What the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means for Brits in Europe

Here's a recap of what that draft deal - as agreed in March - means for British citizens living in Europe and those who aim to move here in the near future and why it angered campaigners.

What the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means for Brits in Europe
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We've now entered the crunch time for Britain's departure from the EU.

On Wednesday British PM Theresa May presented the text of the deal she has agreed with Brussels to her divided cabinet. If they give it the green light then it must still be ratified by individual EU countries and most importantly it must also win the backing of the British parliament. If it doesn't then anything could happen, including a second referendum or more worryingly a no-deal exit.

For up to date news and reaction to Theresa May's draft deal you can visit our LIVE blog

In other words, there's a long way to go in a short space of time, with Britain set to officially leave the EU at midnight on March 29th.

“There's no doubt that for citizens' rights a deal is better than no deal, so there are 5 million people today with their hearts in their mouths,” Kalba Meadows from Remain in France Together and British in Europe told The Local.

“But even if the deal is accepted by the cabinet today there's a long way to go.”

The citizens' rights part of Britain's 500-page withdrawal agreement from the EU was drawn up back in March – although not set in stone – when London and Brussels came to “complete agreement” on the thorny subject. 

Wednesday's draft is not believed to contain any new elements that affect citizens rights with a spokesman for the EU Commission telling The Local: “The citizens’ rights part of the Withdrawal Agreement was agreed in full back in March.”

That means Brits in the EU will lose the right to onward freedom of movement – the right move to another EU country – at the end of the transition period.

Campaigners insisted on Wednesday that although it was drawn up in March the citizens rights part of the agreement has not been “signed off” and it hasn't been ring-fenced, meaning all the agreed rights will be lost if Theresa May's deal is rejected and Britain leaves the EU without an agreement.

Brian Robinson from Brexpats Hear Our Voice told The Local on Wednesday: “We have been repeatedly saying that the claims by the British government that 'they have delivered on citizens' rights', is entirely false.” 

“The draft agreement only touches upon some treaty rights and ignores the rest. The draft has not been ring-fenced, as we have constantly asked for it to be, and the government still talks about 'no deal being better than a bad deal'. In the event of no deal, our rights will be lost.”

Here's a recap on what was agreed back then and importantly what was left out, with the help of British in Europe, the campaign group representing Brits across the EU.

They have described the withdrawal agreement as having “more holes than a piece of Emmental cheese.”


LIVE – Brits in Europe hold their breath as Theresa May presents deal to cabinet

  • If you are legally resident in an EU country then you can stay, albeit you will probably have to apply to authorities in order to secure this status (see below for more).
  • Brits will only lose those rights if they spend five continuous years away from the EU country the are living in.
  • The current EU laws on the right of residence will apply meaning Brits in the EU are not obliged to meet any conditions for the first three months of their stay, but after that they must be working or self-employed, self-sufficient or a student. Alternatively they can be a family member of someone who meets these conditions.
  • After 5 years of meeting these conditions then you will earn the right to stay permanently. Anyone with less than five years residence under their belts by the end of the transition period will be allowed to stay on under the same conditions until they can claim permanent residency. 
  • Britons in the EU will enjoy the continued right to reciprocal healthcare. So those pensioners who have cover under the S1 scheme or will be eligible for one when they retire will continue to have their healthcare funded by the UK. For British workers in EU countries who pay into the national health scheme then, the rules will remain as they are now. 
  • EHIC health cards will also continue to cover travel across the EU.
  • Pensions will be uprated – meaning your UK state pension will be increased annually as it has been for those living in the UK or in the EU up to now.
  • Disability benefits will also be “exported” as they are now.
  • Frontier workers who live in one country and work in another will have the right to continue to work in each country.
  • Close family members including spouses, civil partners and dependent children will be able to join you living in an EU country if you are legally resident. British in Europe points out that: “This will apply for the whole of your lifetime. If you have children after the effective date they also are protected under the withdrawal agreement if you and the other parent are also protected or a national of the country you live in.”

But where's our Freedom of Movement gone?

Continuing freedom of movement – which includes the ability to move, live and work in another EU country other than the country of residence – has not been included in the latest withdrawal agreement agreed by London and Brussels.

This is much to the anger of citizens' groups in the EU.

Jane Golding, Co-Chair of British in Europe said:  “We were told in March that citizens’ rights were a done deal and that discussions on this would not be re-opened. However it is clear from the text that some changes have in fact been made, meaning that it is unacceptable and upsetting that free movement – a lifeline for many of us – has been excluded when both sides knew it was critical for us.

In the small print of the March agreement it said the issue of freedom of movement was “outside the scope” of the initial negotiations, meaning the rights of Brits living in France to be able to move and work freely in other EU countries may depend on how trade negotiations go.

It may still be included in any future UK-EU agreement with Britain signalling that they would seek to give Britons in the EU the right to onward movement as part of negotiations over the “future relationship”.

Other rights that were not included in the March agreement are on matters such as the right to provide cross-border services as self employed people, recognition of some professional qualifications and the right to be joined by a future spouse or partner who you were not in a relationship with before the end of the transition period.

How happy should Brits in Europe be?

British in Europe say this: “It’s reasonable to say that for those who are happily settled in their country of residence, work solely in that country, have retired there or are pre-retired, have no wish or need to move to or work or study in another EU country, fulfill all the requirements for exercising treaty rights (see here) and don’t rely on professional qualifications, then your rights should be covered.”

One of the major downsides is that EU countries may adopt a “constitutive system” meaning Brits would have to apply for the new status, meaning they would have to prove they had built up five years of legal residence (see bullet point two above) and perhaps undergo other checks such as criminality checks.

This is likely to be case given that the UK are to implement this under their “settled status” scheme and EU countries are likely to reciprocate.

This could cause problems for those who may not be able to prove they are or have been (for 5 years) self-sufficient. “The draft deal says :the deadline for submitting the application shall not be less than 6 months from the end of the transition period.”

For example in France there have been reports of Britons being turned down for residency permits and being asked to leave the country.

Many others are too worried to apply for the residency permits fearing they won't be able to prove they are self-sufficient and not a burden on the country's social security system, which they are being advised to do by the country's Interior Ministry, for fear they will be turned down and asked to leave.

The problem is after Brexit a new kind residency permit are likely to become obligatory.

“Some people would struggle to find the proof that they meet the statutory requirements of ‘legal residence’ and as we all know, bureaucracies can make mistakes. This is one of our major objections,” say British in Europe.

For more information on the citizens rights part of the withdrawal agreement you can visit the British in Europe website.

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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.