The UK’s exit from the European Union will have far-reaching implications for RIBA members, the architecture profession and the built environment sector. As the UK Government negotiates a new relationship with the EU it is likely that rules affecting the freedom to live, work and do business, product and environmental standards in the construction sector and funding for higher education, research and investment will change.
This briefing outlines what we know so far, what is still to be agreed between the UK and the EU, and the likely impact for RIBA members. We will update this briefing when there are significant developments throughout the negotiation.
When will the UK leave the EU?
The UK Government triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on 29 March 2017. The Government intends to repeal the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU, with effect from the end of the two-year period specified in the treaty – therefore the UK will leave the EU at the end of March 2019.
On 23 March 2018, the European Council formally agreed the terms of a post-Brexit transition period that will last until the end of 31 December 2020. During the 21 months covered by the transition period, many of the rules affecting citizens and businesses will remain the same as they are now; although the UK will lose its decision-making role over EU law.
Living and working in the UK and the EU
Until the end of the post-Brexit transition period in December 2020, there will be no change to the rights and status of EU citizens living and working in the UK or UK nationals in the EU. EU citizens who are already living and working in the UK, and those who arrive before the end of the transition period, will continue to enjoy the same rights and guarantees they enjoy now – including the right to obtain legal permanent residence in the UK after 5 continuous years of residency and to apply for British citizenship after 6 years.
The Government has stated that freedom of movement from the EU will end after the end of the transition period and be replaced by a new immigration system. It has signalled that it wants to control the level of immigration into the UK as a top priority while ensuring businesses can secure the best talent and fill skills gaps. The RIBA is engaging with Government to make the case for a post-Brexit immigration system which works for UK architecture and allows the profession to continue accessing the best global talent, as well as providing certainty and security for international architects practising in Britain. You can read the RIBA’s paper on the post-Brexit immigration system, here
The European Professional Qualifications Directives (EPQD) provides for the mutual recognition of architects’ professional qualifications across the EU. The UK Government and EU Commission have agreed that architects already benefitting from mutual recognition of profession qualifications under the Directive will continue to have their qualifications recognised on a reciprocal basis, including EU architects who register in the UK (and vice versa) during the transition period. Whether qualifications continue to be recognised for new registrants after December 2020 is still to be negotiated between the UK and EU – ensuring this continues is a key policy priority for the RIBA we continue to make the case for this with Government. You can read the RIBA’s paper on mutual recognition of professional qualifications, here.
Doing business in the EU
UK architects will continue to have full access to the EU Single Market, and enjoy tariff-free trade with the EU market under the European Union Customs Union, until the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020. Tariff and import restrictions on goods and the service sector will remain unchanged throughout this period. However, the Government has indicated that it does not intend to remain a full member of the Single Market or Customs Union after this time.
The UK Government’s objective for the Brexit negotiations is to secure a customs agreement with the EU which provides for the frictionless movement of goods, and a free trade agreement that does not involve being a member of its Single Market. However, the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be determined by negotiations between Britain and the EU27 and we do not know yet what this will look like after the end of transition.
The UK’s public procurement system is based on the European Procurement Directives, which are in turn based on the World Trade Organisation Government Procurement Agreement. Issues like the procurement threshold and the requirement to open all contracts above this value to competition will be maintained during negotiation.
For architects bidding for public contracts in the EU, no immediate changes are likely. EU law expressly forbids any weight in a procurement decision being given to the country of origin of a bid for a public contract. As such, access to public contracts for UK bids is not dependent on the UK’s membership of the EU.
Product and environmental standards
When the UK leaves the EU in April 2019, European law will continue in practice to apply in the UK until the end of the post-Brexit transition period on 31 December 2020 – including new European law passed by the EU during this period. The Government intends to legislate to incorporate all existing EU law into domestic law via legislation so that the same law applies the day after the UK leaves the EU as the day before. Standards that exist in UK law will remain in force even if the relevant EU Directives or Regulations no longer apply. Once the UK leaves, however, there will be greater flexibility for changes to be made individually by Parliament in time.
The UK’s standards body, the BSI has stated that membership to the International Organization for Standardization and International Electrotechnical Commission will not be affected by withdrawal from the EU. While the UK remains a member of the EU, the BSI will retain membership of European standardisation organisations CEN and CENELEC. The BSI has stated that it will be working with government to assess its relationship with European organisations.
The RIBA believes that it is crucial that the UK’s exit from the EU does not compromise built environment quality or sustainability by starting a short-sighted race to the bottom on standards, or allowing standards to be eroded through statutory instruments with minimal parliamentary scrutiny.
Leaving the EU will likely have an impact on EU nationals studying and working in the academic sector. Free movement of students and academic professionals within the EU will be maintained after Brexit until the transition period ends in December 2020. It is unclear whether research funding and academic cooperation agreements will continue as normal up to this date.
The position for EU citizens considering studying architecture in the UK after Brexit will depend on both the UK’s new immigration system and what agreement is reached between Britain and the EU over how to treat overseas applicants after December 2020. The UK Government has stated that EU students who begin study in the UK through the 2018/19 academic year will continue to be eligible for ‘home fee’ status and student loans, as well as Research Council PhD studentships at UK universities, but at this time it is not clear how European students will be considered from the 2019/20 academic year onwards.
The UK will remain in the Horizon 2020 research programme and other EU funding programmes that are part of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) until the end of 2020, as confirmed by the transition period agreement. The UK Government has indicated that it will seek to continue involvement in major research initiatives and non-EU members currently do participate in EU-funded research programmes, but at this time no agreement has been reached with the EU for continued research funding and cooperation beyond December 2020.
The UK is currently one of the largest contributors to the EU research budget - contributing €5.4 billion over the period 2007 – 2013. The best estimate that exists is that during the same period, the UK received €8.8 billion in direct EU funding for research, development and innovation activities. There are clear financial implications for UK universities if the UK does not remain part of the EU research framework after Brexit.
EU Funding and Investment
The UK is currently the joint-largest shareholder in the European Investment Bank, but unless an agreement can be reached with the EU, Britain will have to give up its stake once it leaves the EU in March 2019 and future EIB funding decisions will no longer involve the UK. The EIB has provided significant investment in infrastructure across the UK; for example, it recently provided £1 billion for new social housing investment.
The EIB has said that it will honour its existing deals until the UK leaves the EU and the UK should be able to continue accessing funding from the EIB until it withdraws from membership of the EU. The RIBA has called upon the UK Government to set out a long-term plan for investment and funding in housing and infrastructure to ensure that finance remains available after Brexit.