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BREXIT

Britons in Europe hold breath as MPs set to vote on Brexit deal

Britons across Europe faced a crucial day on Tuesday with Theresa May's Brexit deal set for a crunch vote in parliament. If, as expected, it fails to get the green light, then campaigners are demanding action to protect citizens' rights.

Britons in Europe hold breath as MPs set to vote on Brexit deal
Photo AFP

On Tuesday the House of Commons, the UK's lower house, will vote on what is probably the most important parliamentary vote in Britain in decades.

MPs will decide whether to back Prime Minister Theresa May's much criticized Brexit Withdrawal Agreement or vote it down and provoke parliamentary chaos.

No group of people will be more glued to TV screens than the 1.2 million Brits living throughout Europe, whose futures and indeed peace of mind and quality of life hinge on the result.

If the Brexit deal is passed by MPs in Westminster it will at least allow most Britons in Europe to continue as they were, albeit without the freedom of onward movement that will impact many livelihoods.

But if Theresa May's deal is rejected then it leaves Britons in Europe living in yet more anxious limbo and facing the prospect of all the upheaval that would come as a result of the UK crashing out of Europe without a deal.

'934 days of limbo'

Kalba Meadows from the British in Europe (BiE) and Remain in France Together (RIFT) campaign groups told The Local the situation for Britons living in the EU is nothing short of “shameful”.

“While the eyes of the UK and EU are on politicians and the vote, we, the ordinary Brits living in the EU, are on day 934 of our limbo and still have no idea what our status will be in just 74 days time.

“We should have been removed from the equation months ago through a separate citizens' rights agreement covering us and the EU citizens living in the UK. “

The fact that two and a half years after the shock referendum in June 2016 the futures of British citizens in Europe and of EU nationals in the UK still hang in the balance shows they are just an afterthought to those in charge of negotiations, said Meadows.

The impact of living for so long with so little certainty over what the future holds has had a devastating impact on the mental and physical health of many, particularly retirees, who have seen their pensions decimated by the falling pound.

“The human cost of what's happening now is huge: not just the phenomenal stress of living with this ongoing uncertainty – which we're seeing every single day in our members – but the sense that as human beings we don't really matter enough to either the UK or EU. Frankly, it's shameful,” said Meadows.

READ ALSO: 'Better than no deal': Do Brits in Europe hope Theresa May's deal succeeds?

The desire for the limbo to end means many Brits in Europe are hoping Theresa May's bill is backed by MPs.

“If there is going to be a Brexit then for us UK citizens living in the EU May's deal is a good one,” said Robert Neil, a British resident of Crete, Greece. “It has lots of certainty and guarantees, unlike a no deal. A no deal could be a disaster.”

But many Britons in Europe believe the deal should be rejected because it denies them the right to onward freedom of movement and leaves them “landlocked” in the country they are currently residing in.

Many are still holding out for a second referendum and would be prepared to go through a few more anxious weeks and months if it means the British people had the chance to vote again.

Paul Hearn, a Briton based in France said: “My hope is that Parliament will stop Brexit, soon after voting against the proposed deal, adding that “a People's Vote is the only fallback position.”

If, as expected, Theresa May loses her vote then British in Europe, an umbrella group for campaigners across Europe is demanding the Prime Minister takes action to secure the rights of British citizens in the EU and the three million EU nationals in Britain.

“If Theresa May loses the vote tonight, she should immediately commit to ring-fencing the existing rights of @The3Million and @BritishInEurope and call on the EU27 to do the same, in an international treaty. It would give people the security to go about their lives as before,” the group tweeted.

But given citizens have been treated as bargaining chips throughout the whole negotiation process it is unlikely that Theresa May will suddenly start acting in their interests.

The reality is that more limbo, more uncertainty, and more anxiety lies ahead.

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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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