After years of wrangling, the UK is set to leave the orbit of the European Union when the transition period expires on 31 December. Four years after the vote to leave the EU, many questions about the UK’s future relationship with the bloc remain unanswered. The UK still may leave without a trade deal in place and the future for Brits who want to live elsewhere in Europe or Europeans who want to live in the UK remains uncertain.

The Withdrawal Agreement does provide EU citizens who were already living in the UK before the country officially left the bloc in January with a route to a more secure status via the EU Settlement Scheme. However, the continued uncertainty as to whether a final deal will be agreed has resulted in law firms like Withers advising EU nationals to “bank any status to which [they]might be entitled” now as no deal could change matters significantly.

In our increasingly globalised world, the ability for EU citizens to live and work in any member state with needing to fulfil points based immigration criteria or wade through red tape felt like the future to many young people who saw the world as their oyster. London in particular has benefitted from the ease of attracting the best talent from across the EU in finance, media, and technology, which has resulted in a booming startup sector. However, the idea of global mobility or globalism in general remains a controversial idea.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May believed the British public was hostile to global mobility and voted for Brexit to slow immigration and stop freedom of movement. However, in numerous polls the public have shown her assumption to be false, with one recent poll finding that two thirds of people believe the government should “aim to retain the right for EU citizens and British citizens to live and work in each other’s countries”, with only 15 per cent saying we should end free movement.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s view on immigration appears malleable. As London Mayor he espoused support for the value of immigration to the UK, but won the Brexit vote with anti-immigrant rhetoric and won the December 2019 election after the rapidly anti-immigrant Brexit Party pulled back and offered its support to Johnson’s Conservative Party. It seems unlikely that the PM could pivot back towards his earlier liberal values within the next three months, but with public opinion now clearly in support of free movement it could be back on the negotiating table, either now or early in 2021.

The lack of clarity over the future of free movement and the future trading relationship has led to uncertainty about economic stability and travel restrictions. And after four years, a number of companies have begun implementing their plans for a UK that has moved away from the EU, away from free market idealism, and away from global business and mobility.

According to Reuters, JP Morgan Chase, is expanding its presence in Paris and plans to relocate sales teams and trading staff to the French capital by January. Bank of America, BlackRock, and HSBC are also implementing similar strategies, with the Financial Times reporting that Paris has attracted nearly 4,000 financial services jobs since the 2016 referendum. After four years of uncertainty, Brexit has finally forced businesses to act.

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