More than a month after Britain voted to leave the EU, it is still unclear what the status is of the estimated 1.2 million British expats living in the EU and 3.3 million EU expats in Britain. There are questions over residency rights, work permits, taxes, healthcare, pensions and more. We took a look at some of these issues before the EU Referendum, but it is likely to be a while before there are any definitive answers as no country has ever undergone this process before.
Politicians have been keen to reassure expats that their status will remain the same for the two years after Article 50 is triggered, but the long term situation is less clear. It is generally agreed that mass deportation is highly improbable from either the UK or the EU, particularly due to the Vienna Convention. However, it is uncertain whether current and future expats will be able to maintain their lifestyles in the same way as both British and EU expats currently enjoy a number of benefits that come with EU membership.
We’ve taken a look at what the politicians been saying, both in the UK and in the most popular EU countries for British expats, to see what the future may hold.
UK: 3.3 million EU expats
In his first appearance at Prime Minister’s Questions after the EU Referendum vote was announced, David Cameron confirmed that the situation would remain the same for British expats in the EU until Britain had actually left the EU, two years after Article 50 is triggered. He also discussed the newly established Whitehall unit that had been created to manage Britain’s departure from the EU.
He confirmed that: “One of the things that this unit at the heart of Whitehall can do through the coming weeks is to go through these issues very methodically and work out what might need to change in all the different scenarios, to give these people [British expats] a certainty about their futures. And it’s obviously very important that we do that.”
According to the Financial Times, Theresa May’s team has previously stated that “Her position is that we will guarantee the legal status of EU nationals in Britain as long as British nationals living in EU countries have their status guaranteed too”. This means that the long term situation for expats in both the UK and the EU is likely to depend on how negotiations progress.
The government has also stated that May will not trigger Article 50 this year. This may give expats both in the UK and EU some time to review their situation and plan as necessary. However, it also delays the start of negotiations, potentially prolonging the long term uncertainty.
Spain: 309,000 British expats
Spain is one of the most popular destinations for British expats, due to benefits such as the Spanish sunshine, the lower cost of living and the excellent healthcare system. But acting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has been fairly non-committal in his approach going forward. He has stated that: “The rights to move freely, to work, pay taxes and get pensions, to invest and vote will not be affected at least during the next two years.” He has previously commented that if the UK left the EU, it would be “negative for everybody”.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that Rajoy does not currently hold a majority government and it is unclear whether he will be able to form a coalition in the near future. Politicians in other parties may hold different views to those held by Rajoy and the conservative People’s Party.
Ireland: 255,000 British expats
There has been freedom of movement between Ireland and the UK since long before the EU existed, and there is an argument that this agreement should be continued although there is no legal precedent in place for this. The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland is a particularly sensitive area, with restrictions here having potential economic and political implications.
Theresa May has held talks with her Irish counterpart Taoiseach Enda Kenny to discuss the consequences of Brexit. Both parties have a desire to “maintain the closest possible relationship” between the two countries and expressed a “strong will” to preserve free movement.
France: 185,000 British expats
President Hollande has been slightly more positive than many other EU leaders, and he was the first to state that British expats would still be welcome in France after a Brexit. Following his discussions with Theresa May, he confirmed that: “There is no doubt that the French people who reside in the UK will be able to continue to work there and that the British people in France will be able to continue to work there and spend as much time as they wish.”
However, some expats have still expressed concerns that this comment does not address areas such as pensions and healthcare, potentially still leaving some questions over their future status.
Germany: 103,000 British expats
Theresa May recently met Angela Merkel for the first time to discuss what will happen next. Merkel has made it clear that she will not commit to anything until Article 50 has been triggered: “A good negotiating process and a sensible and constructive one is in all of our interests. So we will wait for the moment when the UK invokes this – and then we will put our guidelines on the table,” Merkel said.
At the same time, May commented on the positive working relationship between them: “We have two women here who have got on and had a very constructive discussion. Two women who, if I may say so, get on with the job and want to deliver the best results for the people of the UK and the people of Germany.”
Italy: 65,000 British expats
There has been an interesting response from Prime Minister Renzi, who has spoken to CNN about his position: “It’s impossible to speak only about [the] single market and not accept a politics about migration. It’s impossible to be very communitarian about the economy and not about values. This is the problem, in my view, about this campaign.” This suggests there could be some challenges ahead when discussing the positions of expats in Italy.
However, he had some positive comments for British students who are interested in studying abroad: “I’m really touched personally by the reactions of young people in UK. I proposed yesterday to Angela Merkel and to Francois Hollande to give a possibility, an opportunity to young students in the UK. The people will visit or study in the European universities, in my view… I’m ready to create some initiatives for the people who come from UK.”
Netherlands: 50,000 British expats
Amsterdam’s mayor Eberhand van der Laan had a positive message for British expats living in the Netherlands: “As Dutch people, not just as Amsterdam, we will do all we can to make sure there is as little change as possible”. He assured people there was no need to rush to apply for a Dutch passport and that anyone who had spent five years in the country can apply for a permanent residency permit.
The expat centre in Amsterdam has opened a special Brexit information point to help people understand the current situation and to provides news on any updates in future.
The one area that everyone seems to agree on is that what happens next will hinge on the triggering of Article 50 and how negotiations progress after this has happened. While the long term future is unclear, it seems likely that life can mostly continue as normal for expats on both sides of the English Channel for now at least.
But whatever happens next, HiFX is here to help you manage your international payments. If you would like to find out how we could help you, please get in touch.
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