Many British expats fear that they stand to lose their rights to live and work in member states if the UK leaves without a deal. With talk of increased contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit, calls for a second referendum and even the suggestion from the Irish Prime Minister that the Brexit date could be put back from March 2019 all add to the uncertainty.
The enormous tension around the negotiations with little progress made on the shape of the post-Brexit arrangements is all makes quotes during the referendum campaign such as ‘easiest negotiations in human history’ and ‘Britain holds all the cards’ seem a bad joke.
Against this backdrop of an increasing risk that Britain will indeed leave the EU with no deal the Brexit Select Committee have said that the rights of British nationals settled in EU countries must be protected. Hilary Benn, who is the chair of the committee, said
“Whatever happens with the negotiations, we urge all governments to make it clear to all EU citizens who have made somewhere else their home, that they can stay.”
Many of the rights are guaranteed under the current draft withdrawal agreement, but the committee said that Britons in Europe, as they currently stand, will be worse off after Brexit.
Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has said that the UK is publishing details of the ID scheme for EU citizens post-Brexit and called upon EU leaders to do the same. Javid said:
“Publishing details of how we will administer our settled status scheme shows we are honouring the commitments made towards EU citizens living in the UK.
“But I am concerned that I have not seen any similar plans on how EU member states are going to support British nationals in their countries. This is not good enough and I hope both the European parliament and commission will exert more pressure for them to do this as soon as possible.”
This was backed up by the committee who said: “We … call on member states to make similar public commitments to assure all UK citizens living in their territory that their rights will also be safeguarded in such circumstances.”
The committee heard last month from British expats living in the EU that they felt they were the forgotten victims of Brexit and were being used as hostages by both sides in negotiations.
The Brexit committee also raised concerns about EU citizens in the UK. They said that EU citizens granted “settled status” to stay in the UK after Brexit should be given physical residency cards rather than a digital ID number to prove their rights and not be forced to rely on online checks.
Both the EU and the UK say that they are stepping up contingency planning to prepare for the possibility of a no-deal outcome to negotiations. The European commission said last week that if the UK crashes out “there would be no specific arrangement in place for EU citizens in the United Kingdom, or for UK citizens in the European Union”.
Another risk has been highlighted by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) is that retired expats could see their pension payments deemed illegal under a no-deal Brexit outcome. The FT Advisor reports that Huw Evans, ABI’s director general, when speaking at the Brexit committee said:
“A no-deal situation would leave insurance contracts in a legal limbo, where insurers would be unclear if they could legally pay claims for contracts that have been written pre-Brexit, which would have to be paid out in countries in the European Union [EU].
“Because in many countries in the EU, if you’re not authorised to transact business there, then it is illegal to pay a claim, to fulfil a contract.”
Mr Evans said: “If UK citizens retire to a EU country and they have an insurance-based pension, which is paid to them in the domestic bank account of the current country in which they reside, that may also be deemed illegal if there is no arrangement found for this problem.”
Mr Evans said that each EU country has different arrangements and so it is not a blanket risk across all 27 member states. The problem could be resolved, but it required regulatory cooperation and political agreement to do so and that the European authorities have refused to engage in those discussions because of the overall state of negotiations.
The uncertainty around a no-deal Brexit is likely to increase with the divisions evident within the Conservative Party, within parliament and between the weakened British government and the EU negotiators. There is a clear need for all sides to move towards a solution to these issues, but there is currently no evidence that this is likely.