January 20, 2021

Brexit legal FAQs‍

Brexit has been a long and complicated procedure that has been difficult to keep up with! Now that the UK has left the EU and a deal has been made, you may be wondering what effect this might have on you.

Brexit means the UK is no longer a Member of the European Union and is not subject to its laws. The UK Government and the EU have negotiated a new deal that will govern certain issues that used to be controlled by EU law and regulations. We have answered a few key questions that you might be concerned about.

Does EU law still apply to the UK?
  • Any new EU law does not automatically apply to the UK.
  • EU law that was passed before 01 January 2020 is now part of domestic UK law, which is now known as ‘retained EU legislation’. However, the UK government has the power to amend these laws.
  • The European Court of Justice (ECJ) is the highest court in the EU, but from now on, if there are any disputes between the UK and the EU, they will be settled using an independent tribunal. The ECJ may still be relevant to Northern Ireland as it will continue to follow certain EU trade rules. 
Does the UK leaving the EU affect human rights?
  • The main piece of legislation to do with human rights in the UK is the Human Rights Act 1998, which enforces the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). Despite the similarity of its name, this is a different and separate body to the European Union, and therefore not affected by Brexit. 
  • Brexit could affect some other rights that derive from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (which is part of the EU), as this no longer has effect in the UK. However, most of its provisions apply to public bodies rather than individuals.

What does the Brexit deal mean for trade?
  • The UK and the EU have negotiated a free trade agreement - this means that there are no taxes on goods or limits on the amount that can be traded between the UK and the EU. 
  • There may be some new documentation and checks required at the border including some new restrictions. For example, you can only import uncooked meat into the EU if it is frozen below -18C.
  • The UK negotiated that it will gain a greater share of fish from its waters (gradually over a 5.5 year-long process). However, if the UK bans EU fishing boats, the EU will be entitled to introduce taxes on fish from British waters. 
  • Businesses that offer services rather than goods will no longer automatically be able to access the EU market and there is no longer automatic recognition of professional qualifications. This means that UK businesses will now have to comply with the regulations of each country that they are working within and make sure they have the correct qualifications. 
  • Businesses can find more detailed information about the impact of the Brexit deal on trading, importing, and exporting via the Gov website.
Will the price of food and goods from the EU increase?
  • As the Brexit deal means there are no tariffs on goods traded between the UK and the EU, the cost of food and goods should not rise in the immediate future. 
  • If you buy something online from the EU that costs more than £390, you may have to pay customs duties, as well as any VAT and/or handling fees. 
Does Brexit affect my consumer rights?
  • For now, no. Many consumer rights derive from EU law and have been incorporated into UK law. This means that consumer rights will not change unless the Government overrides these laws in the future. 
Does Brexit affect privacy rights?
  • The Human Rights Act 1998 enforces the European Convention on Human Rights (which is a different and separate body to the European Union) so Brexit does not affect the right to privacy (Article 8).
  • In terms of data security, the UK now does not have automatic access to EU databases, but can request access. It is also now no longer a member of Europol (the EU’s law enforcement agency), which means the UK does not have to comply with EU standards and can decide its own rules for storing and processing data. However, the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will continue to apply in the UK as it was implemented in the Data Protection Act 2018.

Can I still travel to the EU? Do I need a visa?
  • You can still travel to EU countries and will not require a visa if you are a tourist and not staying for more than 90 days in any 180-day period. You may need a visa or permit to stay for longer, to work or study, or for business travel.
Will travelling to the EU cost more?
  • Travelling to the EU will not cost more as a direct effect of Brexit. However, holidays may cost more depending on the value of the British pound. That means holidays abroad may cost more if UK currency is worth less than other currencies, such as the Euro, or the Dollar. Even if you never travel outside of the EU, the pound to dollar rate may still be relevant because aircraft fuel is priced in dollars.
Will border control be different?
  • You may now need to show a return or onward ticket and that you have enough money for your stay.
  • You may now be required to use separate lanes from EU, EEA, and Swiss citizens when queueing.
  • You can no longer take your ham and cheese sandwiches across the border! It is now prohibited to leave England, Wales, or Scotland with food items such as meat and dairy products, as well as fruits and vegetables (except for: bananas, coconuts, dates, pineapples, and durians). There is an exception for powdered infant milk or formula, infant food, or food required for medical reasons. These rules do not apply for entering the UK from the EU.
Can I still shop Duty-Free?
  • Yes, but there is a limit. You can only bring one litre of spirits and 200 cigarettes (40 to Estonia and Romania) into the UK, and a total of €430 (£390) for ‘other goods’. The rules are different for entering the UK from the EU. 
Do I need a new passport?
  • You must check to see if your passport needs renewing. To travel to an EU country, your passport must have at least 6 months left (on the day of your travel), and be less than 10 years old. This does not apply if you are travelling to the Republic of Ireland - it is only necessary for it to be valid for the duration of your stay.
  • UK passports are going to change to the colour blue and will no longer say “European Union'' on the cover. You do not need a new passport until your current one reaches its expiry date.
Can I get healthcare when I travel to the EU?
  • When you travel to an EU country you should have: a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) or a UK Global Health Insurance Card (GHIC) and travel insurance with healthcare cover. EHIC and GHIC cards entitle you to get emergency or necessary medical care for the same cost as a resident in the country you’re visiting. See the Gov website for more information about healthcare for UK nationals visiting the EU.
  • If you currently have an EHIC card, it will be valid until it expires. After that, you will need to get a GHIC card. 
  •  There is different guidance if you are going to live, study, or work in the EU.
Can I drive in the EU?
  • You may need extra documents. If you’re taking your own vehicle, you will need a green card and a GB sticker. 
  • You may need an international driving permit to drive in some EU countries if you have either a paper driving licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man. You could get a fine or your vehicle could be seized if you drive without the correct documents.
Is there any change to the Eurostar / Eurotunnel / Ferries?
  • These services will remain the same. You must, however, check that your passport is not too close to its expiry date, and that you are not travelling in any EU country for more than 90 days in any 180-day period (otherwise you will need a visa). 
Can I take my pet on holiday?
  • You will not be able to use the existing pet passport scheme. Instead, you’ll need an animal health certificate (AHC) for your pet. Allow at least 1 month to arrange this, as well as the relevant vaccinations.
Will I be able to use my mobile phone abroad?
  • Mobile phone companies may now be able to charge for ‘roaming’ when you are in an EU country. However, many companies have said that customers will still have inclusive data. You must check this with your mobile phone operator and your contract.

UK citizens living and working in the EU 

What does Brexit mean for a British citizen living in the EU?
  • You and your family may need to apply for a residence status to confirm that you were a resident in the EU before 31 December 2020. You will have until 30 June 2021 to do this. This does not apply to UK citizens living in the Republic of Ireland. 
Can I buy a house in an EU country?
  • The impact of the Brexit deal is that property taxes for British owners could increase and deals like ‘leaseback guarantees’ may not continue. You may also need a bigger deposit to secure a mortgage because being outside of the EU is potentially more risky for lenders. It may now not be possible to deduct holiday home costs from your tax bill. 
  • Countries may offer their own policies -- for example, Portugal is offering EU residency to British people buying any house worth at least EU 500,000. 
  • If you own property, you will not be able to stay for more than 90 days in any 180-day period without a visa. 

Higher Education
Can I still study in the EU?
  • The UK will no longer be taking part in the Erasmus+ programme (except for Northern Irish students), but will be developing the new Turing scheme to support students studying and working abroad.
  • If you want to do part of your course in the EU, you should contact your institution to discover what options are available and what schemes you might be eligible for - these will depend on where in the EU you’re planning to study and when.
  • UK nationals wishing to study their whole degree course at a university within the EU after 31 December 2020 may now need to pay different fee rates. This does not include the Republic of Ireland. 
Can I still work in an EU country?
  • If you’re a UK citizen, you’ll need a work permit to work in most EU countries. In most cases, you will be required to have a job offer in order to get a visa.  
  • To apply for a job, you may need certain documents - this will differ per country.
  • You will have the same rights as the nationals of the country you are working in. This includes working conditions, pay, and social security. 
  • If you were legally living in an EU country before 1 January 2021, your right to work will be protected as long as you carry on living there.
What does Brexit mean for immigration?
  • Before 01 January 2021, there was freedom of movement between the EU and the UK. This meant that if you were entitled to work anywhere within the EU, you were not required to obtain a visa to work in the UK. 
  • Now, the immigration system in the UK will be different and anyone wanting to work or live in the UK will be required to apply for a visa. Only Irish citizens will be allowed to continue to freely enter, live, and work in the UK. 
  • There will be a points-based system that treats citizens from the EU and citizens outside of the EU equally. The system aims to attract people who can contribute to the UK’s economy. 
  • There will also be a ‘global talent scheme’ that enables highly-skilled individuals, such as scientists, to come to the UK even without a job offer. 
What is the effect of Brexit on EU citizens living in the UK?
  • If you have a UK permanent residence document, it may not be valid after 31 December 2020. You will be able to stay in the UK until 30 June 2021 without doing anything. To continue living in the UK after 30 June 2021, you’ll need to either (1) apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, or (2) apply for British citizenship.
  • If you have valid ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or ‘indefinite leave to enter’ status from the UK government, you do not need to do anything to continue living in the UK. 
  • If you do not have ‘indefinite leave to remain’ or ‘indefinite leave to enter’ status, you will (1) need to apply to the EU Settlement Scheme, or (2) apply for British citizenship.


* For further information regarding the Brexit deal, please go to the Gov website, where you can find out more about the impact of Brexit on you, your family, and your business. 


 With thanks to Samantha Ruston for her help producing this post

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