For the 1.3 million British migrants living in the EU, the past couple of weeks have been pretty eventful. Many of us have watched and listened (in horror) from afar whilst Brexit and Article 50 have been discussed in parliament. We’ve heard that it’s “the people’s will” and that Parliament should not ignore the referendum vote. Yet many of us did not have the vote in the referendum, as we have lived for too long outside of the UK. We saw an attempt to guarantee the rights of European citizens living in the UK defeated, even by Labour MPs such as Gisela Stuart, who is on record as supporting their rights. An amendment to force the government to support British migrants, proposed by the Liberal Democrats, was not even taken. Many of us are starting to be seriously worried about the way forward.
Recently I was told that it was the European Union that is blocking progress on recognising the situation of individuals and also that UK citizens were being used as bargaining chips. If anything, it is the frustration with the British government’s lack of communication that has led to this situation. Many countries, except apparently France and Germany, are prepared to come to an agreement. The common Franco-German position, as well as that of the European Commission, is that there can be no discussions until PM Theresa May has formally invoked Article 50 and declared that the UK will withdraw from the EU. On the contrary, both countries are clear that they have no intention of “expelling” British nationals living in their countries, many of whom have jobs and families. So why should we be afraid?
The real discussions will come in the next few months. What rights will British citizens be able to keep? Many of us have jobs, pay into local security systems and health care premiums. There are others who have retired. They rely on pensions being paid from the UK and access to local health care based on current reciprocal arrangements under which the local health care providers back charge the NHS. Will these payments continue after Brexit? If not, then most will have no access to health care unless they take out their own insurance (which may be unaffordable for pensioners). And what happens if someone wishes to bring their elderly parents from the UK to live with them? No problem at present, as I found out a few years ago. The parents could, as EU citizens, enrol into a public health scheme at local rates with any additional premiums being paid from the UK. Will this continue?
British pensioners living in countries such as Australia or Canada know that their state pensions are frozen at the rate on the date on which they left the country. Those moving to EU countries continue to receive cost-of-living increases. There’s no justification for this difference – and what will happen in two years’ time?
The results of a survey of 5000 Brits living in the EU, to be released in the coming week from the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats (BELD), will show that the British community in Europe is not just made up of wealthy retirees, but reflects the British population at large. Many are economically active and most see themselves living in Europe for the foreseeable future. They are all looking for more certainty in their individual situations. The Liberal Democrats’ support for British migrants’ rights has not gone unnoticed and BELD membership has soared in the last few months to over 1000 (not bad for a “local party”). We are counting on the Lords’ support in the continuing debate.
As for me, I’m following many others by applying for German nationality. I’ve passed the language test with flying colours and only got one question wrong in my citizenship test. I need to provide a one page biography, a certificate of good conduct, and the usual birth certificates. Und anschliessend bin ich Deutscher….
Not every Brit in the EU has the option that I do. It’s them that we must stand up for and make sure that they aren’t left unrepresented and in the dark.
* Robert Harrison is a member of the Liberal Democrats and the German FDP. He was a candidate for the European Parliament last year on the FDP list and has stood for the local council several times. He will be in Bournemouth if anyone would like to speak in more detail about his experiences.