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The Danish government has put forward a bill with the aim to uphold EU rights for the British citizens and their family members who have prior to the UK's exit from the EU stayed legally in Denmark. This would be structured as a temporary transition scheme designed to minimise the immigration consequences of a hard Brexit.

The relationship between the EU and the UK has been a subject of great public interest ever since the UK decided to leave the EU by way of a referendum held in the UK on 23 June 2016. 

In January 2019, the exit agreement which was, among other things, to ensure a smooth transition period, was rejected by the British parliament, and there is therefore the risk that the UK will leave the EU on 29 March 2019 without an agreement – a so-called no-deal Brexit. 

However, the question of when and how the UK is to leave the EU first and foremost depends on whether a number of terms in the previously rejected exit agreement are amended.  

If this is the case, a new vote will presumably be conducted in which the members of parliament are to consider the changed terms governing the UK's exit. However, if the agreement is rejected again, a vote will most likely be held on whether the British parliament wants a no-deal Brexit. 

The right to reside and work in Denmark
Currently, all EU citizens, including UK citizens, are as a general rule entitled to travel to and reside in another EU country with to the aim of e.g. working in the country in question. However, the right to free movement does as a general rule not apply to non-EU/EEA citizens (so-called third country citizens), who must instead apply for work and residence permits before being allowed to stay and work in Denmark.

If the UK leaves the EU at the end of March 2019 without an exit agreement, this will mean that citizens of the UK will in future be considered third country citizens within the meaning of the Danish Aliens Act (udlændingeloven) and that their right to reside and work in Denmark can no longer be based on the EU rules on free movement. British citizens wanting to reside and work in Denmark will instead have to meet the conditions in the Danish Aliens Act in order to be able to apply for work and residence permits (in the same way as any other third country citizen).

New bill minimises the consequences of a no-deal Brexit
On 20 February 2019, the Danish government, however, tabled a bill designed to minimise the immigration consequences of a hard Brexit. The object is to establish a temporary transition scheme for British citizens and their family members who at the time of the UK's exit from the EU continue to meet the conditions for the right to stay in Denmark in accordance with the rules of the EU Executive Order.

The government is thus introducing the possibility that the British citizens and their family members during a transition period are to be placed on an equal footing with other EU/EEA citizens meaning that these groups of people will also after 29 March 2019 have the following rights:

  • to reside and work in Denmark on the same terms as so far applicable and thereby without having to apply for residence and/or work permit,
  • to complete a secondment period having commenced before 29 March 2019, and
  • to be entitled to family reunion according to the EU rules, if the family life existed before 29 March 2019.

The transition scheme furthermore means that British citizens and their family members currently staying and working legally in Denmark will still be able to earn the right to obtain a permanent residence permit in Denmark and that all EU registration certificates and residence cards will remain valid and can thus still be used during the temporary transition period. 

In the same way, British citizens and their family members who have not received their EU residence documents at the time of the UK's exit from the EU will also be able to have these documents issued after the time of exit. 

At some point, issued EU residence documents will have to be replaced by residence cards meeting the requirements in the EU rules on residence cards for third country citizens, but guidelines have not yet been drawn up as to how and when this conversion of residence documents is to be completed.

The Danish government has, however, also contemplated that certain rules be tightened in respect of British citizens as a consequence of Brexit. The special protection against deportation of EU citizens will, for instance, no longer apply to British citizens residing and working in Denmark or to their family members. This applies even if they have stayed legally in Denmark prior to 29 March 2019.

The bill is expected to come into force on 26 March 2019 and thereby after it has been decided whether the UK is to leave the EU without any agreement or whether Brexit will be postponed.

The bill is highly similar to the types of contingency plans regarding UK citizens adopted by certain other EU countries, e.g. Germany.

Comments by Bech-Bruun
The government's bill is a positive and – seen in light of the continuing political uncertainty in respect of the UK's exit from the EU – necessary initiative designed to minimize the immigration consequences of a hard Brexit for British citizens living in Denmark. 

Even though the bill entails British citizens and their family members to a wide degree being placed on an equal footing with EU/EEA citizens we recommend that British citizens living in Denmark who have not yet applied for an EU registration certificate and family members of British citizens living in Denmark who have not applied for a residence card do so before 29 March 2019.

And finally, we recommend that companies in Denmark who either employ British citizens living in Denmark or Danish citizens living in the UK make sure that the employees in question may continue to reside and work on the basis of the current residence documents.