Brexit draft withdrawal agreement: EU students forced to play waiting game

Last week Prime Minister Theresa May was finally able to reveal the draft withdrawal agreement with the European Union.

Even after months of negotiations the effects are still not yet known. Immediately it has caused key resignations in her cabinet, chief among them Dominic Raab, her Brexit Secretary who brokered the deal. However, in the long term those in Westminster question whether the agreement will pass through the meaningful vote in the House of Commons and if Mrs May will survive a possible no-confidence motion in her own party.

Her critics and supporters both know that she will not go down without a fight and it is a huge gamble for Brexiteers to try and topple the Prime Minister. The public will just have to sit tight, hold on and hope that the drama which unfolds will only last for a few weeks. 

Unfortunately for many students though this is just not the case, as the agreement which was brokered here will have no lasting impact until 2020 or at least until the transition period has been put in place.

The 585-page document did contain one section on EU students living in the UK but not much is expected to change until the transition period has begun. Unlike the news which led to the cabinet resignations the main thing for students to take away from the deal is the lack of any resolution.

There were some positives as permanent residency was offered to the 3 million EU citizens who’ve been living in the UK, either as a student or as a worker. Additionally, 1 million UK nationals who’ve been living in the EU for more than 5 years are also allowed to stay permanently. This includes family members. However this issue was effectively settled through the “Settled System and Pre-settled System”.

Another plus, which was decided prior to the unveiling of the document, was the guarantee that EU students living in the UK and Britons living in Europe would continue to be able to do so. They will also have the opportunity to request permanent residency before or during the transition period.

The document however does not state whether UK students settled in an EU country will have the right to move freely within the bloc. This again has not yet been determined and will be subject to a possible future agreement.

One of the other major talking points from the withdrawal agreement was that the government pointed out they were under no obligation to provide “grant maintenance aid for studies… consisting in student grants or loans.”  Yet like much of the document it is open to interpretation and does not state whether this will result in the end of tuition fees or is just a reference to living costs. 

This message to the EU students, to wait and see, is also extended to academics from the bloc. Around £87 billion is set to be lost in the next round after losing access to EU research funding. Again, it does not look at how this may be resolved but it is expected that they will try to negotiate and join as an external member.

How much this fee will cost is anybody’s guess. There is also no indication over the situation of staff working in UK institutions, who can account for up to a quarter in some universities, with this expected to tie into laws over immigration.

The 23rd June 2016 will be remembered as a historic day when Britain took the decision to leave the EU.  Who knows but historians may see the 14th November 2018  as a decisive day, where it led to Britain leaving the bloc or alternatively led to an extension of the Brexit narrative.

Though for EU students and academics it will be viewed as a day where they were forced to wait for another two years, where they simply had to play a waiting game.


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