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 What would Brexit really mean for the Premier League? 

 By Daniel Grey and Jonny Madill 

In the aftermath of the Brexit referendum, there has been a steadily increasing number of articles on the Brexit consequences for the Premier League. This article sets out our high level thoughts on what we can expect to see down the track and the consequences for work permits, free movement, quotas and free transfers in the Premier League.

 Work Permits and Free Movement 

The doomsday scenario suggested by some is that Brexit would result in a host of players who fail to meet the current work permit criteria.


“More than 100 players would be affected with Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Watford facing losing 11 players from their squads”.


Whilst this observation is correct, it sidesteps one fundamental principle, namely, that it remains unlikely that the same work permit principles which currently apply to non-European Economic Area (EEA) workers would similarly apply to EEA workers post-Brexit.

It’s also highly unlikely that any non-UK, EEA players who, for example, are on existing Premier League contracts would suddenly be deported. Not only would it be improbable that such working restrictions would be applied retrospectively but practically it could reportedly take two years (and possibly longer) to iron out the intricacies of what Britain’s relationship with Europe would morph into. Before that time, it would be difficult to imagine how the implementation of any interim regulations could succesfully be put in place given that they may change once any Brexit agreement is concluded.

In any event, such negotiations between a UK government and the EU would no doubt be fraught with problems. An excellent Economist article concludes that:


“To get a feel for the negotiating dynamic, imagine a divorce demanded unilaterally by one partner, the terms of which are fixed unilaterally by the other. It is a process that is likely to be neither harmonious nor quick—nor to yield a result that is favourable to Britain.”


The EU certainly wouldn’t be incentivised to make the transition as smooth as possible. Quite the opposite; such a rigorous, difficult and drawn-out negotiation would be a marker to deter other Member States from thinking (and doing) the same.


Equally, two years may not be long enough to renegotiate Britain’s subsequent relationship with the EU. 


As a quid pro quo, the EU will want to extract as many substantive concessions regarding the free movement of EEA workers as possible depending if the British Government aims to receive the benefit of near tariff free EEA trading. This is vital given that (according to the Economist) “almost half Britain’s exports go to the rest of the EU.” 


Even this is not a straight-line play-off between two of the biggest issues (i.e. tariffs vs free movement), though it does set the scene for the highly complex negotiation that will ensue. For this reason, anyone thinking that it is a foregone conclusion that the same (current) work permit rules that apply to non-EEA players wanting to play in the UK will similarly apply to European players is simply guessing. If the UK government’s priority is to benefit from tariff-free EEA trade, degrees of free movement concessions from the UK government are inevitable.


Once Brexit occurs, a tiered player immigration approach is likely. The strongest restrictions will continue for non-EEA players. I would suggest (pending the UK government/EU negotiations) that a second, mid-way category is applied where EEA players will be in a more privileged position because of the concessions that the UK government will have to make on various issues. The third category will be UK born players who will be in the most favoured category because of the ease with which they can be employed by clubs.


As such, there may be no immediate short-term impact but, in due course, a major overhaul of the work permit regulations for EEA players would be required.


An important additional point to consider is the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players. Specifically, Article 19 which limits the movements of under 18 year old players. Article 19 permits the “transfers of minors between the age of 16 and 18 within the EU or EEA”. If Britain is no longer in the EU, it would beunlikely to benefit from this exception.

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