Brexit: How British expats are impacted by the EU departure

Eight months after the EU referendum, PM Theresa May has finally spoken on the government’s Brexit strategy. She assured that British nationals living on the continent represent a “priority” in the UK’s negotiation agenda. However, the PM’s previous reluctance to secure the future of the EU nationals in the UK might have consequences for Britons living outside the country.

David Lammy, the Labour MP and former minister stressed out PM’s refusal will cost British people since it “has significantly reduced our international standing and made it far less likely that the EU will feel inclined to give us a good deal”.

With Article 50 of Lisbon Treaty looming on the horizon (deadline by the end of March) and tensions between UK and EU27, the British expats’ fate is hanging by the thread.

Here is everything we know so far about the British expats’ status.

What is Brexit?

Brexit is an abbreviation used to refer to UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU) following a referendum on 23 June 2016. Vote Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1%.

What is Article 50?

Article 50 is a plan that allows any country to leave the EU. The five-paragraph document is part of the Treaty of Lisbon – an international agreement signed by all EU states (2009) and which forms the constitutional basis of the European Union (EU).

It outlines that any member state that wishes to quit the EU must notify the European Council and then proceed to negotiate its withdrawal. It also states that an agreement must be reached within two years (unless everyone agrees to extend it) and that the states cannot take part in EU internal discussions about its departure. Any exit deal must be approved by a “qualified majority” and it needs to supported by MEPs. If a state wants to rejoin the EU, this will be considered under Article 49.

Before the treaty, there was no formal mechanism for a country to leave the EU.

What does the Brexit White Paper mention about the British expats?

A white paper is a document issued by the Governments and it sets out proposals for future legislation. The Brexit White Paper informs about the Government’s Brexit strategy. It lays out 12 priorities to be considered for the forthcoming negotiations with the EU, among which is “Securing rights for EU nationals in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU”.

As stated in the document, “securing the status of, and providing certainty to, EU nationals already in the UK and to UK nationals in the EU is one of this Government’s early priorities”. UK’s intention was to reach a reciprocal deal with EU member states ahead of the formal negotiations. Despite there are many EU countries favouring such an agreement, this has proven not possible.

During her speech, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the Government wants “to guarantee the rights of British nationals in other member states, as early as” possible. She also stated that EU leaders “favour such an agreement – one or two do not”.

Listen to her speech in full below.

When will UK leave the EU?

Theresa May intends to trigger Article 50 by the end of March. This will give both UK and EU two years to reach an agreement. The deadline can be extended only if all 28 EU members agree to do so.

How many British expats live in the European Union?

There are over 4.5 million Britons living abroad, with 1.2 million of them living in European countries, as provided by the United Nations in 2015.

Where do British expats live in the European Union?

The most popular countries of residence are Spain (310,000), Ireland (255,000), France (185,000) and Germany (103,000), stated the United Nations Population Division in 2015.


Who are the Brits living in the European Union?

The most recent study that offers information on UK nationals living abroad are pensioners is ‘Global Brit: Making the most of the British diaspora’ published in 2010 by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR). According to this research, the largest part of the British diaspora is made of English, followed by Scottish and Welsh. 52% of the migration is by men.

A significant proportion of the UK nationals who emigrate are pensioners (+44), but there is also an increased number of young to mid-working age people (25-44). MWUK estimates that in countries such as Ireland, Spain, France, Germany, Italy, Cyprus, Netherlands and Germany, around 400,000 Britons are pensioners.

British emigrants tend to be highly educated and highly skilled. They move abroad primarily to work and have high earning jobs than the general Birth-born population.
An MWUK’s estimation suggests that around 800,000 British emigrants and their dependants will be working. In a Guardian research from 2015, it is revealed that at least 30, 000 British people (2,5% of British diaspora) living in EU member states are claiming unemployment benefits.


Why is Brexit important for the expats?

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC explained that after Brexit, the British citizens living in EU countries would become “illegal immigrants overnight” if Britain doesn’t maintain some form of free movement after EU departure.

If Brexit happens, Britons’ right to work and live, or access to healthcare, pensions or public benefits in the EU countries would be affected. As they have been granted under the EU law, UK’s departure form EU means there will be no requirement for these rights to be maintained.

If the Government negotiates with the EU to maintain these rights, it is expected to be reciprocated for EU citizens living in UK as well.

Could the British expats be deported from the EU countries they live in?

Such a scenario is unlikely. The EU nations need to consider the situation of their own nationals in the UK, and not only. A mass deportation could potentially affect the economy of the expelling country.

The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 states that the expats have “acquired rights” in their home countries. Some lawyers suggest that Britons could utilise these legal protections after UK’s departure from EU. This is possible because when Brits have established themselves in the EU countries, they have exercised their right to live there. This means that as long as they lived in those countries before Brexit, they would keep this right.

What happens to UK citizens working in the EU?

Briton’s ability to work in EU countries depends on the UK’s agreement with EU. If the government decides to impose work permit restrictions on EU nationals, then it is highly likely that the other countries will reciprocate. This means that Brits would be required to apply for visas to work.

Could British expats be barred from EU healthcare and benefits?

Currently, the European Health Insurance card gives the British citizens free access to essential healthcare in some EU countries and reduced price in others. Brexit might result in this right to be taken away and Brits would be forced to fund for private healthcare. However, if this happens, it means that UK would take identical measures on the millions of EU nationals who live in Britain. For this reason, UK might come to a “reciprocal healthcare” agreement with EU.

How will the British students be affected by Brexit?

The UK students might face higher fees in the future since the domestic rates are only eligible for students coming from EU member states. They may need to apply for visas and will no longer be eligible for funding via the Erasmus exchange program. British students may also face difficulties when trying got work during or after their studies.


What happens to the British expats’ pensions?

British citizens who live in the European Economic Area have their pensions protected. It is still to be decided whether this will continue or the British state pensions will be frozen. There is also a possibility that the pensions of those who worked in Britain for a period might be worth less when claimed.

At the moment, Britons receive their pensions because a principle of the single market is applied. The single market is the free movement of goods, people, services and capitals from one EU member states to another. For this to continue to work, UK must reach a mutual agreement with EU.

How British expat feel about Brexit?

There are many British people who have relatives living in EU countries. Listen to the audio below and find out how a Britsh woman who has half of her family abroad, feels about Brexit.

Listen to more expats’ stories here:

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