Brits living in Europe warned of post-Brexit ‘consequences’

'Concrete consequences' will follow for EU and UK citizens as Britain does away with freedom of movement, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has warned.

Brits living in Europe warned of post-Brexit 'consequences'
Michel Barnier speaking in Stockholm last week. Photo: Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP

Speaking at a European Parliament debate on the issue in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Barnier stressed “we will continue to defend the interest of our citizens” as Brexit moves into the next phase of settling the terms of future relations between the EU and Britain.

The United Kingdom is scheduled to leave the European Union in just over two weeks, shrinking the bloc to 27 member states.

Under the terms of a withdrawal agreement, Britain will have a transition period to the end of this year to find agreement with the EU on how their relationship will work going forward.

Issues to be negotiated include trade, fishing, security, transport and energy as the two sides unpick nearly five decades of Britain being enmeshed with the European Union.

Ending freedom of movement will have consequences for EU or British nationals providing services in the other territory, as well as limiting tourism stays and healthcare insurance, and the recognition of professional qualifications.

It will also make it harder for EU citizens moving to Britain to take spouses or other family members with them. Citizenship issues could also have consequences for the ownership of companies operating in the UK and the EU, such as airlines, for digital privacy rules and for access to internet domains.

EU 'alert' to problems

European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs in Strasbourg that the withdrawal agreement provided “certainty” for the one million British citizens currently living in EU countries and the 3.5 million EU citizens living in the UK.

But no such freedom of movement will exist after the end of the transition period for other Britons or EU citizens, she stressed.

“After the transition period, the UK will be a third country and Brexit will mean changes to those who want to make their future life on either side of the Channel,” she said.

In the upcoming negotiations, she said, “we will make the citizens' rights our main priority”. Both she and Barnier noted that some EU citizens trying to secure their rights to stay in Britain were encountering problems.

Barnier said “the Commission will be particularly alert” to those obstacles, and had already raised them with British counterparts.

He and von der Leyen emphasized the need for Britain to put in place an “independent” monitoring mechanism to address the problems.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's point man on Brexit, said Britain's decision to not issue physical residency permits to EU citizens permitted to stay, relying instead on digital records accessed through the internet, would cause problems for those trying to prove to bosses or landlords they were legally in the UK.

He also jokingly referred to the “transition period” Britain's Queen Elizabeth II on Monday granted to grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan, during which her family would work out how to deal with the couple's decision to withdraw from prominent royal duties.

“I ask (for) a bit of flexibility to (British) Prime Minister (Boris) Johnson – maybe he can take example to the queen, because the queen yesterday gave a transition period to leave to Harry and Meghan. So maybe some flexibility on the side of Mr Johnson could be very useful,” Verhofstadt said.

An MEP from the Brexit Party, Alex Phillips, said she wanted to see an end of the preferential access EU citizens had to settling in the UK compared to non-EU citizens, in the name of “fairness, not favouritism”.

Europeans, she said, should be able to seek to live in the UK “on equal terms with all of those who live in my open and welcoming nation – but not with super rights”.

Article by AFP's Marie Julien

Member comments

  1. Yes some EU national in the UK are having difficulties applying to stay in the UK and I agree these need sorting, but at least they can start the process, what about UK citizens in the EU? Many countries/districts within EU counties have so far offered no information to UK national about what is require, so at this stage we have no idea what difficulties we will face. Are the EU going to put in place an ‘independent monitoring mechanism’?

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK.