A cliff-edge no-deal Brexit is now a very real possibility.

Home Secretary Priti Patel intends to by-pass Parliament to end free movement for EEA and Swiss citizens from 31 October 2019, as reported in the UK media.

Europeans moving to the UK after 31 October will no longer have the right to live in the UK. They will have to comply with restrictive new immigration rules if they want to stay for more than three months.

If you are thinking about relocating to the UK now or later, our recommendation is that you should consider doing it now, before 31 October 2019.

If you are still wondering whether European citizens who are already living in the UK before 31 October should do anything because of Brexit, the advice is clear: you have until 31 December 2020 to apply to the new EU Settlement Scheme, or after that you may be living in the UK illegally and could be deported.

This deadline may be extended until 30 June 2021 in the unlikely event that a deal is stuck with the EU.

After 31 October 2019, any EEA citizens coming to the UK to stay for more than 3 months must obtain a new status called European temporary leave to remain which is only valid for up to three years, and does not lead to residency. After 31 December 2020, new and as yet undefined immigration rules will apply to EEA and Swiss citizens.

Ms Patel’s predecessor, Sajid Javid, stalled legislation that suspends free movement over fears of a Commons revolt. He also stated to ITV that “If there was no deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans that were already here before [Brexit], and those who came after. There will need to be some kind of sensible transition period”.

Gone, apparently, are the plans for a sensible transition period. Can Immigration Officers at the UK border tell the difference between a UK resident returning from a holiday, and someone who is newly landed? The answer is a resounding No.

The Home Office’s own website confirms that “until the resident population have been granted status, it will not be possible for employers, universities, landlords and others to distinguish between pre-exit residents who are eligible to remain in the UK on broadly the same terms as now, and later arrivals.”

The UK’s border’s won’t close on 1 November, because European citizens will still be able to enter the UK without a visa for up to three months, but the lack of clarity and bombastic political rhetoric can set off alarm bells.

In response, a hastily issued Factsheet from the Home Office tepidly reassures us that “[w]e will set out arrangements for EU citizens and their families who arrive after free movement ends soon”.

We are advising our clients to plan strategically and protect their right to live and work in the UK well in advance of the 31 October deadline. Please contact us if you require further information or assistance.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.