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OPINION

Give us a vote: we’ve got most to lose if UK quits

Brits in the rest of the EU should all be given a vote in the country’s upcoming referendum - as should Europeans who live in the UK. We’re the ones with most to lose, argues The Local's managing editor James Savage.

Give us a vote: we've got most to lose if UK quits
2.2 million Brits live in another EU country. 2.3 million people from elsewhere in the EU live in the UK. Photo: Charles Clegg.

Who is more affected if Britain leaves the EU: the South African student living in the UK for six months or the German who has lived there and paid taxes for fifteen years? The Indian working in the City for a couple of years before moving back to Mumbai, or the British pensioner who retired to Spain in 2002?

Some time in the next year or two there will be a referendum on whether the UK leaves the EU. 

In a bizarre anomaly, if you’re one of the million people from the rest of the Commonwealth living in the UK, you will likely be given the vote (as you are in general elections) – but you won’t if you’re one of the 2.3 million people from another European country, or if you are British and have lived outside the UK for more than fifteen years. 

As I left the UK in 2003 I’ll probably get the vote if the referendum is held in 2017, but it will be a close-run thing. Millions of others who moved slightly longer ago will be deprived of a say.  

If you’re one of the 2.2 million Brits who lives in another EU country, it might not always feel like Europe made your move easier. 

When I came to Sweden I was made to line up at the Migration Board office with everyone else for a stamp in my passport. That certainly didn’t feel like free movement (they’ve streamlined things since then, I hear); in Italy, one British woman told us how she was made to wait two years for her official paperwork to be sorted out.

But, in reality, these hurdles are minor compared with what non-Europeans face. And our rights are part and parcel of the European project.

Just ask a non-European about their experiences at the visa office. One Canadian friend who split up with her boyfriend recently found that in addition to dealing with the emotional fallout, the split meant she lost her visa – and with it her right to work over here. 

Ah, some people say, but Britain will negotiate a good deal if it leaves. Look at Norway or Switzerland – it’s easy to move there. 

Maybe it will, but why should EU governments give the UK – or its citizens – an easy ride if it breaks up the Union? They won’t want other potential quitters to think they can have their cake and eat it by keeping the fun bits like freedom of movement, while jettisoning the boring bits like environmental legislation.

Those of us who have moved within the EU, either to or from Britain, are those who lose most if Britain quits. We’ve planned our lives, our loves, our jobs around an arrangement that we had every right to think would be permanent. 

Yet as things stand, we are unlikely even to be consulted. 

None of this is yet certain – and we won’t know exactly what the government’s planning until David Cameron presents the EU Referendum Bill to the House of Commons in a week or two. Then MPs will have a chance to amend and vote on the proposal.

The EU is far from perfect, God knows. It certainly needs reforming. But it has also provided opportunities for millions. Over the next few months, The Local will make sure that the voice of people who have gained most from Europe – and have most to lose if Britain quits – are heard loud and clear.

 

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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