What’s in the Brexit deal?

What’s in the Brexit deal?

After years of discussions and disagreements, Brexit became legally real and it is now the EU 27 instead of the EU 28. In this article we will summarise some Brexit points concerning persons with disabilities, and in March our Disability Voice we will explore Brexit more deeply as the impact on people becomes more apparent.

The Commission President and the British Prime Minister announced a deal had been reached on December 24th, however its full implications are still being analysed, and as many issues remain vague and unresolved, the full impact for persons with disabilities will only be seen over time.

The “Brexiteers”’ or promotors of the UK leaving the EU’s core promise to end freedom of movement will be implemented.  The UK will leave the common market and the customs union. In the EU, people, goods, services and money can move freely across borders, and now that the UK will leave the common market and customs union, arrangements need to made in all these fields between the EU and the UK.

EDF worked with partner DPOs in the UK on analysing the potential impact of Brexit on person with disabilities and advocating for persons with disabilities to be included in discussions and negotiations. In 2017 we partnered with the European Citizens Action Service on a report on the impact of Brexit on people– with EDF studying the impact on people with disabilities. EDF also advocated towards the EU’s Chief negotiator, Michael Barnier on these points. Disability Rights UK continued to work on monitoring and influencing the process so that the concerns of disabled people would be heard and planned for.

Concerns for persons with disabilities included:

  • All EU-based disability rights existing at the time the UK leaves the EU to be maintained
  • Maintenance of existing disability rights which are incorporated in domestic law at the time of exit
  • At least matching EU funds which promote the rights and inclusion of persons with disabilities
  • Mutual recognition of initiatives beneficial to disabled people- such as parking cards or other cards
  • Proper analysis of, and guidance on freedom of movement issues from a disability rights perspective
  • Ensuring that staffing in the care and support sector is maintained
  • Ensuring continued reliable access to medicines

Above all the Disability movement in the UK insist on disability rights, and the CRPD being higher on its own governments agenda.

The Brexit deal has been published, and includes the following important care elements:

  • Freedom of movement – the right to go and work, visa-free, in another EU country- has ended, but visa free travel for work will be possible for certain professions and ‘high skilled employees’ that make over 25,000 UK pounds per year (with some exceptions), for short time periods. The UK government has made this explanatory note for people wishing to travel to the UK. This is will cause problems in the care sector and the employment of personal assistants, and on first glance it will be harder for persons with disabilities to employ EU workers as personal assistants.
  • In terms of trade, companies will face extra administrative burdens and basically, paperwork. The UK- EU postage will be higher and streaming services will not work across the border.
  • UK prescriptions will not be recognized in the EU
  • The UK will no longer contribute to the EU core budget and signature EU programmes such as the Cohesion policy (including using structural funds), the ERASMUS exchange programme or the smaller EU Solidarity Corps. This means that students from the EU will not be funded through ERASMUS to go to the UK, and Vice Versa. The UK government has promised to replace this, by September with a global exchange programme for students.
  • British residents can no longer apply for use the European Health Insurance Card. Existing cards will be valid until they expire, then British residents  will need to arrange specific health insurance. It will be clear over time the kind of costs this will imply for persons with disabilities or people with pre-existing health conditions.
  • The UK government will participate in HORIZON 2020 research programme for at least 7 years, enabling UK and EU universities to continue collaborating in EU funding programmes. If this stays in pace, UK universities- which include many disability related research elements will continue to contribute to EU research.

On passengers rights, some points are clear already:

  • Brexit will affect the level of protection of passengers travelling between the EU and the UK. EU air passenger rights will continue to apply to flights operated from the UK to the EU by an EU airline, or to flights operated from the EU to the UK, whether operated by an EU or a UK airline. However, they will not apply on UK airlines from the UK to the EU. Or for flights leaving the UK to a third country outside the EU, even with an EU airline.
  • Rail Passengers’ Rights are likely to be affected since the channel tunnel connection by Eurostar is now considered an international service where certain restrictions apply.
  • The good news is that the UK – EU Trade and Cooperation Agreementstates that both the UK and the EU are expected to put ‘effective measures’ in place to protect access to information for passengers, passengers with disabilities and reduced mobility, reimbursement and compensation, and the efficient handling of complaints. However, there is no detail in the agreement as to how this will be achieved.
  • Rules for travel with animals, including assistance dogs, will also change as the UK did not agree to follow the EU’s sanitary rules; but at the time of writing the UK government had not yet published revised guidance on its website.
  • The UK – EU agreement does not mention other passenger rights derived from EU regulations, such as mandatory disability-awareness training for bus and coach drivers, which came into force in March 2018. As EU monitoring will no longer take place in the UK, organisations of persons with disabilities will need to ensure existing provisions are not watered down.

What about the land Border with the EU?

On the Island of Ireland, there is a border between the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI) , which is part of the United Kingdom. This was always going to be complicated in any Brexit deal because now the border between the ROI and NI is also an EU border. Many agreements were made in advance of the final regulation to ensure minimum disruption at this border, as many people cross it every day for work, for shopping, and even have businesses and properties on both sides. There are also historical  issues. People born in Northern Ireland have a birthright to an Irish Passport, which is still an EU passport. Before joining the EU, there was a Common Travel Area (CTA) between the UK and the Republic of Ireland, which remains.

In our March issue of the Disability voice, we will explore more deeply the implications of Brexit, including in Northern Ireland and across the border in Ireland for persons with disabilities.


Catherine Naughton, EDF Director