit relationship between the UK and EU will take reached a new stage with the publication of the UK Government's White Paper on "The future relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union". The paper is intended as a blueprint for further negotiations with Brussels, though the reception it has received both domestically and in the EU suggests that any final deal will almost certainly be different from the content of the White Paper. However, the degree of continued harmonisation with the EU that is set out in the paper is probably now the minimum that can be expected from any deal, if indeed there is a deal

The Brexit White Paper is unsurprisingly clear in setting out the Government's commitment to the ending of the free movement of people (see our recent update on the proposed "mobility framework"). Free movement will be lost to UK citizens with regard to the EU and similarly EU citizens will no longer have the right to move freely into the UK.

So what does that mean for the many families whose relationships are "international"; whose homes, lives and occupations cross European borders?

There is an agreement in principle between the EU and the UK in relation to the UK's withdrawal from the EU, which provides for a transition period between 29 March 2019 and 31 December 2020. The draft Withdrawal Agreement provides protection for married couples and civil partners but less protection for cohabitants (for more details see our recent update). The key aspects of the proposed transition arrangements are:

  • UK and EU citizens living in the UK or the EU on 31 December 2020 can apply for 'settled status' after five years of continuous residence, whether that period is completed before or after 31 December 2020. This means that an EU partner of a UK citizen living in the UK would have a personal right to remain irrespective of marital status. The same applies to the UK partner of an EU citizen living in the EU.
  • UK citizens with a spouse, civil partner, parent or child not currently living in the UK have the right to bring that person (irrespective of their nationality) to the UK. Under the Withdrawal Agreement the same rule would apply to UK citizens living in other EU Member States: they will have the right to bring their spouse, civil partner, parent or child (again, irrespective of their nationality) to the EU Member State in which they are living on 31 December 2020.
  • There will be no automatic right for cohabitants to join their partner due to the definition of "family member" in the Withdrawal Agreement, which is a "spouse or registered civil partner, parent or child". A cohabitant can still join their partner, but would be required to prove that the relationship is durable and existed before the end of the transition period. Cohabitants would therefore face a much more bureaucratic process.

As set out in the draft Withdrawal Agreement, and subject to any agreements to the contrary, married couples or those in a registered partnership will be treated differently to those in non-formalised relationships as of 31 December 2020.

For more information on what the Brexit White Paper may mean for family relationships you can read the full legal update here.