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ELECTION

OPINION: ‘Nothing can stop Brexit now, we will all feel foreign on February 1st’

Boris Johnson's resounding victory means nothing will stop Brexit now, writes columnist John Lichfield. But it's still the biggest blunder the UK has ever made and will leave the hundreds of thousands of Brits across Europe feeling like foreigners on February 1st.

OPINION: 'Nothing can stop Brexit now, we will all feel foreign on February 1st'
Photo: AFP

In the name of greater democracy our future has been decided without us. Once again.

I speak of the 1.2 million (at least) British citizens living in the other countries of the European Union. We were almost completely forgotten, and denied a vote, in the Brexit referendum in 2016. 

We were entirely forgotten and many of us were denied a vote in the disgraceful and dispiriting general election campaign which has just ended. 

Nothing now can stop Brexit. We will become foreign on February 1st, or more completely foreign, in countries that many of us have come to regard as or home. 

There was an angry reaction in parts of the UK media last week – and glee in other parts – to one of Boris Johnson’s most crassly xenophobic remarks of the campaign. “For too long”, he told Sky News, people from other parts of the EU have been “able to treat the UK as though it’s basically part of their own country”.

Johnson ignored the huge contributions made by the 3,000,000 or so EU-27 nationals in the UK. He implied, deliberately and mendaciously, that most EU residents in Britain were milking the system.

He made no reference to the fact that  1.2 million UK citizens (at least) have equally come to regard their EU-27 host states as “basically part of their own country”. He ignored the contribution that they – we – have made to our host countries and often also to the UK. This is just as true for the Sun-reading Brexiteer retired on the Costa del Sol as the Europhile British Erasmus student in Denmark or Germany. 

READ MORE: Brits in Europe urged to look at bright side of 'devastating' election result

Johnson also ignored the fact that, under the UK withdrawal agreement that he filched with detailed changes from Theresa May, both the “3,000,000” and the “1.2million” will have a continuing right to live and work in our homes from home.

This will probably come as a surprise to those British people – not all but many – who voted Johnson to “get rid of” the Poles and Romanians and Estonians who are propping up the National Health Service. 

Given his Trump-like attention to detail, it is probable that Johnson has never bothered to read this important text, largely negotiated by Mrs May’s government in March last year. 

We (the 800,000 and more) are lucky in this at least.  Johnson and the hard Brexiteers had nothing to do with the “citizens’ rights” clauses of this text which will go “oven ready” through the House of Commons in the next couple of weeks.

The document, enforceable in both EU and UK law, has many gaps or limitations. It means, however, that we can continue to live in our adopted countries beyond 31 December next year – even if  Johnson’s government fails to reach a long-term trade deal with the EU and even if Britain “crashes out” with no deal on 1 January 2021.

This, for the 1.2 million, is one of the silver-linings in yesterday’s election result. It happened too late for the extremist Brexiteers to impose the most extremist possible Brexit. 

The pressure group British in Europe describes the withdrawal agreement as a “mixture of good news, bad news and unfinished business.”

The good news is, briefly, as follows:

  • If you are, or become, legally resident in any of the EU27 countries before the end of next year, you have an absolute right to stay.
  • If you’ve lived in the host country for less than 5 years, you must be employed, self-sufficient, a student or  family member. This is also the case within the EU now.
  • After five years, you will be entitled to permanent residence without these conditions.
  • You can then move away and come back.
  • Existing, reciprocal health care rights will still apply.

 

The bad news is:

  • Depending on decisions made country by country, you will probably have to take steps to prove that you hold the above rights.
  • Some countries, such as France, will insist that you have  a residency permit (Carte de séjour).  
  • You will not, at present, have a right to move residence from one EU country to another. This may be re-examined in negotiations on the final EU-UK relationship this year. 
  • Some professional qualifications will be automatically recognised. Others not.
  • Non-British, non-EU partners, who are not married or  not civil partners, are not automatically considered “family members”.    

On the whole, however, there is no legal reason why legal UK residents in the EU-27 should think they have to leave their homes. Life may be more complicated for the Brits in Spain, France or elsewhere (numbers unknown) who have always avoided contact with local officialdom. 

There may be another silver lining in the sheer scale of Johnson’s election victory.

It will free his hands to negotiate a sensible, final trade deal with the EU in the next few months. He no longer has to please the hardest of the hard Brexiteers. He can, if he wishes, break a campaign promise and extend the negotiations and the transition period for another year, or more, after the end of next year.

Since agreement on final trade deal will take many, many months, an extension of this kind is now likely. That is good news for UK businesses, big and small, based in the EU-27 which trade with Britain.

For the rest of us – thanks to Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement – it will make little practical difference whether the transition agreement is extended or not.

Any other silver linings?

None that I can think of. It is my belief that Britain is now committed to the most serious blunder that the country has ever made.

 

Member comments

  1. What a load of bollocks….. The UK voted to leave the EU as an organisation, not set sail from Europe and move to another part of the world.

    After many years it is about time people accepted the vote and got on with life. The UK wants to be friends with Europe as it is in everybody’s interest to do so. The overwhelming majority that Boris got will enable a proper deal to be arrived at.

    No Brit in Europe should feel a foreigner – if they do it shows the extent that they have not integrated.

    The only difference in the end will be that the UK controls its own borders and laws. Mainland Europe is different than the UK and political union was always going to be a problem. This way we can get a good trade deal and still remain politically separate.

  2. You’re an idiot or can’t read. What the writer is saying is that the British living here now will be classified as foreigners and certainly not members of the EU as is the case before January. Free movement between other EU countries has gone and has gone back to pre 74′ which I remember all too well. As has the movement of goods.

  3. Goods are yet to be decided – it’s called a trade agreement! Obviously leaving the EU will mean that UK citizens will be foreigners in EU countries, but if you currently live in an EU country then you will not be a foreigner if you have integrated!!

    And as for blunder, remember that the UK was a country for many years longer than the EU has existed – It seemed to do OK before!

  4. What a load of bollocks indeed ‘Tony’. What is a ‘proper deal’? What was wrong with the deal we already had?? We already had control of our borders (do your homework) and please tell me ONE EU law that you were really unhappy with? Yep – takes a while to find one dunnit.

    And how were we not ‘politically separate already? We never lost our sovereignty (do your homework) and any trade deal will inevitably be worse than what we already had. It can’t DE FACTO be any better.

    As for the UK doing ‘OK’ before joining the EU – you obviously weren’t there, or need some reminding old chap. The UK in the early 1970s was dull, prudish, hypocritical, boring and, depressing. The banks closed at three, the shops closed at five and the pubs closed at 10.30. On Sundays and on Wednesday afternoons everything was shut. Late night television finished at midnight, and that was only on Friday and Saturday. Food was bland, beer was warm, lager was trendy and wine was for the wealthy. British cars looked awful, were badly built and you usually had to wait months for delivery because the car makers were on strike; or the trains or the power stations etc.
    Still it was the good old days:eh? Women, children, foreigners, homosexuals and blacks still knew their place. There was no domestic violence, although a lot of women accidently walked into doors. There was no rape or child abuse or, if it did happen, it was the “slut’s” own fault “for leading men on”. Everybody trusted bankers, businessmen, doctors, journalists, policemen, politicians, priests, and Rolf Harris.
    Oh and if you were rich, white and a man the UK was great place to live in the early 1970s. Boris Johnson would have loved it in fact.

    So please do get a life Mr Tony. You have absolutely no idea what you are banging on about, like all the other leavers.It’s just a feelin’ innit. Yeah. Bloody foreigners. Blah blah blah.Zzzzzzzzz.

  5. “We already had control of our borders (do your homework)”
    To be fair not entirely. Yes the UK is not a part of Schengen zone but they have to let all the EU citizens in by law. It means that they cannot deny a right to live and work in their own country to citizens of another 27 countries. It’s a big number of people.

    No other “developed” county has that. It’s almost exclusive to the EU. Most other “developed” countries outside of the EU have such agreements with 3-4 countries tops.

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BREXIT

‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

'Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed' - How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK. 

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