No-Deal Brexit Looms – What Is The Reality For British Expats?

No-deal Brexit – as Theresa May delays a decision once more, what is the reality behind the sensationalist headlines for British expats living or planning to live in Europe?

Many have understandable concerns but are they justified?


Over two and a half years after the referendum we are still left with all options open and no certainty on how the vote to leave the EU will be brought into effect.  May’s deal has failed to command support in Parliament and the Irish back stop continues to be one of the major obstacles to a deal.  It remains possible that we will leave with a variation on May’s deal, with no deal or that the leave date will be postponed or even that a second vote will be called for, which could result in a decision to stay in the EU after all.

Meanwhile there are strains on the British political system and a wide range of opinions on the way forward.  No wonder many are wondering what the impact will be on them, not least those British citizens currently living in EU countries and those deciding whether to move to work or retire in the EU.

In December the European Commission published its contingency plans for a non-deal Brexit and passed the responsibility for agreeing suitable arrangements to the individual member states and said it “invites Member States to take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens in the EU, provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK.”

“In particular, Member States should take measures to ensure that UK citizens legally residing in the EU on the date of withdrawal will continue to be considered legal residents. Member States should adopt a pragmatic approach to granting temporary residence status.”

“As regards social security coordination, the Commission considers it necessary that Member States take all possible steps to ensure legal certainty and to protect the rights acquired by EU27 citizens and UK nationals who exercised their right to free movement before 30 March 2019.”

As well as the statements made about the contingency arrangements there is also a useful Q&A issued by the Commission that covers a wide range of potential issues from a no-deal Brexit.

Jane Golding from British in Europe commented “With the spectre of no deal rising again, so are people’s anxiety levels and it is wrong that citizens’ rights were not guaranteed at the outset.”

Since the Commission’s request to member States there have been announcements from many that should give some comfort.  All have made their arrangements contingent upon reciprocity from the UK:

  • Spain – Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, indicated that his government was preparing emergency measures to protect the rights of British expats in Spain if there is a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, saying “I want to send a message of calm to Spaniards who live in Britain and also to Britons who live in Spain: their rights will be maintained whatever the scenario.”

If the existing Brexit deal is agreed British expats in Spain who have legal settled status before 30th March will be eligible to remain in Spain and to benefit from healthcare and other benefits.

  • France – The French Prime Minister, Edouard Philippe, recently commented that the bill granting the French government the right to take emergency measures saying is was necessary “to respect our obligations to make sure that the lives of our citizens and …. British citizens living in France are impacted as little as possible.”

The bill gives British expats a 12-month period with the right to remain without a permit and access existing rights, including French healthcare and benefits, and gives them a year to acquire formal residency in France.  This will be available on terms more favourable than other non-EU nationals.

  • Portugal – Interior Minister, Eduardo Cabrita said, “The British are welcome in Portugal as residents, as tourists, as investors, as students. We hope they will continue to come and stay in Portugal.” The contingency arrangements announced will protect the rights of British expats already in Portugal and give them continued access to public healthcare and social security.
  • Germany – In the event of a no deal, ministers have drafted a law that would enable British people to stay in the country, though after a three-month period (which may yet be extended) they would have to register and apply to remain.
  • Ireland – The potential for a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is at the heart of the problems over the Brexit deal. However, the Common Travel Area (CTA) is a long-standing arrangement between the UK and Ireland which pre-dates the EU.  The CTA means Irish citizens can move freely to live, work, and study in the UK on the same basis as UK citizens and vice versa. It is an arrangement that is valued on both islands. Both the Government of Ireland and the UK Government have committed to maintaining the Common Travel Area (CTA) in all circumstances. Under the CTA, Irish and British citizens move freely and reside in either jurisdiction and enjoy associated reciprocal rights and privileges including access to employment, healthcare, education, social benefits and the right to vote in certain elections.


Whatever happens eventually with Brexit there are agreements in place or planned that should protect the rights of those already living in countries in the EU.  They remain undertakings rather than legislation that has been passed, but there seems to be a will to finally give British expats the assurances that they need.