Hundreds of Britons work in the European institutions—what happens to them post-Brexit?by Matthew Bevington / November 21, 2018 / Leave a comment
Brexit is not so much headline news these days as just the news. And the intensity of coverage is only increasing as we enter the final stages of the process. We’ve had maximum facilitation models, Irish backstops and now a near 600-page draft agreement. But what has received little to no coverage is what will happen to UK staff inside the European institutions, and especially MEPs’ staff—one of the first groups directly affected—after we leave.
As the UK exits the EU next March, MEPs’ assistants will be at the sharp end of this decoupling. Along with MEPs themselves, assistants will most likely be the last in a generation of UK political representatives in the EU institutions. I’ve spoken to a number of staffers over recent weeks from across pro- and anti-Brexit parties, along with UK and EU officials, to see what the UK’s exit will mean for assistants on the ground.
Brexit has been both exaggerated and underplayed. It is far from the geopolitical event that will define global politics this decade. Yet, for those it directly affects it has massive implications.
The EU institutions have tens of thousands of staff on their payrolls. By some estimates, around 1,200 are from the UK and about a quarter of those work in the European Parliament. At a rough approximation, that includes about 150 assistants stationed in Brussels working for UK MEPs and parties. Yet for many their status, even at this late stage in the process, remains uncertain.
It is a legal requirement, set out in the regulation of officials, that EU staff must be citizens of a member state. Given this will not be the case for UK citizens after 29th March 2019, this ought—in principle—to rule them out of all posts, including working as assistants, within the EU institutions thereafter. By the strict letter of the law, current UK employees could even in theory have been sacked en masse come 30th March. Thankfully, this won’t be the case. But a great deal of uncertainty remains.
In the European Parliament there are, strictly speaking, two types of employee: permanent staff on the one hand, and temporary and contract staff on the other. After Brexit, UK employees will be treated differently depending on which type of status they have. Permanent staff—officials working for the parliament—have been guaranteed that they can stay on, which is a significant departure from the ordinary application of EU citizenship requirements. As a member…