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Philip Richardson, head of employment law at national law firm Stephensons, discusses the potential impact of Brexit on dental practices


Educational aims and objectives

This article aims to bring the dental professional up to date with the latest legislative position of the UK government over Brexit.

This article aims to highlight the potential issues for dental professionals and dental practices when the UK exits Europe.


Clear anticipated outcomes

  • Readers will understand the different options the UK has for Brexit.
  • Readers will understand the timescales stated for leaving the EU.
  • Readers will know the implications of different exit strategies for their practices, staff, and colleagues.


Anxiety and uncertainty continues to surround the UK labour and employment market following the announcement of a Great Repeal Bill by Theresa May, in which the Government will enshrine all EU law on the UK statute book and then decide which EU legislation to keep including those laws concerning employment rights. This will be of particular concern to SMEs such as dental practices, as numbers of dentists and dental care professionals coming from overseas to work in the UK have increased markedly in recent years.

Prior to 23 June, the free movement of workers was an integral part of EU membership meaning that EU citizens could live or work in any other member state without limitation. A key point for those who campaigned for Brexit was to end the automatic right of EU citizens to travel and work freely within the UK.

The process to leave the EU will be triggered by the UK before the end of March 2017 and this process is likely to then take at least 2 years. It is likely that the transitional rules will ensure that any EU citizens already working and living within the UK will continue to have the right to work within the UK. In a similar vein, UK workers employed within the EU are likely to benefit from the same provisions. Therefore, certainly in the immediate term, the status quo is likely to remain.

What happens in the future is of course largely to be dictated by the discussions over the coming months through the new government. The UK could require that EU citizens be subject to the same system that already applies to non-EU citizens. This involves a points based system which ensures that visas are only issued to workers performing a skilled role in the UK at a particular minimum level of salary. However, this is likely to prove unpopular.

Many businesses rely significantly on EU nationals within the service industry where jobs are non-skilled and low paid and therefore any such points system may not catch such workers. Furthermore, other EU countries may in that scenario seek to impose their own controls on UK nationals travelling to the EU.

In the alternative, the UK could follow the Norwegian model which gives the UK access to the single market and frees us from certain EU rules on agriculture, fisheries, and home affairs.  As a third option, the UK could follow the Swiss model which involves negotiating with countries on a country by country basis.  The latter, however, is likely to be a time consuming process and creates a lot of uncertainty and as such many hope the UK can reach its own unique deal which is more beneficial than either of that adopted by the Norwegians and the Swiss.

It is impossible at this stage to predict with any certainty how the UK’s labour market will be affected by the Referendum decision but it is clear that the next few months of negotiations under Theresa May’s leadership will be crucial in determining how existing EU citizens and UK citizens within Europe will be affected in the long term.

Separately, whilst EU legislation has impacted on the development of employment laws within the UK over recent times, it is unlikely that much of the existing employment UK legislation will change dramatically.  Much EU legislation reflects acceptable standards of good employee relations practices.  Furthermore, the UK already had in place a significant body of employment legislative protection, i.e. disability discrimination and employee-friendly legislation. There may be an opportunity to review elements of EU legislation which are currently unpopular such as elements of TUPE legislation and collective consultation but it is fair to say that the vote on 23 June is unlikely to have a significant impact on current UK employment legislation as it stands.