The internationalist LibDems should represent the expats in the Brexit debate

“Nieuwsuur”, the Dutch equivalent of BBC Newsnight, on Wednesday October 5th had an item about the situation that the tens of thousands of Britons (43,000, according to estimates) living in the Netherlands landed in because of the Brexit. In the capital Amsterdam alone, there are 15.000 British inhabitants; so it was logical that the local “Expat Center” opened an information desk once the result of the referendum became known. The town mayor, Mr. Van der Laan (PvdA/Labour), organized an information evening at which he recommended not to be too hasty in taking decisions about one’s status and/or position. He also promised to write letters to:

  • the Dutch prime minister, Mr. Rutte (VVD/ right-wing Liberals)
  • the president of the European Commission
  • 28 mayors of other big European cities (including the newly elected mayor of London, Mr. Sadiq Khan)

– drawing attention to the uncertain situation that British expats found and find themselves in, and asking for their help in getting that uncertainty cleared up.

One reason for that is that the Dutch government and local authorities were surprised by the referendum result, and (at this point in time) are offering different, varied advice about, for example, what is required if a Briton wants to become a Dutch citizen. Another problem is the existence of different rules and regulations concerning each individual case, each household and/or members of a given family (those for children can differ from those for their parents).

The Nieuwsuur-item featured a British woman who, just to be sure, requested a residence permit right after the referendum result, even though a permit isn’t required. She wanted to be sure that she would continue to be able to travel around Europe, without having to relinquish her British passport (her daughter talked about studying in Britain, the mother said). Because she had been living for 15 years abroad, she didn’t have the right to vote in the referendum itself; which was galling. It also featured an opera executive who, because he had lived even longer in the Netherlands, was able to get a Dutch passport beside his British one. The British woman was seen visiting a compatriot; both had been following coverage of the Tory party conference to get clarification of what is going to happen, but were disappointed at the generalities used about the Brexit practicalities in conference speeches.

Having seen this news item, my proposal to the federal executive and the parliamentary party of the Liberal Democrats is to practice “Community Politics” at the level of the European Community: Get into contact with the British expat communities (using party members living abroad) in the EU member countries, and get a petition drive going to ask the British government for more clarification; and consultation with EU member state authorities.

For example: is the fate of those expats, and the people of Gibraltar, looked at and dealt with, in the planning for the Brexit negotiations? Is there being offered (or planned) along the lines of: “we won’t alter the rights of Europeans living in Britain if Britons abroad can keep their present rights also”?

Of all British parties, the internationalist LibDems should represent the expats!

* Dr. Bernard Aris is a historian, a D66 parliamentary researcher and a LibDem supporting member.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Warren 7th Oct '16 - 10:26am

    Yes, I very much agree with this. I was wondering what we Lib Dems were doing to help UK expats in Europe. We need to campaign for them and not only the EU citizens living in the UK, as we’re already doing. We also ought to ensure UK expats in Europe get themselves onto the electoral register.

  • Getting rid of the 15 year voting limit is a good start for British expats abroad.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 7th Oct '16 - 2:46pm


    I call you the Flying Dutchman, flying in the face of stupidity and for good sense ! Say this and loud and clear and say it to our leaders , write blogs and emails , contact mps and councillors , activists and campaigners !

    Mark Wright

    As for you, sir , why are you not more prevalent , you connect on many levels with the essence of country and the substance of our party. It takes one to know one , of course

  • Bernard Aris 7th Oct '16 - 3:49pm


    We at D66 already have our Expats Ambassador (for Dutch expats) Mr. Ewout Kleij; he is active as writer of opinion pieces in Dutch newspapers, and is an active lobbyist inside the party for the Expats point of view. He also was a D66 candidate for both the Dutch parliament in 2012 (amongst the first 20 on our list; we have 12 seats in parliament) and the European one in 2014.

    Becauase of EU rules and regulations, foreign expasts can vote in local elections (I expect that to be the case in Britain until Brexit is finalized).
    So I call on all local LibDem campaigners to mobilize and raise the electoral consciousness of expats living in your community to help get LibDem candidates elected, starting with the string of local by-elections. D66 The Hague (and our Amsterdam branch) have been successfull in using the big (often: organized) expat communities as extra support; and in talking to the British expats, we always stress the similarities in programs and political attitude of D66 and the LibDems.
    And if you meet Dutch expats, point out that D66 has a London branch!

    Being the advocate of expats in the UK and abroad can benefit the LibDems themselves also!

  • Jan Goeijenbier 7th Oct '16 - 7:11pm

    As always, Bernard hits another bulls eye!

  • Bernard, a good post about the work being done in the Netherlands both to provide some support to those directly impacted by Brexit but to also raise the Dutch media profile of the problems that come with Brexit.

    I suggest the UK LibDems could do well to work with the Dutch and create a Dutch lead campaign to take the Dutch model to other EU countries with sizeable UK expats populations. Why Dutch led? just my experience at making things happen in French multinationals…

  • Bernard’s posts highlight an issue we Brits, especially the tabloid press, are not very good at. Why is it that when talking about foreigners who come here to live or work they are referred to as immigrants and migrants. However when referring to British people who have moved abroad they become more cuddlier expats. To his credit Bernard has avoided that.

  • Robert
    I am an overseas worker abroad not an immigrant and I have a non-immigrant visa stamped in my passport. My wife’s brother has a Green Card for the US. His kids have American passports and live permanently there. An immigrant comes to stay and settle in a country I. e. they are not going to return to their country other than maybe visit.

  • Manfarang: You may not have formally immigrated but you have certainly migrated albeit, perhaps, temporarily. So you are in fact a British migrant living and working overseas in someone else’s country. Many foreigners come here temporarily with every intention of returning home at some point and I don’t see why they shouldn’t also be referred to as ‘expats’ as Bernard does in his post.

  • Robert
    Of course lots of French expats are working in the City.
    There are lots of tuk-tuk drivers in Bangkok from Thailand’s northeast. They too are migrants as are many workers from the provinces. There are indeed some immigrants, a few Chinese that enter Thailand on an immigrant visa. I even know a few “refugees” living in Bangkok from Thailand’s war tore far south. Maybe I should call myself a refugee from Thatcherism.

  • “get a petition drive going to ask the British government for more clarification; and consultation with EU member state authorities.”

    Correct me if I’m wrong but hasn’t this idea been banned by the EU itself? I.E. No talks prior to the formal notification.

    I sincerely hope that the eventual outcome is that some form of free movement is retained. I would suspect that exemptions for those already living here for other EU states and vice versa will be one of the first things agreed. It makes no sense for either party to allow their own citizens to be held hostage in this way, but the deal needs to be reciprocal. I would then hope that we see a return to the pre-Mastricht system where people can move to a job rather than to find a job. It’s not what we remainers want but it would keep an element of freedom of movement….

  • Correct me if I’m wrong but hasn’t this idea been banned by the EU itself? I.E. No talks prior to the formal notification.

    No, there is currently a power struggle going on within the EU, between those in Brussels, with little real engagement with their home voters and the member governments. With “the Brussels crowd” trying to assert their authority over the members and cowl the members into believing that Brussels knows best and hence are best placed to dictate the terms of Brexit and discourage the remaining members from considering going down the same path…

    The need is actually to get the various electorates and the member governments engaged, unless you think actions such as we saw over ivory trading (see ) and so get the member governments and hence their representatives in the commission to act in our best interests and not in the self-serving interests of the bureaucrats…

  • Bernard Aris 9th Oct '16 - 5:56pm

    The best proof that the EU is NOT a superstaste is that liberal MEP’s in the Europarliament, and the national executives of ALDE member parties, are NOT bound by any Brussel directive , and are thus free to start consulting each other about this issue.
    Nobody will stop national ALDE parties drawing their respective governments’ and colleague-politicians’ attention to this issue, and with
    *) “Bloody Foreigner” registers inside private British companies (a preparation for a mass expulsion if a EU member government like the Poles steps on Mrs. May’s colorful shoes about migration?) being mooted by pro-Hard Brexit Tory MP’s and/or ministers like Amber Rudd;
    *) EU expats in Britain will be robbed of the protection and rights (for example family life) of the 1951 European Treaty on Human Rights (because Theresa May is obsessed with getting rid of a part of that, which is impossible without scrapping the whole treaty) and
    *) non-British experts (for example academics and London School of Economics faculty) being banned from even advising the massively understaffed Whitehall Departments on preparations for Brexcit (untangling 40 years of legislation in each government department);
    it is high time that a British debate in the media, on Facebook and in parliament is started about this issue.

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