Implications for exPat Brits in the EU

Depending on source, there are claimed to be roughly 2.3 million British citizens living, working or retired in other EU countries. Many others own property in EU countries such as second homes and spend a lot of time there (eg former Chancellor Nigel Lawson, a famous advocate of BrExit). They can do this because of their rights under  EU Freedom of movement. In this they are no different to the (depending on source) roughly similar number of EU citizens living and working in the UK and claims that the latter are  “immigrants” whilst the former are “Expats” are groundless and disingenuous distinctions (at least as far as the host nations are concerned).

It is naive at best for those advocating BrExit (including – especially – those within that expat community, many of whom one sees on social media arguing for BrExit) to think that BrExit won’t change anything or even very much. Doubtless some of these expats have skills that would enable them to continue to obtain and hold jobs as non-EU citizens. Some doubtless have “independent means” that would allow them to continue to be resident without their host countries subjecting them to deportation. Some may be married to EU nationals enabling them to remain. Some, maybe all, may even have “accrued rights” under international law that enable them to maintain residency, jobs and other rights at least in the short term, or they can apply for citizenship.

However, the vast majority became expats because the EU freedom of movement rights gave them the right to do so in an easy, low risk, and low cost manner. Isn’t it therefore pretty hypocritical of them to use those rights but now to deny them to the generations of British citizens that follow them?  Moreover, it’s bizarre, inconsistent and quite perverse that many claim they want Britain to leave the EU because it is alleged  to be an “authoritarian dictatorship” or whatever hyperbole they level at it, yet continue to live and work in a member of that “authoritarian dictatorship” post BrExit and will continue to be subject to the rules set by those “unelected  bureaucrats in Brussels” that they say they despise? I guess this could be rephrased as “If you hate the EU so much, why do you still plan on living in it after BrExit?”.

Maybe they really do want to return to the days when only the rich or those with special skills were allowed to live in Antibes, Cascais, Frankfurt or Luxembourg.

Clearly, much depends on the specific relationship post BrExit (see, for example,  or ). EEA membership should change little as far as Freedom of Movement is concerned (but as explained elsewhere, is hardly the nirvana of immigration control, no subscription and restoration of sovereignty BrExiters claim). But a “trading relationship” status with just an FTA or WTO terms puts exPat Brits in the same non-EU category as the rest of the world.

Let’s explore some of the issues they will face. Remember I’m not a lawyer so this is merely a set of questions and considerations for exPats, and does not constitute legal advice. Here’s some from George Peretz QC though.

Property Rights: In many EU countries these will remain unchanged. If you have invested your money in property whether homes, other assets, or businesses then those rights should be unaffected. Capital controls between the UK and  EU are unlikely to change, even if freedom of movement does. However, some EU states do have controls on property ownership and business ownership/operation by non-EU citizens (and may apply them, illegally, to EU citizens too). It may be more difficult in future though for non-EU citizens to acquire new property or set up new businesses even in the more open EU states.

Visas:   this does depend on many things, but we can presume that if the UK imposes immigration restriction on some or all EU members requiring visas for stays beyond normal business or tourist travel, then we can expect reciprocation from all EU members. Expats can expect to have to obtain residence permits and those working can expect to have to obtain working permits. If the UK imposes minimum salary requirements on working visas, then they can expect similar requirements from their host countries. These visas will add a cost, monetary and bureaucratic, to expats as well as imposing conditionality on their status that they currently do not have. For some these won’t be problems. For those without language skills in their host country, they may find visas conditional on language fluency and integration. For those with qualifications dependent upon reciprocal recognition by professional authorities, those qualifications may no longer be recognised at all or will be conditional on some additional processes.

Access to healthcare: Currently EU citizens resident in any EU country are entitled to access the healthcare systems of their host country on a non-discriminatory basis, in some cases as part of their rights as workers, in other cases charged back to the UK. Many expats in jobs (assuming they are able to retain them under new working permit conditions) will doubtless continue to have rights under the national insurance programmes they contribute to in employment and may see little or no change. However, those charged back to the NHS can definitely expect to have their rights curtailed. Many will have to obtain costly health insurance (especially those who are  no longer working). This insurance will become more costly, even unaffordable, as one becomes older and infirm (my question to Nigel Lawson – now in his 80s – is what’s his plan? Even if he has one, what does he expect less well endowed Brits to do?).

Access to benefits: again, those in work should retain rights under contributory schemes via their employment, but those not in work will find their entitlement lost or curtailed. Why, if Britain imposes restrictions on the rights of EU citizens to access  the UK benefits system would EU states  not do the same to expat Brits? Doubtless this may not concern those who believe their own skills and talents are what gives them the right to work in the EU, but what if they lose their job and entitlements through no fault of their own?

Pensions: those in receipt of UK state pensions could find that the current right to receive pension increases that they would obtain if resident in the UK no longer apply. Remember that expats who have moved to some Commonwealth countries (Canada, Australia for example) do not receive these automatic increases or are entirely discretionary. It could be that the UK continues to meet these obligations (at least for current expats) but there is no guarantee of it. Nor is there a guarantee that a future hard-pressed Chancellor doesn’t change the rules to save money, especially if the worst case predictions of economic catastrophe come true. Retired Brits may well find that this, together with having to find money for escalating healthcare costs, makes it too expensive to live there (and if they all sell up at around the same time find house prices collapse).

Difficulties moving between EU and UK: currently many expats move regularly between the UK and their new homes. EU freedom of movement makes that easy. The EU single market removes the hassles at customs both in the UK and their port of entry to the EU. No longer do we have the “duty free” limits that existed prior to 1992 that restricted how much we could take in without the risk of confiscation or taxes. However, post BrExit these are likely to be reimposed. Remember that travelers from EEA countries and Switzerland must use the “green channel” or “red channel” at UK customs with their limits on imports that we do not have in the “blue channel” or at sea ports connecting to EU states. Similarly EU ports of entry may impose limits and taxes on residents returning from the UK. That limits, for example, the value and nature of goods that can be transported between the EU and UK. At present it is the European Court of Justice that prevents HMRC reimposing controls on goods brought back from the EU to the UK. Post BrExit that threat will disappear.

More mundane: currently UK driving licences give expats the right to drive anywhere in the EU without taking local tests. Car insurance must cover 3rd party liability anywhere in the EU (ok, with DirectLine you have to pay an “administration charge” for that). Mobile phone operators must adhere to EU limits on roaming charges (which will disappear in 2017). Airlines must provide compensation to passengers travelling within the EU for delays and cancellations. Warranties on goods you’ve bought in the EU may not be valid in the UK and vice-versa. These and many other rights we currently take for granted will be open to question and in many cases  lost or curtailed. That  imposes new costs on expats and those regularly travelling between the UK and EU.

To many in the UK advocating BrExit, the impact on expats may well be “collateral damage” they accept for the claimed anticipated benefits of BrExit. But expats really do need to be more discerning of their reasons for wanting to leave the EU. Now, expats advocating leaving the EU might think “this won’t happen to US” or even “this won’t happen to ME [even if it happens to THEM]”.  But if the UK becomes increasingly nasty to immigrants whether asylum seekers or legal migrants, then expect that nastiness to be adopted within their host nations in the EU. It only needs a Portuguese waiter or a Latvian IT worker and their families to be expelled from the UK (perhaps even for entirely legitimate reasons) for bad feeling to develop in those countries and across the EU for UK expats to face further restrictions on their rights. They would then be collateral damage that they have no ability to control regardless of their own skills and resources.

I would therefore urge all expat Brits in the EU to think very carefully about the implications for them were we to leave the EU. Those advocating BrExit really should be careful what they wish for: they will get it and most will not like it. There are many things that they take for granted now that they won’t be able to post BrExit though they may consider this a risk worth taking to gain a promised nirvana they can’t personally experience without returning. Even if they are merely confronted with a little bit of extra hassle to maintain what they have, they are making it much harder for the next generation to enjoy those rights. Whether it’s gap year students taking jobs in ski resorts for experience, those seeking a different lifestyle,  or those who see great opportunities and want the freedom to live and work anywhere in the EU, they won’t be able to that either at all or nearly as easily.

Recently there have been proposals from the Pro-Leave campaign that EXISTING EU migrants to the UK and UK migrants to the EU have their CURRENT rights protected. I have a moral issue with those who have benefited from a right voting to maintain that right for themselves but depriving others from being able to exercise that right. It also assumes that the nation states of the EU will be willing to agree  to maintaining rights for Brits. There are practical issues: few Brits live in Eastern Europe (retired people are mainly in Spain, France and Portugal) where most of the “unwelcome” EU migrants are from. Highly qualified workers from Western Europe would presumably qualify for work permits in the UK anyway if they needed them. And it just needs one Spanish or Portuguese waiter to be be expelled for those countries to reciprocate against large numbers of Brits living in those countries. As for France, it’s renowned for circumventing EU laws to its own advantage so expats living there shouldn’t take anything for granted.

Below is a more detailed exploration of the issues:

Geo-Strategic Reasons for EU Membership

Geo-Political Considerations

What is meant by “Leave” the EU?

Analyses of Brexit Options

EU Laws: Are they really “pointless rules and regulation”?

Reciprocity: a glass half full or half empty?

Is the EU really undemocratic?

EU Cost of Membership

Implications for exPat Brits

Will we save money by leaving? The cost of EU Membership

Some tiresome arguments from BrExit advocates

It’s such an easy decision to leave, right?

Was Cameron shafted in the renegotiations?

Commentary on Gove’s BrExit statement

Does BrExit solve the migration crisis for the UK?

Boris at the Treasury Select Committee

Is it really Project Fear?

The Trade Embargo Strawman

The Government’s pro-Remain Leaflet

Summary of Brexit Alternatives