As we have previously discussed, Brexit is set to radically change the relationship between the UK and members of the European Union (EU). Eastern European countries in particular fear that a bitter divorce could harm their economies as well as the rights of their citizens who are living in the UK. With the deadline for Brexit less than a year away, we look at how UK-Eastern European relations have been affected.

Citizen Rights

When the UK, under Tony Blair’s Labour government, enacted its “open-door policy” in 2004, its relationship with Eastern European countries became a lot stronger. Within two-years, 600,000 immigrants from Eastern Europe had entered the UK.

Now with the majority of East-European immigrants successfully integrated into the UK workforce, their future has suddenly become uncertain. While the British government will put in place a policy that will allow current EU citizens to register in order to stay, there is a fear that many will be forced to leave.

After the recent Windrush scandal, it is clear the UK is not ready for an operation of this magnitude. For Eastern Europeans who have been living in the UK, this is a particular worry as they may not have the correct paperwork required to stay.

Workers in the UK

The majority of Eastern Europeans working in the UK are in the construction industry. The construction industry faces an uncertain future as it relies heavily on skilled employees from Eastern European countries to make up a percentage of its workforce. The Guardian reported last February that the number of Eastern Europeans in the industry has already fallen by 5%. If British construction companies experience a more significant drop in numbers, the housing industry could face a crisis.

When Brexit is implemented, the UK will no longer allow freedom of movement, and those looking to work in the UK will find it much harder to do so.

The future of UK-EU employment rights is uncertain, but without freedom of movement workers will likely have to provide paperwork in order to be able to work. This will make looking for employment in the UK much more expensive, and will likely mean that they will have to have a job lined up before entering the country.

Economic Repercussions

The drop in the value of the pound has also made the UK less attractive to workers coming from Eastern Europe. Many Eastern European employees send a remittance home, and with the pound plummeting to a 31-year low in 2016, coupled with its volatility ever since, workers may look to other countries for employment.

An additional consideration, highlighted recently by the The Irish Times, is that the UK is the second largest net-contributor to the EU budget, and that Eastern European countries fear the economic impact this decrease in funds will have on their future as the EU budget has helped “modernise infrastructure across the former communist block”.

Security Issues

The Czech Republic’s acting state secretary for EU affairs, Jan Kral, believes that facing challenges such as terrorism is more efficient when countries stand united against them.

The UK is a member of Europol, which allows police to fight crime across borders and share data on air passengers and suspects. With the future of the UK’s involvement in doubt, Eastern European countries could find themselves devoid of security intelligence.

Second referendum vote?

The majority of Eastern Europeans who are working within the UK, supported the petition for a second referendum attempt.

FXCM states that over 4.1 million signatures were collected for the petition. While the British government must consider any petition with over 100,000 signatures for debate, the Foreign Office disregarded the request saying that the decision must push through because millions of Britons voted to leave.

With Brexit almost certainly going ahead, UK-Eastern European relations will change significantly. The question that many are asking is whether the relationship will be able to stay as strong.

Janice Sanders


The EU is at a critical juncture. For the first time since the launching of European integration, doubts about the future of the EU have been raised by mainstream politicians and large swathes of the European public. Read about four political directions that Europe may follow after the EP elections in 2019.

Visegrad Insight is published by the Res Publica Foundation. This special edition has been prepared in cooperation with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and with the kind support of ABTSHIELD.

Download the EP2019 report in PDF