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OPINION: The UK blew its precious chance to guarantee our post-Brexit rights

Theresa May’s letter to UK nationals living in Europe on the progress of Brexit negotiations is likely to prompt us to save up Brussels sprouts for a New Year’s pelting ceremony at Downing Street, writes Laura Shields from citizens' group British in Europe.

OPINION: The UK blew its precious chance to guarantee our post-Brexit rights
Photo: AFP
How should we, the 1.2 million British people living in continental Europe, reply to the shiny Christmas letter we received from Theresa May hoping to reassure us that we’ll be able to carry on life as normal after Brexit?
 
In the spirit of yuletide joy, I suppose we should be grateful that we have a letter at all…even if it comes a week after the one she sent to the 3.3 million Europeans living in London and is clearly a cut and pasted version of that.
 
But to avoid being churlish, let’s look at what comfort we can draw from her claim to have successfully brokered a reciprocal deal to secure our rights against of those of the 3 million Europeans living in the UK.
 
If you are a pensioner or someone who doesn’t need to travel or move around for work then perhaps you’ll feel like raising a glass of mulled wine to toast Mrs May’s success at securing our residence, healthcare and social security rights.
 
READ ALSO:

Abused, shunned but unfazed: What it's like being a Brexit-supporting Brit in FrancePhoto: AFP

Unfortunately, if you look at the fine print of December 8th's UK-EU joint technical report two issues are striking.
 
Firstly, our residence rights haven’t actually been guaranteed. Instead of retaining our automatic right to reside we, like our European friends in the UK, will instead end up with settled status which, depending on which EU 27 country you live in, many mean you need to go through a far from infallible application process replete with criminal background checks.
 
What a fun thing for an 85-year-old to be considering at this point in life.
 
Secondly, for the rest of us who need to travel or move for work (and remember four in five Brits in Europe are working age or younger) then May’s letter is likely to prompt us to save up all our unwanted soggy Brussels sprouts and plan an unseasonal trip to Downing Street for an impromptu but festive New Year’s pelting ceremony.
 
Why? Partly because some of our most important worries been deemed ‘out of scope’ for the first phase of the talks and have been bumped into Phase Two.
 
These include free movement, cross border service provision (e.g. if you have a catering company and live in France but work in other EU countries) and whether professional qualifications will still be recognised and economic rights apply across the EU 27.
 
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May and Polish counterpart Mateusz Morawiecki Photo: AFP
 
But mostly it’s about May’s spin that the EU didn’t want to discuss these issues in Phase 1 of the negotiations, when the European Commission negotiating directives from June clearly indicate otherwise.
 
There was a precious window in which to guarantee all our rights but the UK blew it because they were more interested in cutting those of EU nationals in the UK.
 
So, where does this leave us?
 
At British in Europe, we’re going to keep working with our sister group the 3 Million to ensure that citizens’ rights – or how Brexit will affect the (mostly disenfranchised) 4.6 million people directly affected by it – doesn’t get forgotten amid the fog of arguments about agriculture, financial services and airline slots.
 
Solidarity, which is clearly out of fashion at the moment, is unbelievably important right now.

READER INSIGHTS

How Brexit has changed life for Brits living in Denmark

Since Britain left the European Union, Brits living in Denmark have been deported, forced to change their jobs, and faced a long list of new bureaucratic hassles. Here are some of the problems our readers have highlighted.

How Brexit has changed life for Brits living in Denmark

EU figures out in January indicated that only about 40 Brits in Denmark had so far been ordered to leave the country as a result of Britain leaving the European Union, a fraction of the 1,050 ordered to leave Sweden. Some 350 Brits in Denmark missed the deadline for post-Brexit residency. 

But Brexit is still far from popular. A full 76 percent of the Britons in Denmark who responded to our survey said that Brexit had affected them either “quite” or “extremely” negatively (42.3 percent and 34.6 percent respectively).

Only one respondent said that their life had been very much improved. 

Here are some of the ways people said Brexit had made life less convenient and more expensive.  

Losing the right to stay in Denmark

William, an account manager based in Copenhagen, was deported from Denmark after failing to apply for post-Brexit residency in time and is even now trying to find out if the decision to deny him residency will be reversed and whether he might be entitled to compensation. 

The Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) failed to send letters to as many as 1,800 British people informing them of the deadline. 

“Siri failed to notify me of the requirement to update my status, I got deported and I experienced stress, anxiety and sickness due to the year-long application and appeals process,” he complained. 

Denmark’s immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said last month that the roughly 350 British nationals who risk losing their right to live in Denmark after missing the deadline to apply for a post-Brexit residency permit would get a reprieve. Bek said on February 10th that his department would “present a solution soon”. 

READ ALSO: Britons told to leave Denmark over late residence applications could get reprieve

“Siri have not yet decided what they will do regarding making changes to finalised decisions that were affected by the rejection of appeal,” William said. 

For another British woman living in Copenhagen, Brexit means her UK-based husband can only visit her in Denmark for three months in every six month period, with his passport getting stamped every time. 

“It’s usually enough, but if we wanted to visit France for a month that would count too,” she said. 

Having to handle a work, residency, or study permit 

Brits not eligible for post-Brexit residency now need to apply for a work permit, family reunion, or study permit to get residency in Denmark, which several of those answering the survey complained was difficult, costly and involved long delays. 

“This is so annoying,” wrote one reader, who works in the pharmaceuticals industry. Registering for post-Brexit residency had been “a hassle”, agreed a music industry professional.

A 50-year-old woman from Scotland who married a Dane post-Brexit said her application for residency to come and live with him had been rejected on the first attempt, and that she had been so far unable to find a job. 

“For two years, I’ve been living an uncertain life worrying about the future,” she said. 

Susan, 41, said she found it frustrating not to be able to bring family members from the UK to live with her in Denmark. 

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Extra hassle getting personal number or bank account

Hannah said that it had taken significantly longer for her to get a Danish personal number (CPR) than it had for her Swedish husband and children. 

“Getting CPR, bank accounts etc took a lot longer than rest of family, who are Swedish,” she complained, adding that she was as a result applying for Swedish citizenship. 

Unable to get a long-term lease on a car or a monthly mobile phone contract 

The pharmaceuticals industry professional blamed Brexit for his inability to get a car through private leasing, although one major car manufacturer told The Local that all that was required was to have a registered address in Denmark, a Danish social security number, and a good enough credit rating.  

“I tried several private long-term leasing companies, but they simply told me that they couldn’t lease a car even though I work for a big pharmaceutical company with a permanent position,” he said. “The main problem is my work permit is of type J. If you leave the EU with the car, they wouldn’t know where to find you. Even if they knew when I was, the cost of prosecuting someone in a non-European country is too high.”

He also complained that he had been unable to get a monthly contract from his mobile phone provider meaning he could not upgrade to the new iPhone.

Problems keeping business going 

David Darlington, 58, closed down his import and distribution company Food From Home after more than 18 years after Brexit, as it became too difficult to import British goods to Scandinavia. 

“One of the reasons I lost my business was because of Brexshit,” he wrote in the survey. 

Problems with post and customs charges 

Almost everyone who answered the survey complained of the way Brexit had made sending and receiving post and parcels more difficult. 

“I had to produce receipts for Easter eggs which my dad had sent to my children. The supermarket receipt wasn’t good enough and in the end I told them to return the parcel,” complained Matt, 47, a Brit with Danish citizenship.

“I’ve stopped ordering books and other items from Amazon UK because of uncertainties with tax regulations,” he added.

“My sisters have to watch the value of presents they send to my grandchildren to avoid paying import taxes,” said a woman living in Copenhagen. 

Problems exchanging driving licence 

Susan complained about the “difficulty of exchanging driving licence”, even though most UK nationals do not need to take a driving test to exchange their driving licence to a Danish one, provided their licence was issued before the UK left the EU. 

Only people who got their licence after Brexit and who want to keep a higher category than a normal car license, entitling them to tow a heavy trailer, take more than eight passengers, or drive a truck or lorry, need to take a so-called “control test”. 

Harder to buy a house 

“Buying a house involved an extra approval from the ministry and adds additional restrictions,” complained AJ, pointing to the requirement that non-EU citizens apply to the Department of Civil Affairs for permission to buy property in Denmark. 

“You have to prove you have strong ties to Denmark,” she said of the process. “We were lucky. We had a great lawyer who got us through it all and we received our approval from the Ministry in two weeks but some people wait up to 12 weeks and then lose their house.” 

This does not apply, however, if you have already been resident in Denmark for more than five years

Difficult to work part-time in the UK 

“I will have to give up my online teaching for a college in London because I’m not allowed to teach more than six weeks in another country,” complained the woman living in Copenhagen. 

Queues at airport passport control

It can be maddening for Brits to be faced with a much shorter queue for EU citizens at airports in Denmark, while the queue for non-EU citizens edges forward painfully slowly. 

Unable to live and work in other EU countries 

“We only have the right to reside here. Much as we love Denmark, it’s a bit like being trapped,” complained AJ, one of many people who listed no longer being able to get a job in or move to another EU country as one of the major drawbacks.  

Michael, a project manager in the wind industry, said that he faced problems as a result of the limits on how long her can work in other EU countries, with the 90/180 rules only enabling him to work 90 out of any one 180 day period in another EU country. 

“Restrictions on travel throughout EU (90/180 rule. Border crossings and risk of stamps in passport that kick 90/180 rule in,” he said. 

“The only way to regain my European rights fully is by becoming Danish and the rules on this seem to change quite frequently, so as a result life seems more precarious and uncertain,” said Liz, who lives in Zealand. 

One recent retiree who had lived in Denmark for 25 years said she was annoyed that Brexit had lost her “my right to live, work, study, retire in the rest of the EU”, but that she had recently applied for and received Danish citizenship. 

Uncertainty about retiring 

“I am concerned about the future,” said Sandra. “When I retire will I still have the same rights or will I be told to leave?”. 

Uncertainty about extending post-Brexit residency card 

Under the EU withdrawal agreement, British citizens living in EU countries at the time Britain left the European Union were offered post-Brexit residency status indefinitely, but the certificates they were issued were only valid for five years, leaving many uncertain as to what happens when they try to renew. 

“I expect to find it more difficult to obtain permanent residency on completion of the Article 51 Temp Residency I got in 2021,” wrote Ian. 

Feels different 

For many respondents, the biggest change was emotional. Brexit has changed how comfortable and secure they feel living in Denmark. 

“It feels different to be needing a resident’s card, rather than being more a ‘part of the European family’, with the feeling of being ‘on probation’ for remaining,” said Stephen. 

“It makes me feel far away from daughter and friends,” said Caroline, a retiree. 

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