OPINION: It's no surprise Brits in Spain are confused by the language of Brexit

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OPINION: It's no surprise Brits in Spain are confused by the language of Brexit
Photo: Bremain in Spain montage

Sue Wilson of Bremain in Spain tackles some of the common misconceptions regarding Brexit.


Are you confused about the terminology used to describe leaving the European Union? Don’t worry: you’re not alone!

Many British citizens don’t understand what’s happening with their rights after Brexit. With politicians and journalists using terms such as “no-deal Brexit” loosely, it’s a recipe for confusion and unnecessary concern.

The most common misconception is that the much-discussed possibility of a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 is the same as the no-deal exit we feared last year. There is, however, a significant difference between the two.

In 2019, a no-deal Brexit was a real threat. The chance of securing a deal with the EU seemed remote or impossible. Three Brexit deadlines were missed because of the constant lack of agreement and the UK parliament’s efforts to avert no-deal at any cost. Furthermore, the government was spending millions of tax-payers funds on contingencies plans aimed at averting the worst consequences of leaving the EU without a deal.

Those consequences included an ongoing lack of agreement about our citizens’ rights, leaving us with only the concept of retaining some rights thanks to the efforts of the Spanish government, but only if the British government reciprocated re Spanish citizens living in the UK. It’s no wonder that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit was the outcome most feared by Brits in Europe in 2019.


Photo: AFP

So, what’s different about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020, and should we be worried? 

Of course, there’s cause for concern re the effect of any no-deal Brexit on the British economy, jobs, NHS, etc. For British citizens living in the EU, the impact on the Pound to Euro exchange rate is a major concern.

However, there is one very significant difference about this new no-deal threat. In 2019, leaving without a deal meant leaving with nothing – i.e. without the Withdrawal Agreement (WA). It is the WA that provides the protection for most, if not all, of our citizens’ rights, such as healthcare and pensions.

A no-deal Brexit in 2020 should actually be referred to as a “no-trade-deal Brexit”, as it would mean leaving without a future trading deal agreed with the EU but with our rights protected by the WA intact. With the WA expected to be ratified this month, we are all set to leave the EU with this deal on January 31st. The future arrangements are not yet determined and will form the next, and most difficult, part of the negotiations.

The Withdrawal Agreement itself causes more confusion. It is frequently mistaken for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB) and the media regularly mix up the terms.

The WAB is the UK legislation required to ratify the WA and enact it in UK law. It does not require any involvement from, or agreement with, the EU.

Concerns about government changes to the WAB - e.g. the undermining of workers’ rights, environmental protection, etc. - have caused many people to question whether this would affect the ratification of the WA by the EU. In fact, many have mistakenly thought it was the WA that the government had amended, not the WAB. While those changes are troubling to the EU, they do not affect its commitment to the WA, which concerns the Brexit ‘divorce’ and not future arrangements.

Any plans by the British government to undermine standards will be taken seriously by the EU and will feature prominently in negotiations about the future trading relationship.

The new EU president, Ursula von der Leyen, says the negotiations are unlikely to be concluded within Boris Johnson’s desired timescale, meaning the transition period must be extended. In case you’re not sufficiently confused by now, the transition period is referred to by the British government as the “implementation period”. Johnson is firmly against any extension to the transition period and is attempting to amend the WAB to rule one out. However, as with all legal matters, laws can be made and unmade.

To summarise, while a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020 is a damaging and worrying threat, it does not mean the loss of our citizens’ rights, as set down in the WA - those will be set in stone, for our lifetimes, and will be protected by international treaty. While leaving without a trade deal is possible, and perhaps the desired goal of many government politicians, we must campaign to prevent it.

Whatever your concerns about Brexit, your citizens’ rights - as outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement - are safe once the WA is ratified. The fight to expand those rights, to include important benefits such as freedom of movement, will continue. Even after we have left the EU, there’s a lot still to be determined and negotiated. Even on February 1st, Brexit will be far from done.

By Sue Wilson – Chair of Bremain in Spain




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