Brexit survival guide for Brits in Europe

The Brexit vote has thrown the lives of 1.2 million Britons living in the European Union into uncertainty. What should they do now?

The consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union are particularly uncertain for Europe’s internal migrants – not least the 1.2 million British-born citizens currently living on the continent. This wasn’t forgotten in the fraught political aftermath of the vote. During his regular question and answer session in the House of Commons on Wednesday, UK Prime Minister David Cameron was asked by a Conservative Party MP what would happen to the expats – “many of them are elderly and frail, they live on UK pensions.”

Could Cameron give assurances that their interests would be defended, the MP wanted to know? The prime minister’s answer was a little cagey – after pointing out that no one’s status would change until Britain had formally withdrawn from the EU, he referred his “right honorable friend” to a Whitehall “unit” that would work out the details in the future.

There was little else that Cameron could do, because, like everyone else, no one knows what happens now. In all bureaucratic matters, much depends on the negotiations that the UK will have to conduct with the EU in the two years that follow the triggering of Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, which regulates a state’s withdrawal.

Different problems

Of course, people in different countries have different statuses. By far the most Brits in Europe have chosen Spain as their new home – 380,000, according to official stats, followed by 250,000 or so in Ireland – but most of them are retired, having worked most of their lives in the UK. This puts them in a more precarious position, according to Jon Worth, a British campaigner, consultant and political blogger who lives in Germany. Brits in Germany, some 105,000 people, are more likely to have it easier – because of both Germany’s bureaucracy, and their demographic situation.

“The more solidly integrated you are in the country where you are, the better off you’re going to be,” Worth told DW. “Most of the Brits in Germany tend to be of working age – a lower percentage than Brits in France or Spain, for example. And they tend to be economically productive. And I think that means the German government is not likely to be especially malevolent to the British in Germany.”

Since retirees have not necessarily paid into the system of the country where they live during their working lives, they are more vulnerable to whatever changes a new deal between the UK and their country of residence could bring. And that will depend a lot on how their countries’ citizens are treated if they move to the UK.

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(Photo: Vaughan Leiberum)