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Ben Sheldrick
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Questions and Answers:

Who's Who Legal Thought Leaders - Brexit

Ben Sheldrick is managing partner and head of immigration at Magrath LLP Solicitors. He is also a director of Magrath Global (Singapore). He is recognised as a leading immigration expert by all of the major legal directories. Ben is immigration counsel to a large number of multi-national companies as well as private client entrepreneurs and investors. He works with the International Bar Association, Immigration Law Practitioner’s Association, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, British American Business and many other groups in disseminating information and facilitating debate in respect of global immigration policy and mobility issues. Ben has spoken on future UK immigration policy and Brexit to many conferences, forums and stakeholder meetings.

Were you and the team at Magrath anticipating a “remain” or a “leave” result in the Brexit referendum? What did you do to prepare for either outcome? 

At the outset of the referendum campaign we believed that there would be a healthy and noisy national debate but that “remain” would ultimately be the clear winner. Over the course of the campaign it became clear that public opinion was shifting. Undoubtedly UK immigration policy and the significant increase in net migration following the A8 EU expansion in 2004 and the immediate access to the resident labour market of nationals from those countries (with consequent demands on public services) were driving factors of the vote to leave. This was particularly the case outside London. We prepared advisory materials based on both outcomes before referendum day itself. We activated the “leave” materials as soon as the result was known. Our clients are extremely interested and affected by this issue as they employ large populations of EU citizens in their workforce. We organised two client seminars for the week following the result (interest was so high that we had to offer repeat seminars). Our corporate clients were particularly concerned to communicate clearly with their EU national employees, manage fears and expectations and advise on future settlement options.

What impression has the UK’s decision to leave the EU made on your overseas clients in relation to their commercial interests in the country?

Most clients acknowledge that the UK, and London in particular, will remain a major business hub and global market regardless of Brexit. However they are concerned that it will be difficult to attract and retain the talent that they require in order to prosper and compete internationally. Inevitably UK immigration will become more complex and expensive over time. The government remains committed to a major reduction in net migration despite low unemployment and the clear need to attract talent into many sectors.

What is the single most important issue relating to immigration law now that the UK is set to leave the EU?

The position in respect of the safeguarding of EU citizen rights has been addressed to some extend by the June 2017 proposals to grant settled status to EU nationals in the UK prior to Brexit date however a number of questions (including that of reciprocity for UK nationals in the EU) remain outstanding. The most important issue is the design of a new post-Brexit immigration regime for the UK. How can the new schemes meet the demands of business and the economy generally? Is a reduction in net migration realistic or desirable in this context? Is it sensible or lawful to run one set of schemes for EU nationals and other arrangements for the rest of the world?

What steps has the firm taken to ensure that it remains at the forefront of immigration law for clients during the Brexit process?

We keep abreast of these issues by engaging with the Home Office and stakeholders.  We organise and attend conferences and seminars and communicate extensively with our clients on Brexit-related issues. Brexit will set the agenda of our UK inbound business for years to come. We will work with our clients on an extensive response to the MAC consultation on new domestic immigration arrangements as soon as it is published.

To what extent can the UK learn from European nations outside the EU that have managed to remain attractive to businesses and investors?

The key is to make UK an attractive place for international businesses to operate. The City will play a major role in this. The government must also change the prevailing narrative around immigration by making a strong case for inward investment and the attraction of talent. Brexit provides an opportunity to establish strong trade and bilateral arrangements with many countries.

Are there any historical comparisons to the UK’s decision to leave the EU which have had a similar impact on immigration law?

Probably when we joined the EU in the first place! The country will have gone full circle over a 40-year-period and will be required to reinvent its pre-EU immigration framework.

Is the end of freedom of movement a guaranteed aspect of the outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU27?

It seems inevitable that freedom of movement will end given everything that has been said by the government on this issue. As immigration control was one of the primary drivers of the vote to leave it would be difficult to argue that the result of the referendum was being respected if freedom of movement continues to apply. All of the materials published so far suggest that the UK will leave the single market as the price of withdrawal from freedom of movement and judicial oversight from Europe. The government is, however, much weaker following the 2017 election and may be forced to compromise on some of its “hard Brexit” positions depending on the machinations of Parliament.

To what extent is immigration now a more complex issue for clients than it was before the EU referendum?

Business does not like uncertainty and the Brexit vote has created a great deal. Prior to the referendum the UK immigration and legal right to work regimes were simple for EU nationals and more complex but settled for the rest of the world. Immigration laws and processes will inevitably become more complex as schemes are developed for the control of EU migration after March 2019. It will be interesting to see how these schemes interact with existing arrangements under PBS for non-EU migration. Furthermore, how the government will square reducing net migration with maintaining a strong, buoyant economy supported by well-resourced public services will be a major challenge.

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