Brexit: acquired rights Contents
Chapter 5: The concerns of UK nationals living in other Member States
The number of UK nationals resident in the EU
50.The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) explained that although the UK did not collect information on UK nationals resident overseas, UN migration statistics from 2015 estimated that there were around 1.2 million UK nationals living in the EU. The FCO explained that there was no requirement for EU citizens to register as residents in other EU countries, and that some EU countries actively discouraged EU citizens from formally registering their residency, as their EU citizenship conferred automatic entitlement to residency. As such, neither the UK nor individual Member States held accurate records of the numbers of UK nationals resident within the EU.
The views of UK nationals living in the EU
51.The evidence we set out below was collated from views expressed by UK residents, either in person to consular officials or online via comments on FCO channels, in the following countries: Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Hungary.
- Residency: UK nationals have asked whether they would continue to be able to live abroad or would need to reapply for residency; whether different rules would apply to those registered as resident in another EU country to those who are not; and whether holders of permanent residency would be considered to have acquired rights.
- Nationality: UK nationals have asked whether they could apply for nationality of an EU Member State, and if so whether they would be able to retain UK nationality (and therefore have dual nationality).
- Healthcare: UK nationals have asked if they would still be able to use a UK-issued European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) when travelling as a tourist to other EU States, and whether their EU country-issued EHIC would be valid in the UK on holiday. They have asked whether, as a worker in another EU country, they would still be entitled to an EHIC card; and as a pensioner whether they would continue to be able to access free healthcare in their EU country of residence.
- Timing and information requests: UK nationals have asked when Article 50 would be invoked and when any resultant changes would come into force.
- Education: UK nationals have asked whether their children would still be able to attend European Schools, whether they would be able to continue the university studies they had started in the UK, and whether studies from other EU countries would be recognised for access to UK universities.
- Work: UK nationals have asked whether they would require work permits in order to work in the EU, whether professional and educational qualifications would be recognised, whether there would be language requirements, and whether those who were currently employed would be able to continue on the same terms and conditions.
- Travel: UK nationals have asked whether they would need a visa to visit other EU countries or the Schengen area, if they would need to apply for a new non-EU UK passport, if their EU family members would need visas when they visited the UK, and whether their UK driving licence would still be valid in the EU/their EU licence valid in the UK.
- Property: UK nationals have asked if those who owned properties and/or businesses would be able to continue to own them in the same way, and expressed concern around restrictions on ownership by non-EU nationals in certain areas.
- Financial: UK nationals have asked if their pension would continue to be up-rated on an annual basis in the same way as if they lived in the UK, and if Brexit would affect their pension if it were paid by another EU state. There was concern around the impact of a weaker Pound on their personal finances, and questions over whether residents abroad would be able to continue to access local bank accounts on the same terms and conditions as before Brexit.
Evidence collected by Expat Citizen Rights in EU
52.Expat Citizen Rights in EU (ECREU) is “a self-help and lobby group”, whose aim is “to work to protect the best interests of UK citizens living in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK following the UK Referendum of 23 June 2016.” It has approximately 4,500 members living in 23 EU Member States, 69 per cent of whom are retired. Members identify the concerns that most worry them when they join on-line, from which ECREU has complied the following list, in order of priority:
- Healthcare (84% of all members)
- Pension rights (79%)
- Exchange rates (73%)
- The ability to travel (74%)
- Home ownership (70%)
- Votes for life (64%)
- Inheritance rules (57%)
- National driving licences (56%)
- The right to retire in any country (52%)
- The rights of EU citizens to live in the UK (44%)
- Employment (29%)
- Running a business (19%)
- Registering a UK car (18%).
ECREU commented that the fact that 31 per cent of its members were below retirement age was likely to have influenced the level of concern about employment and running a business.
53.Further comments were sent in by 388 members of ECREU, which were set out in full, country by country, in the evidence that ECREU submitted to us. We give below a sample of the comments from each country:
- Austria: “Might require dual British Austrian citizenship before Brexit.” “We are mainly concerned with healthcare and paying for medical treatment.” “My husband is a US citizen and his right to live here in Austria is reliant on my EU citizenship.”
- Denmark: “I am a British citizen living in an EU country, and am of course concerned about my status post-Brexit.” “I have serious mental health issues. And all this going on is causing relapse … have been in Denmark almost 30 years. And love it here.” “As a disabled person, living in Denmark I am very concerned about my right to continue living here and about access to the Danish Health Service on which I rely.”
- France: “Marital breakup. Ongoing health complications.” “Anything and everything that revolves around us losing our EU citizenship.” “Right to vote in British General elections and French local elections.” “Child Benefit. Child Tax Credits (retired with state pension, so eligible currently).” “Education rights for the 4 of my children still in education in France.” “Right to practice as a medical doctor trained in the UK. Right to be a civil servant in France.” “The ability to stay and work in France without changing citizenship due to not being able to speak the language well enough.” “Reassurance that I will be able to continue to run my business legally in France, paying French tax and insurance contributions, as I have been doing over the past six years”.
- Germany: “I am a 55 disabled lady, originally from London now living in Frankfurt. I am extremely worried about my rights. I have lived in Germany about 30 years now.” “Just to echo many others, I am worried about my State Pension not being upgraded every year. I am worried about my Healthcare, which was transferred from the NHS to my local Krankenkasse. Obviously I am also worried about being able to stay here, where I live with my lady who is German. I will be 67 in February and the last thing that I would want is the upheaval in having to return to the UK.”
- Greece: “Health care that we have in Greece is covered by the UK. Afraid that we may lose this and be left without health care. Will we be allowed to stay at our home in Greece permanently?”
- Italy: “Pension rights should include automatic right for those in receipt of a British pension to receive the same pension increases as those resident in Britain.” “Will we have to give up our UK citizenship to remain living/working within the EU? Ought we to consider dual citizenship to avoid the worst scenarios?” “Post Brexit health care for UK expat pensioners. My wife has been in hospital in Perugia for six weeks, free of charge at present but for how long?” “My daughter is studying at a university in the UK. Will her degree be recognised at European level? Will the terms of the tuition fee loan repayment remain the same if she resides in the EU after Brexit?”
- Portugal: “I have an 87 year old mother, English, with dementia following a stroke and needs 24hr care. She is in a care home in Portugal. The care is excellent, from what I’ve heard better than in the UK, and one quarter of the cost of a UK care home. We would be unable to afford any care home in the UK. What is her status likely to be in the future, her ‘permanent’ residency runs out in two years as does her UK passport? I hope this sort of situation will be addressed by the Brexit department during negotiations.”
- Spain: “Moroccan wife has residence in Spain due to my EU citizenship. Expires in 2 yrs”. “If pensions are not Index linked, we will have to go back to the UK and live off benefits.” “If Brexit goes ahead and I lose my right to live in Spain, where will I go from there? Will I be allowed to return to UK with my rights intact?” “As pensioners who are the guardians of a grandchild aged nine we are very concerned about the opportunities for her to finish her education in the UK. Before the referendum her future as a trilingual (almost quadrilingual) student seemed very bright. Now there is considerable uncertainty.”
54.The anxiety of EU nationals in the UK is matched by that of UK nationals in other EU States—the evidence we received of their distress is compelling. Many are pessimistic that the life that they had planned in another EU Member State will still be possible. Residence rights, employment rights, access to health care and the capacity to finance retirements feature large among their concerns. Just as the Government is under an obligation to provide certainty to EU nationals resident in the UK, so it is under an equal moral obligation to seek to provide certainty and legal clarity to all UK nationals working, living and studying in other EU States. It should do so urgently.