Four out of five British expats fear they will have their automatic right to live abroad taken from them after Brexit, a Europe-wide survey has revealed.
The UK government has consistently said that it will not act unilaterally to guarantee the rights of 3 million EU citizens to remain in the UK until it has agreement that the EU 27 will do the same for the estimated 1.2 million Britons living elsewhere in Europe.
But a poll of more than 5,000 UK nationals living in the EU showed that last week’s rejection by MPs in the House of Commons of an amendment to the Article 50 bill, that would have protected both UK and European expats, alongside UK PM Theresa May’s refusal to make any guarantees to Europeans living in the UK, has unsettled British expats living in Europe.
Last week’s UK House of Commons (lower chamber) vote authorised the government to begin the formal Brexit process by triggering Article 50, with calls for the government to act proactively (e.g. by guaranteeing state pension increases and S1 healthcare contributions) and guarantee UK expats their rights after Brexit, either defeated or not called. The Bill has now been passed to the House of Lords (the upper chamber) where opposition peers are expected to re-table the amendments on UK nationals in the EU 27 and EU citizens in the UK.
Spain and France most popular
The vast majority of the 5,170 Britons who responded to the survey, organised by the Brussels and Europe Lib Dems (Beld) group, resided in Spain and France.
The survey found that the automatic right to work, both for UK citizens and those that have non-EU spouses, as well as continued access to child, disability, healthcare and pension benefits, were all issues that might limit the ability of British migrants to remain in their EU country of residence after Brexit.
As reported, it was estimated that a post-Brexit exodus back to the UK was expected simply due to the expected loss of reciprocal healthcare benefits, with 100s of thousands expected to return to the UK to guarantee free NHS coverage.
Pension, healthcare fears
This latest survey, published this week, highlighted that the right to reside, automatic pension increases and healthcare concerns were the top three concerns for Brits living in Spain and France.
The right to reside, the right to work and freedom of movement for the top three concerns for Brits living in Belgium and Denmark.
Laura Shields, chairperson of Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats said: “UK politicians must accept that the ‘right to reside’ is not the same as an actual ability to stay. Losing their EU citizenship will bring a myriad of practical problems for Brits in the EU which can’t be fixed in a quick quid pro quo residency deal with the EU 27. The government must think this through properly and ensure it doesn’t throw us under Boris’s Brexit blunder bus.’
Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP, said: “The Conservative Brexit government is playing fast and loose with the lives and families of Brits living elsewhere in the EU.
“It denied many of them a vote in the EU Referendum and now it is using them as bargaining chips.”
The survey recorded the responses of 5,170 British citizens, the vast majority of whom were not Liberal Democrat members, living in the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, between 7 and 22 January.
The survey also highlighted a selection of testimonials from British citizens living in the EU who responded:
“I am studying for a master’s degree in European history. Upon graduating I would like to work in either Belgium or Germany; I don’t fancy spending over half my salary on renting a bedroom in London. I fear that the future loss of my rights as an EU citizen may put off prospective employers.”
British man, aged 25-34, living in France.
“My son and I moved to Spain where the peace and quiet, low population and good weather are helping to manage his Asperger’s Syndrome. Because we are EU citizens my son receives a PIP (personal independence payment) and carers through reciprocal arrangements between the Spanish Government and the UK. We are waiting to find out if we will lose these once Britain leaves the EU and what this could mean for our ability to stay here.”
British woman, aged 45-54, living in Spain.
“I am own a small business in Germany and we offer services in several EU countries. Will I still be able to work in these countries out of Germany, or will I require a separate work permit for every country?”
British man aged 45-54, living in Germany.
“My husband is not an EU citizen. He is eligible to work here solely because I am an EU citizen. Non-EU spouses of non-EU citizens do not automatically get work permits here. Spouses of EU citizens are entitled to work regardless of their citizenship.”
British woman aged 35-44, living in Ireland.