On June 23, 2016 contrary to what opinion polls had predicted, 51.9% of British electors voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The decision, unexpected even for the center-right government of then Prime Minister David Cameron, was the beginning of an intricate divorce process that would alter not only the political relations between London and Brussels, but also generate numerous economic and social effects. The first sign of this change would come right on the day of the confirmation of the referendum result, with Cameron's resignation.

Four and a half years and two prime ministers later, the U.K. and the E.U. reached a long awaited deal on December 24, 2020 to set out the rules of post-Brexit bilateral relations.

Despite the excitement over the agreement reached, what was seen throughout 2021 was Brexit fallout affecting everything from fishing in the English Channel to university applications and the labour market.

Over the last months, Blasting News has published a series of articles on some of the main economic and social outcomes of the first year of the United Kingdom's exit from the European Union.

'Taking back control of our seas'

One of the effects of Brexit that attracted more attention from the press was undoubtedly the fishing row between the United Kingdom and France.

The tension between fishermen of the two countries reached its peak in early May 2021, when some 60 French fishing boats threatened to blockade Jersey's main port of St. Helier, leading the British government to send two Royal Navy patrol ships and prompting France to respond by sending two vessels.

At the root of the problem were different interpretations of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), that now governs economic relations between the U.K.

and the U.S. after Brexit. According to the British authorities, French fishermen must now show a history of fishing in the area to receive a license to operate in Jersey waters. French authorities, in its turn, claim that additional requirements, such as the limit on how many days a vessel can operate in Jersey waters or the type of fish it can catch, were added without warning.

With the slogan “Taking back control of our seas”, the British fishing industry was a powerful symbol for the Leave campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum, even though it represents only 0.12 percent of the U.K. economy. The free trade agreement signed in December 2020, however, stipulates that E.U. fishing vessels will continue to have full access to British waters until June 2026, with 25 percent of fishing rights for E.U. vessels in British waters being transferred to the British fishing fleet during an "adjustment period" of five and a half years.

With the end of the transition period, the expectation is that the U.K. will push for higher quotas, and may even exclude E.U. boats from its waters altogether, what would certainly lead to more retaliation from the E.U., like taxing British fish exports or preventing British boats from fishing in E.U.


Post-Brexit bureaucracy takes its toll on U.K. universities

Another area that was greatly affected by Brexit was higher education. One of the world's leading study destinations, the U.K. always attracted a great number of E.U. students, not only for the well known quality of its educational institutions, but also for things like visa exemption, home fee status, easy access to student loans, unrestricted access to the public health system, and the possibility of working legally both during and after the end of the course.

With Brexit, however, the British government decided to end home fee status for E.U. students. Those starting their courses now are no longer entitled to pay the same fees as British and Irish students: up to £9,250 per year.

Instead, they have to pay the international fee, which can be up to £38,000 per year. In addition, student loans will no longer be available.

As expected, the effects of this measure were felt right in the first half of 2021. In a report published in July, 2021 the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), a U.K. organisation focusing on the application processes for U.K. universities, showed that, as of 30 June 2021, the final date to apply to up to five courses simultaneously, the number of E.U. applications dropped 43% – from 49,650 in 2020 to 28,400 in 2021.

"Applications from the E.U. have been impacted by a range of factors, including the uncertainty associated with the U.K.'s withdrawal from the E.U., and changes to student support arrangements," UCAS told Blasting News.

The E.U. students who decide to carry on with their plans to apply to a university in the U.K. must face, apart from the higher fees, a new bureaucracy: apply for a student visa that costs £348. Once in the United Kingdom, E.U. students will also have to deal with some other changes. To have access to the U.K. National Health Service (NHS), they will need to pay a fee called Immigration Health Surcharge. To remain and work freely in the U.K. after completing their courses, they will need to apply to the new Graduate Immigration Route, which gives the student the right to remain in the U.K. for two years after graduation (three years after completing a PhD) to work or seek work in any sector or at any skill level.

This period, however, is not extendable.

End of free movement puts pressure on the labor market

One of the main effects of Brexit was the end of free movement of people between the U.K. and Europe, which led to an unprecedented change in the migration pattern. Figures published in November 2021 by the Office for National Statistics showed that more E.U. nationals left the U.K. in 2020 than arrived for the first time since 1991, a net emigration of around 94,000.

As a consequence of this change, the U.K. saw some sectors that historically relied heavily on foreign staff, such as food processing and logistics, now struggling to cope with widespread labor shortages. With the crisis threatening Britain's recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, the British government decided to loosen immigration rules and create temporary visa schemes allowing some sectors to bring in seasonal workers from overseas.

In an interview with Blasting News, Professor Catherine Barnard, an expert in European Union and labor law at Cambridge University, says that the tendency now is that the U.K. will need a seasonal labor scheme in order to avoid future shortages in some sectors of the economy.

Barnard, however, is critical of this type of solution: “The advantage to the government of these short term schemes is that the visa holders gain no rights to remain in the U.K. However, they have proved unsuccessful – they are expensive for the users, and it is not clear that many workers want to come to the U.K. Less than a hundred visas have been issued in the pork sectors; about 2.000 in the poultry sector.”