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BREXIT

BREXIT

Brexit would leave expats in ‘ghastly’ legal limbo for years

British expats living in the EU would face years of legal uncertainty after Brexit, a UK parliamentary committee concludes, adding weight to the worries of many Britons abroad.

Brexit would leave expats in 'ghastly' legal limbo for years
Photo: Paul Lloyd/FLickr

The conclusions of the committee will only heighten the fears expressed by many British citizens living in the EU that Brexit would see them lose their fundamental rights and that it may take years of painful wrangling before they regain them.

Lawmakers from the 19-member House of Lords European Union Committee are due to release a report of their findings on Wednesday after hearing the expert analysis of two senior lawyers familiar with the legal wranglings of the EU.

The committee's chair, the Conservative MP Lord Boswell of Aynho said: “The rights of some two million UK citizens living abroad would need to be determined, as would the rights of a similar number of EU citizens living in the UK.

“This is complex stuff – you are talking about the right to residence, to healthcare and to schooling, about maintenance payments and access to children, about research projects and contracts that cross borders, sorting all this out would be a daunting task.”

In his evidence to the committee Professor Derick Wyatt QC, a professor in law at Oxford University said: “It is estimated that two million Brits live in other EU countries. Take elderly people who have lived for 10 years in Spain. After five years, they acquired a right of permanent residence as citizens of the union and that includes access to the Spanish healthcare system.

“If we leave, what do we do about vested rights. Do we recognise rights to permanent residents that have arisen? What transitional rights do we give someone who has been working in the UK for for years and has children at school and so forth?

“Let us not forget that for every example in the UK, there is an example of a UK citizen elsewhere.

We expats didn't abandon the UK so ALL of us deserve the vote

“My guess is that the inclination of the government and parliament would be to be generous as regards those who had already made their lives in the UK, knowing that it would be likely to be reciprocated.”

Lawmakers in British parliament’s upper house stressed that successfully renegotiating the rights of the two million Britons living in the EU as well as future trade deals would be a “complex and daunting task”.

EU rules place a legal limit of two years on post-Brexit negotiations, but the report warns that any agreements between Britain and other member states would likely take far longer to thrash out given the countless obstacles that would lie in the way.

“The long-term ghastliness of the legal complications is almost unimaginable,” Sir David Edward, a former judge at the European Union Court of Justice told the House of Lords committee.

He is not the only EU legal expert who has raised concerns about rights of Britons in a post Brexit EU and how live will inevitably get more complicated.

In an interview with The Local George Peretz, a QC specialising in EU and public law said: “The principle of EU law means that every Brit living or owning property elsewhere in the EU has a vast range of legal rights: to work, to run a business, to buy property, to live where they like, to use public services such as health, to pay no more taxes than locals, to vote in local elections and so on.

“Depending on the final outcome of any post-Brexit deal, all of those rights could vanish if the UK leaves the EU.

In short Brexit would throw everything into the air and we don’t know where or how it will all land.” 

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BRITS IN EUROPE

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

After years of campaigns and promises British citizens living abroad finally won the lifelong right to vote in UK general elections in April 2022. But campaigners say more needs to be done to allow all those Britons abroad to be able cast their votes easily.

Brits in Europe won right to vote for life in UK but questions remain

What’s in the law?

The Elections Act 2022 introduced several changes to the current legislation on electoral participation. Among these, it removed the rule by which British citizens lose their voting rights in the UK if they have lived abroad for more than 15 years

The new rules also abolished the requirement to have been previously registered in the UK electoral roll to become an overseas voter. In addition, the registration in the electoral roll will now last up to three years instead of only one year.

It is estimated that these changes could increase the number of overseas voter registrations by some 3 million. But the way new measures will be applied in practice is still to be defined.

READ ALSO: ‘Mixed feelings’ – British citizens in Europe finally get right to vote for life

Defining the practicalities

Under the new law, Britons living abroad will have to register to vote in the last place they were registered in the UK. This means that people who have never lived in the UK will be ineligible to vote, regardless of how long they have been overseas, while those who left when they were children will be able to use a parent or guardian’s address.

But given that the UK does not require residents to register with local councils, how to prove previous UK residence? “Typical documents accepted as a proof of residence are Council tax or utilities bills, but not everyone will have them or will have kept them in an international move,” says Fiona Godfrey, co-founder of the British in Europe coalition.

Ballot papers are pictured in stacks in a count centre as part of the 2019 UK general election. (Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN / AFP)

Other questions concern how people will effectively cast their ballot. UK citizens overseas will be able to vote by post or by proxy or in person at their polling station if they are in the UK at the time of the election. However, few people are likely to travel to the UK for an election and in the past there have problems and delays with postal voting.

The Electoral Commission has recommended that overseas electors appoint a proxy to vote on their behalf. But who could that be for people who have been away from their constituency for a long time?

New secondary legislation will have to answer these questions, defining how to be included in the electoral roll and how to exercise the voting right in practice.

According to British in Europe, the government should present draft legislation in the first half of the year so that the parliament can adopt it before summer and registrations of overseas voters can start in the autumn.

British in Europe survey

British in Europe are currently running a survey to understand the difficulties UK citizens abroad may face in the registration and voting process, as well as their intention to participate in elections.

The survey asks for instance which documents people can access to prove their previous residence in the UK, what problems they had voting in the past, and if and how they plan to vote in the future.

“We need to get an up-to-date picture of British citizens living around the world and have information to make recommendations to the government, as it prepares secondary legislation,” Godfrey said. “If millions of people will exercise their voting rights, there will be consequences for council registration offices, post office and authorities that will manage the process, among other things” she argued.

The right to vote concerns only UK parliamentary elections and national referendums, not elections in the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, or at local level.

The survey is open to UK citizens living anywhere in the world and is available at this link.

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