Would Leaving the EU Reduce Immigration to the UK?

Danielle Cohen
By Danielle Cohen Immigration Law Solicitor Linkedin
Danielle Cohen has over 20 years of experience as a lawyer and a reputation for offering professional, honest and expert advice.
9 July 2016

Net migration to the UK has never been higher, despite many government promises of reducing the number of immigrants from hundreds of thousands to tens of thousands.

Now the question is, as it should have been all along, will leaving the EU really reduce migration? In our opinion, Brexit will not curb immigration. Nigel Farage of UKIP stated that getting out of the EU is the only way to curb immigration. The whole idea that immigration can be switched on and off is a myth.

The most recent increase in immigration to the UK was as a result of growth in the labour market. Immigrants are coming to where there is economic growth and labour demand and they are not usually influenced by immigration regulations. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how much politicians would like us to believe that they are in control of the situation, the truth is that the economy dictates net migration figures.

Assuming the UK wishes to remain a wealthy country with a deregulated market economy, it is very unlikely to expect a major decrease in the number of migrants that will come. The immigration of both low and high skilled workers is likely to continue, as in the case of other non-EU countries, and these migrants may be accompanied by family members. Although it is receiving a lot of attention, asylum migration is not the main source of immigration to the UK and curtailing or trying to prevent asylum migration will mean breaches of fundamental Human Rights. If the UK is willing to do this, the effect will be limited, because at the end of the day asylum migration is driven by the level of violence” back home” and restrictions on asylum policies plays a secondary and smaller role.


Under the current Immigration Rules, non-EU citizen workers must be sponsored by an employer for a skilled job. The remuneration standards specify a certain level of pay. These standards will be hard for many EU citizens to meet, particularly from those new EU member states who are strongly over-represented in low skilled jobs. These changes will be hard for UK employers who are used to the flexibility in employing EU workers in low wage jobs and it is possible that immigration of EU citizens would increase as people may seize the opportunity to move before new rules come into force.


The withdrawal process is set out in Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union and if Article 50 is the only legal route to withdraw under the current treaties, then the withdrawal process has to be triggered by the UK officially notifying of its intentions to withdraw.

In principle, EU law will fully apply until the UK ceases to be a member state, so it will be business as usual and there will be no need to do anything in the meantime.

If a withdrawal is notified, then negotiations on a withdrawal treaty will begin and in principle the UK would leave the EU two years after notification. It is unlikely that the EU will agree to extend that date. It is more likely that they would like to speed this up.

Article 50 also says that the UK will not be part of the negotiations on the withdrawal treaty or the future of the UK/EU relationship on the EU side. In other words, the UK will have no say in voting or meeting with the Council or European Council concerning these negotiations.


The withdrawal agreement will hopefully give us details as to the position of UK citizens who live in Europe and the European citizens who live in the UK.

The key issue is to retain residence rights and the status that comes with it .

Our advice to our clients who are EU nationals or family members of EU nationals, is to get a Residence Permit, Permanent Residence or to Naturalise as a British citizen.

Article 70 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties refers to guaranteeing “acquired rights of individuals in the event of termination of a treaty”. However, it has never applied in the context of a withdrawal from the EU. This is because it has never happened before!

Some suggest it applies only to property rights and not to public law issues like immigration. Some would argue that it protects people who have already acquired permanent residence status as of the Brexit date. What about those who are in the process of the acquisition of these rights? It will be up to the UK at the end of the day what position to adopt regarding the EU citizens in the UK. On the EU side, national immigration law on the immigration of EU citizens will probably apply. We know that in many European countries we do not need to get a visa for short term holidays. Again, we are not clear if UK citizens would need a visa to visit other European countries. But one thing is for sure, we will join a long queue at the airport together with the other non-EU nationals.

Please feel free to call us with any questions relating to the changes in the law and how it might affect you at 02072674133.