Brexit: Brits in Denmark could face ‘Brexodus’

Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement does little to allay the concerns of Denmark-based British nationals over their future rights to remain and move freely within the EU, writes The Local columnist Peter Kenworthy.

Brexit: Brits in Denmark could face 'Brexodus'
A demonstrator dressed as a dinosaur waves an EU flag as they protest outside of the Houses of Parliament in central London on November 19th. Photo: Tolga AKMEN / AFP/Ritzau Scanpix

The Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and EU could sacrifice the freedom of movement of UK citizens living in the EU, while the Danish immigration ministry has said that Copenhagen will decide what will happen to Brits in Denmark once negotiations are concluded.

In light of Brexit negotiations, discussion has emerged about a potential ‘Brexodus’, whereby the effects of Brexit leads to an exodus of EU citizens from the UK. But there is much less focus on the plight of the one million UK citizens living in the EU.

Nevertheless, UK citizens risk having to leave EU countries like Denmark, or have significantly less rights and basic needs if they stay. These are pressing worries for the 18,000 British citizens living in Denmark.

If there is a no-deal Brexit, UK citizens will become third country nationals who do not enjoy the right of free movement in the Schengen Area, and the EU Commission has proposed that British citizens will need a visa to enter the EU. The right to healthcare and other basic needs could also disappear. 

Danish promises

Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen tweeted the following on the day that the UK government accepted May’s withdrawal deal: 

“Green light! Relieved that the UK government has now approved the deal reached by our negotiators. This is decisive for all European citizens and businesses. Now we have to study the text in more detail. Hopefully we’ll soon be able to shake hands on a solid agreement”. 

Rasmussen had said in his parliamentary opening speech on October 2nd that Denmark is preparing for the eventuality of a no-deal Brexit, but that he hoped that “a good and balanced deal that will at least ease the worst effects of Brexit” could be negotiated.

He also promised in his speech “that no matter the end result of the negotiations, we will of course look after the thousands of British citizens living in Denmark today. This is only fair.”

The Danish government is, perhaps understandably, unwilling to be more specific than this right now. 

The Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration told me in an email recently that the Danish government won’t decide what will happen to the 18,000 British citizens in Denmark in the case of a no-deal Brexit until after negotiations are finalized.

“It is not possible to inform you what specific rights British citizens [living in Denmark] will have after Brexit at present, nor in regard to potential changes in pensions, unemployment benefits, insurance, child care benefits etc. But the Ministry of Immigration and Integration will release such information in regard to citizens’ rights in a no-deal scenario as soon as possible”, the mail continued.

Withdrawal Agreement “provides certainty”

The merits of the 585 pages of the Withdrawal agreement, released on November 14th depend on your vantage point. 

The UK Government’s recently updated guidance for UK nationals in the EU talks about how the Withdrawal Agreement “sets out the terms of the UK’s smooth and orderly exit from the European Union and puts us close to a Brexit deal”. 

The agreement “will provide certainty for you as a UK national and your family living in the EU. Most importantly, it will allow you to stay in the EU country where you are living after the UK leaves the EU”, the guidance continues. 

Article 10 of the agreement makes guarantees for UK nationals “who exercised their right to reside in a Member State in accordance with Union law before the end of the transition period and continue to reside there thereafter.”

UK Gov: broadly same as now

According to the UK government’s explainer on the agreement, UK citizens “will have broadly the same entitlements to work, study and access public services and benefits as now”, and “where the UK, or a Member State, is responsible for the healthcare of those within scope of the social security coordination part of the Withdrawal Agreement, such individuals will be entitled to reciprocal healthcare cover from their competent country”.

The Withdrawal Agreement provides rules on social security coordination in relation to the beneficiaries of the citizens' part of the agreement, and to other persons who at the end of the transition period, ending in December 2020, are in a situation involving both the United Kingdom and a Member State from the social security cooperation perspective. 

Those persons will maintain their right to healthcare, pensions and other social security benefits, and if they are entitled to a cash benefit from one country, they may be able to receive it even if they decide to live in another country, the explainer says.

No deal disruption

The agreement is the best that could be negotiated between the UK and the EU and is in the national interest, Theresa May concluded

The Withdrawal Agreement still has to be agreed upon by the UK Parliament and the EU member states, however, and it might easily be vetoed by the UK parliament. If this happens, and there is a no-deal Brexit, the rights that the agreement entails will be lost, along with a lot of other benefits. 

Additionally, a whole array of things including flights, rail transport, coach services to and from the EU and reasonably priced mobile roaming in the EU could be disrupted, and UK citizens’ driving licenses may also no longer be valid in the EU.

Trade to and from the EU could also be disrupted, as a no-deal scenario would mean “immediate changes to the procedures that apply to businesses trading with the EU.”

This could interfere with anything from exports of animal products and organic foods, import of plant products and animal products, to commercial road haulage, cross-border electricity flows and the business of breeding animals

No freedom of movement

And even if the Withdrawal Agreement is somehow okayed by both the UK Parliament and the EU countries, freedom of movement for UK citizens from one EU country to another is not specifically covered by it. 

“It is necessary to provide reciprocal protection for Union citizens and for United Kingdom nationals, as well as their respective family members, where they have exercised free movement rights before a date set in this Agreement”, it says in the preamble of the agreement. But otherwise it more or less avoids the issue.

In a press release, the largest coalition group of British citizens living and working in Europa, British in Europe, and the3million, an NGO formed to protect the interests of EU citizens living in the UK, said that they were disappointed that “the Brexit negotiators failed to deliver their promise to agree a deal that would allow people to carry on living their lives in exactly the same manner as before Brexit”. 

“Crucial issues such as freedom of movement for British citizens in Europe and lifelong rights to return remain unsolved in the agreement presented by Theresa May”, the press release said. 



How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.