‘Time to think about the 5 million in limbo’: UK parliament votes to delay Brexit

Lawmakers in London voted to delay Brexit on Thursday evening by a majority of 210 to mark the end of three days of fraught debates and votes in which PM Theresa May's deal was firmly rejected as was a no-deal Brexit.

'Time to think about the 5 million in limbo': UK parliament votes to delay Brexit
How long left? Photo: Shebeko/Depositphotos

A majority of Members of Parliament (MPs) in the UK's lower house voted to delay Brexit on Thursday and seek an extension to Article 50 from the EU.

The motion to seek an extension to Article 50 was approved by a majority of 210 MPs. It calls for Theresa May to seek an extension until June 30th 2019 if a deal is approved before March 20th. But the motion also acknowledges that a longer extension may need to be justified if the UK parliament cannot agree on the deal before the EU Council summit on March 21st. 

The lower house also voted on several amendments. Theresa May survived an attempt for MPs to set the schedule for future debates and talks on Brexit, and wrestle control of the process from her hands, by a majority of only two (312 ayes, 314 noes).

An amendment to hold a second referendum was also defeated by a much wider majority of 229.

Some Labour MPs wrote an open letter arguing why they were abstaining even though they support a second referendum “because it isn't the right time.” They hope to be able to achieve a second referendum via other means in parliament. 

While amendments are not legally binding, they offer a barometer of sentiment among MPs. The fact that 332 voted against a second referendum would constitute a majority even if Labour had voted, suggesting more than half of parliamentarians are not in favour of giving the British public a final say on Brexit. 

Desires are nourished by delays?

Senior EU figures have expressed differing positions on granting an extension to Article 50, the clause in the Lisbon Treaty which envisages a two-year window for member states leaving the bloc to agree a framework for future cooperation with the Union. 

Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council – the political body where ministers from the EU meet to agree policy – suggested he was open to granting the UK an extension.

But opposing views in the EU to delaying Brexit were made evident in a tweet by Guy Verhofstadt, the Brexit coordinator at the EU parliament, in which the Belgian MEP appeared to disagree with Tusk.

“Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on a prolongation,” tweeted Verhofstadt.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has made clear he wants Brexit out of the way before European parliamentary elections in late May.

“I would like to stress that the United Kingdom's withdrawal should be complete before the European elections that will take place between 23-26 May,” wrote Juncker in a letter to EU Council President Tusk on March 11th. 

EU Brexit fatigue

The issue of an extension has also sewn divisions among member states, fracturing the united front the EU27 is keen to maintain. French President Emmanuel Macron said the Withdrawal Agreement could not be renegotiated but showed lukewarm signs that he was open to an extension.

Many EU leaders see an extension as justified only if the UK can present a viable plan as to how it will use the time to dig itself out of the Brexit quagmire.

“If the British need more time, we will examine a request for an extension — if it is justified by new choices on the part of the British,” said President Macron. 

READ ALSO: Macron says Brexit withdrawal deal not 'negotiable'

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte echoed Macron's thoughts. 

Chief EU Negotiator Michel Barnier isn't keen on an extension and feels his, and the EU's work, has been done. 

“Prolong this negotiation, to do what?” Barnier asked MEPs at the European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg on the morning of Wednesday March 13th. “The negotiation on article 50 is over. We have a treaty. It is here,” he added. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, like EU Commission President Juncker, has previously suggested a 55 day extension to Article 50 until the beginning of EU parliamentary elections would be “very easy.” Any extension beyond May 22nd would mean the UK would have to hold EU parliamentary elections, Juncker has stated. 

The final countdown

With the next EU Council summit a week away – March 21-22 – Theresa May  and her negotiators now have a week to try and convince her European counterparts to grant an extension and avoid a cliff-edge no-deal exit on March 29th.

The EU's apparent reluctance to unanimously agree to an extension may just be posturing. Brexit has dragged on for nearly three years, yet as a former senior EU Commission official recently told told The Local “twenty four hours is a long time in Brexit politics.” 

Rights advocacy group British in Europe, formed in 2016 to defend the rights of UK nationals in the EU caught on the front lines of Brexit, repeated its call for the rights of 3.6 million EU nationals in the UK and 1.2 million UK nationals in the EU to be ring-fenced. 

READ MORE: 'We choose France': Dordogne Brits still in Brexit limbo as clock ticks down


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.