Triggering Article 50 could spark an exodus

Brexit looks set to be triggered soon. Once the UK government sends the Article 50 notification to the European Union, the final countdown towards the UK’s departure begins.

So far, the economy has held up better than most people expected. Supporters of Brexit even point to rising exports as proof that all you have to do is vote in a referendum that you want to leave the world’s biggest trading area and, poof! your exports miraculously do much better.

Of course, they forget to mention the tiny detail that the UK still has unfettered access to the EU’s single market, with a currency that dropped in value to the euro by some 15%. If your exports don’t rise in such conditions, I don’t know when they would rise.

However, a bumpier ride will start once the Article 50 notification is sent. This will make Brexit real and will communicate a definite deadline to when the UK will exit, with or without a deal.

Preparations by banks and asset management companies to open offices in other EU countries are well known. What is less well known is that many highly skilled people in London are now considering relocating to other cities. This is something that before the Brexit vote would have been highly inconceivable, but Britain is no longer such a cool place to be, after the vote.

These highly skilled people, mostly working in finance but also in tech and various research areas, are part of the highly paid, highly mobile elites that consider themselves citizens of the world. After the Brexit vote, as Prime Minister Theresa May came to power, she dubbed them “citizens of nowhere.”

To match this suddenly found, open hostility towards the globally mobile, the formalities needed for EU citizens to get an official certificate to remain in the UK permanently after five years’ residence have turned into a bureaucratic nightmare almost overnight.

If a couple of years ago they needed only one piece of evidence of their status (employee, self-employed, student, etc.) right now the Home Office guidance for the completion of the 85-page form requests around three. The time needed to obtain the permanent residency certificate is anywhere between a couple of months to half a year, with applicants needing to surrender their passport during that time.

Once Brexit is triggered, this could get worse and an exodus of highly skilled, highly mobile people could start. Many of the British voters who supported Leave did so because they believe there are too many immigrants. They could find, a few years down the line, that there are too many emigrants instead.