Brits living abroad – let’s hear their voice too!

Around five million British citizens live abroad. They come from all walks of life – working families with children, students, professionals, freelancers, and pensioners. Many continue to pay UK taxes, retaining close connections with the UK, regularly visiting relatives and friends living there. They have often built up business and cultural relationships between the UK and their adopted homeland.

However, our fellow citizens are now under pressure. A large number were disenfranchised in the 2016 EU referendum because of having lived for more than 15 years out of the country. Yet the 1-2 million Brits living in the rest of the EU have the most to lose, especially if there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. Freedom of movement and the right to live and work will be substantially restricted. Many EU countries have only provided short term solutions. Most are saying that their future rights will depend on how the UK treats its own citizens.

Outside the EU, Brits are facing other challenges. In Thailand for instance, tightening immigration restrictions in favour of big investors and high spending tourists are deliberately driving out ordinary Brits and other modest income foreigners. Young British citizens are discouraged from attending university in the UK as they are expected to pay fees at the overseas level.

That is why Lib Dems Overseas and Lib Dems in Europe will be launching their new policy proposals “Modernising the relationship between Britain and its citizens living abroad” at the Autumn Conference in Bournemouth. Look out for the fringe event Sunday lunchtime! These proposals will be the first presented by any political party specifically to help Brits living abroad.

We believe passionately that all British citizens, wherever they live, should be treated equally and fairly. The British diaspora’s importance to Britain’s soft power should be encouraged to full potential, especially if Brexit happens. What needs to be done then?

First we need to know where all those Brits are. Unlike many of our European neighbours, the British Government doesn’t track the location of its citizens and has no system in place to accurately know how many Brits live overseas. As a result, we start from a base where we do not comprehensively know who or where these British citizens live and we do not have the means to individually contact them. This needs to be sorted out if we are to give them proper consular protection and help.

Then there are their basic civic rights. In its 2017 General Election Manifesto, the Lib Dems committed themselves to “enable all UK citizens living abroad to vote for MPs in separate constituencies and to participate in UK referendums”. We are supporting Votes-For-Life for Brits living overseas, and the longer-term option of overseas constituencies so they are grouped to speak with one voice.

We need also to close the gaps where Brits overseas do not have equal access to the services they are entitled to compared to Brits at home, including state pensions which increase with inflation, access to NHS health care and emergency support as well as the same university fees as home students.

Our citizens should also have an appropriate level of Foreign Office support dependent on the country they choose to live.

Eight percent of all Brits have chosen to live outside their country. This is not a negligible number. The world is becoming a more uncertain place for them. Thanks to our policy proposals, the 2000 members of Lib Dems Abroad will now be a stronger position to represent them.


* George Cunningham is Chair of Lib Dems Overseas and Rob Harrison is Chair of Lib Dems in Europe.

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  • In Thailand it is the TM30 form and increased financial requirements for retirement visas that are causing problems.

  • John Marriott 1st Sep '19 - 12:08pm

    We live in such a complicated interdependent world. Fancy trying to sort things out by just using the words ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. Oh, Cameron, what HAVE you done?!

  • Peter Martin 1st Sep '19 - 12:51pm

    Why just Brits? If we’re in the EU, as we still are, then we should be listening to what all EU citizens are saying. And not just about Brexit.

    You just need to mention the words Greece or Italy to the average German to know that there’s little sense of international solidarity in the EU.

    More than half of Europeans believe the EU is likely to collapse. I wouldn’t give the EU even 20 years. There’s going to be an Italian default soon and that will probably be enough to end it all.Italy is already bankrupt – its just the pretence that it isn’t which is keeping things going. For the moment.

  • Peter Martin
    The southern Europeans realise that all their problems will not be solved by their countries leaving the EU. Yes we are listening to what other European Liberal Parties are saying. Liberal Democrats and LDO members will be at the ALDE Congress in Athens 24-26 October.

  • Bless Peter Martin, still playing the EU will fail, the Euro will fail record. Desperate times ahead for us all due to people like you, but as long as you can deflect all is well. Still one bit of progress, at least you have stopped pushing your psedo junk science, have you finally twigged no one takes it seriously.

    As to what the Thai authorities are doing, well it seems they want rid of the ex-pats, a fate I’m afraid many a Brexiteer would wish on EU citizens resident in the UK and never mind the economic harm. Nationalism a hateful creed.

  • William Fowler 1st Sep '19 - 2:37pm

    Presumably, if the LibDems give five million Brits living abroad full rights and access to welfare, pensions etc as if they were living in the UK, there is the expectation that they will be taxed as if they were living here, taking away ways to avoid overseas sited interest, income, capital gains made on shares in the UK and worldwide, etc… which will mean a large increase in Revenue staff as at the moment they don’t bother once you leave the country other than applying CGT to UK property and IHT (with the odd threat of taking it off your relatives if they can’t get their hands on it overseas). Perhaps, the LibDems will extend the tax-payer’s largesse to compensating them for fluctuations in the value of Sterling as well, which is at the root of many expat’s problems in places like Thailand, having seen their money halve in terms of Thai baht over the past 18 years.

  • Tony Greaves 1st Sep '19 - 2:40pm

    Yet again a certain person here diverts an important issue to parade his own obsessions. Tedious.

  • Dennis Wake 1st Sep '19 - 3:07pm

    Peter Marti: Lots of people are saying the UK will collapse. Whenever there are problems people like you predict collapse, ruin, unrest etc. It might happen but then again it might not, depending on many factors but not really on you.

  • The creed of nationalism often wrapped up in religion is a growing threat. We can see it in Europe, we can see it in Asia, the America’s everywhere but Antarctica ( unless the Penguins are up to it and we havn’t noticed). We are not immune, in fact I’d say Brexit is a prime example of misguided nationalism. What drives this, well people unhappy with their lot or their prospects but with a believe they are better than the “furrin other”. How does this affect ex-pats, well as far as the locals are concerned your an immigrant and that isn’t a popular profession in our new none “nice” world; doesn’t help our polticians don’t really give a toss about you either. So yes Lib Dems should support them, we tend to support the under dog and that will be the fate of many an ex-pat.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Sep '19 - 3:45pm

    If you think that Donald Trump is inconsistent, or that Boris Johnson-Cummings is difficult to understand, you may be right. They are trying to drive you mad.

  • James Baillie 1st Sep '19 - 7:56pm

    Speaking as a British emigrant who works in Austria, I’m not entirely convinced by the argument that the lack of support for the affairs of British citizens abroad is caused by not knowing where and who they are – states, it might be observed, pretty frequently know a lot about the people they most denigrate compared to the people they most support. I’m not sure either from this post or from the paper what the proposed solution to that is, either – and it seems tangential to the core issues of voting rights and rights to services, which should be just that – rights. I don’t see any reason for the British state to keep extra tabs on us or that doing so would really help facilitate that.

  • Rob Harrison 1st Sep '19 - 8:58pm

    James – I don’t think that it is a question of “keeping tabs” on British citizens abroad. Many (most?) countries operate a voluntary registration scheme for their citizens abroad and are able to intervene in crisis situations. That’s unlikely to happen in Austria, I admit. Those citizens living in other countries outside of Europe are however subject to a number of issues under which the UK government might reasonably expect to intervene.

  • Rob Harrison 1st Sep '19 - 9:07pm

    William – many UK citizens pay significant amounts of tax, even when they are living abroad. It’s not just capital gains tax. I would agree with you that we should be looking at how to tax income fairly. You need to also remember that British pensioners living in the UK have also paid significant amounts to the UK Treasury over the years and rightly receive health care benefits, even if they pay no tax after retirement. We are not advocating compensation of the fall of sterling in the past. We are asking that the regular increase in pensions be also paid to those citizens living outside of the UK.

  • Rob Harrison 1st Sep '19 - 9:08pm

    The irony of Google AdWords. I’m being offered a book about retirement to Panama at the top of this post……

    (Smile, Smile)

  • Should we adopt the American principle of taxing all our citizens, wherever they reside, on their world-wide income?

  • Alan
    Federal taxes but those Americans living abroad are only taxed if their income is above a certain limit. Some rich Americans, including Boris Johnson, have given up American citizenship to avoid paying American taxes. In many countries foreign residents are required to pay income tax and other local taxes.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Sep '19 - 7:22pm

    @Rob Cannon
    “I know classic expats who move to Dubai, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Cayman and Bermuda (all abnormally low tax jurisdictions) and stay there for 5, 10 or 15 years and then return having paid nothing in UK taxes while abroad.”

    Have you got any numbers or are you just going by your own anecdotal evidence?

    Quoting from

    “There are around 247,000 British citizens aged 65 and over living in other EU countries (excluding Ireland), and 85,000 people aged 65 and over from other EU countries (excluding Ireland) living in the UK.”

  • @Nonconformistradical: What relevance do you perceive the statistics you cite as having to what I stated? The statistics which you site refer to British citizens over 65 living in other EU countries. I very clearly was referring to British citizens of working age (i.e. under 65) living in zero or very low income tax jurisdictions which are not other EU countries.

  • According to this website in 2012 there are 240,000 British people living in Dubai:
    There is zero income tax in Dubai.

  • Nonconformistradical 2nd Sep '19 - 8:23pm

    @Rob Cannon
    “I very clearly was referring to British citizens of working age (i.e. under 65) living in zero or very low income tax jurisdictions which are not other EU countries.”

    I’d just like to know how many such people there might be. And I provided some other stats for comparison. What’s the problem?

    And actually you did mention a part of the EU – Gibraltar.

  • @Nonconformistradical: Gibraltar may be part of the EU, but it is not an “other EU country”. 240,000 British citizens in Dubai. Okay for you?

    I don’t see why British citizens living long term in Dubai should get to vote in the U.K. indefinitely. I think the current 15 year period is too long and would prefer something shorter like the 10 years which Sweden has. I certainly don’t see why those whose parents live in Dubai had have grown up there should benefit from lower university fees or university fee loans.

    We need to be careful that British citizenship doesn’t end up as a citizenship of convenience is in that has occurred with Canadian citizenship.

  • @Nonconformistradical – Actually Gibraltar is not part of the EU, additionally, the EU does not consider Gibraltar to be part of the UK. The future status of Gibraltar with respect to the EU is tied up in the WA…
    I suspect with a no deal Brexit, the people of Gibraltar will probably join the EU and let it use its naval base for EU forces, naturally the EU will accept this in part payment of the monies the UK owes the EU… No deal Brexit is certainly going to be interesting…

  • ONceALibDem 2nd Sep '19 - 11:47pm

    “@Nonconformistradical – Actually Gibraltar is not part of the EU”

    Is there a source for this?

    From Wikipedia:
    “Gibraltar is part of the European Union, having joined through the European Communities Act 1972 (UK), which gave effect to the Treaty of Accession 1972, as a dependent territory of the United Kingdom under what was then article 227(4) of the Treaty Establishing the European Community covering special member state territories”

    Which suggests otherwise. It’s far to late for me to start looking up previous treaty articles.

  • Peter Rowntree 3rd Sep '19 - 3:44am

    Live in Colombia, South America and have done so for about 20 years. Now a pensioner, biggest issue is the frozen Government pensions which do not apply in the EU, especially when we also have to pay for all our health costs as well (no NHS in Colombia!). But a further key issue is the inability of IPC to use the postal system properly with respect to the Life Certificate process. Could be simply solved if they would use e-mail contact with the Life Certificate as an accessible PDF but they seem incapable of doing this.

  • Rob Cannon
    Over the years there has been high unemployment and underemployment in the UK. Is it any wonder that Britons would seek opportunities abroad. In the short term now (and maybe the long term) its looks as if the economy will take another big hit due to Brexit.
    Should Britons be restricted and live in a DDR like country and not be allowed to travel and not be allowed to enjoy rights and freedoms?

  • Peter Rowntree
    Yes, the world postal service is now very slow and inefficient.

  • @Rob Cannon
    “I know classic expats who move to Dubai, Hong Kong, Gibraltar, Cayman and Bermuda (all abnormally low tax jurisdictions) and stay there for 5, 10 or 15 years and then return having paid nothing in UK taxes while abroad.”

    I live in Cayman which does have different tax arrangements to the UK, but I still pay for the services I use on the island. I have also paid appropriately for the services I’ve benefited from whilst living in the UK. I would adopt the local approach wherever I have the privilege to live and work.
    But importantly I believe the experiences people gain from living overseas is of a huge benefit to the UK (arguably the world), and we should not put up unnecessary barriers (tax, visa, cultural or otherwise) for this freedom.

  • Peter Hirst 5th Sep '19 - 6:28pm

    I don’t find this an easy issue. If they are still British citizens, then they are entitled to rights. Should it be automatic that expatriates can keep their citizenship if they have maintained no contact with the uk? Is once a british citizen always a british citizen the right approach? Should the presumed link between citizenship and voting rights be conditional?

  • @Peter Hirst
    I agree some aspects of this topic are difficult but I believe the relationship between citizenship and voting is straightforward.

    If you are a British citizen who has, at some point, accepted the responsibilities that come with registering to vote then you have a right to that vote for as long as you remain a British citizen. Geographic location or time abroad is immaterial – especially when you could return to the UK in less than a day from most of the world and certainly when it is so easy to use digital media to stay in touch with your homeland.

    The main complexity with this issue is that our creaking electoral system insists on tying our votes to UK-based constituencies. Once we introduce Overseas Constituencies to represent British citizens living outside the UK, much of the complexity (controversy?) falls away.

    If we believe that voting is a right in our democratic society, we should apply it equally.

  • Peter G Bugg 25th Sep '19 - 1:38am

    Would like to know- seriously- what is the Lib Dem policy on permanently frozen pensions for Brits who retire to Commonwealth or other ‘wrong’ countries? This is so unfair, is a catastrophe for many who have paid in lives and worked in the UK for decades. We are being stopped from returning home or emigrating to be near our families. Policy is ridiculous, and no other country does it. Nothing was done about this long running injustice when you were in coalition with the Tories. To be fair neither did Labour stop it before. Labour now has a policy to put an end to this if elected and pay UK pensions the same for people everywhere. Would appreciate some clarification from your party on this issue.

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