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ELECTION

Brexit: Britons in Europe urged to look on bright side of ‘devastating’ UK election result

Britons in Europe were on Friday having to get used to the idea that "Brexit was happening and nothing was going to stop it now". But they were also urged to look at the positive aspect of the UK election result.

Brexit: Britons in Europe urged to look on bright side of 'devastating' UK election result

The victorious prime minister insisted on Friday he would do everything to get Brexit done by January 31st.

Brexit he said was now the “irrefutable, irresistible, unarguable will of the British people”.

There will be many Britons in Europe who might still dispute that but most seemed to accept on Friday, some for the first time, that the UK will leave the EU and they would no longer be European citizens.

Many Brits in Europe took to social media groups to express sadness, shock and anger that the UK, or at least England and Wales, had effectively voted for Brexit once again.

Their reactions echoed those that followed the shock 2016 referendum result.

“It's a devastating morning for all of us – we know that people are shocked and angry and hurting, as we are ourselves after three and a half years of campaigning,” Kalba Meadows from British in Europe told The Local.

“Yesterday there was still a glimmer of hope that we might remain in the EU; today that's gone – it's a true Friday the 13th. So today is a day to mourn and take stock.”

But Meadows and others who have been sticking up for the rights of Britons in Europe have stressed there is at least something positive to take from Boris Johnson's win.

Much of the uncertainty that has blighted the lives of many and impacted the health of some will soon come to an end.

“There is some not so bad news too – our future rights will now be protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, and we no longer have the spectre of a no deal Brexit that has kept us up at night for so long,” she said.

“It's not perfect – we lose our voting rights and our right to free movement for example – but it's lifetime protection of the majority of the rights we have now, and it'll stand even if the government doesn't reach a trade deal with the EU. And of course there will be no change for us until the end of the transition period.”

For many it was time for Brits in the EU to face the music.

“There is no other way out than Brexit happening on January 31st,” Germany-based British political commentator Jon Worth told The Local on Friday morning. “Nothing can stop this now.”

The hope of Brexit not happening “that stayed alive to a certain extent for the last three and a half years since the referendum is now definitively extinguished,” Worth said.

Justine Wallington from the campaign group Remain in France Together (RIFT) also suggested that there was a plus side to the “unpleasant shock” of the result.

“We mourn the imminent loss of our European citizenship, however, with respect to citizens' rights for those who are already resident before any cut off date (probably end of 2020), we face an improved situation compared to last October.

“Previously, current residents were facing a “no-deal” scenario and having to rely on the French Decree and now we are probably looking at the Withdrawal Agreement being agreed. This should secure many of our rights in an international treaty for the rest of our lives.

READ ALSO: A reminder of what the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement means for Brits in Europe

“Some rights likely to be retained are the S1 medical cover, pension uprating, pension aggregation and more. Some rights we will probably lose – voting rights in local and EU elections in France at the end of January and onward freedom of movement at the end of the transition period.”

That transition period is due to end in December 2020 – just 12 months from now – although it may well be extended despite Boris Johnson having vowed not to.

However future generations who want to move and in Europe after the transition period have no idea what conditions will be imposed on them.

That will all be decided in the coming months and years.

The pressure group Brexpats Hear Our Voice sounded a more defiant note after the election result.

“Understandably there is shock, disappointment and anger reverberating around our group right now,” a spokesperson told The Local. 

“Our members are predominantly British and live across the EU. But we are standing firm. We will continue to fight for the protection of our rights and, more than ever, we stand in solidarity and support of our EU friends who have suffered abominably thanks to the callous and careless words of Boris Johnson. Now his party has a large majority, he will have to take full responsibility for all things Brexit. 

“We will continue to stand up for and defend the European Union's fundamental values, which we believe in, and as a reminder they are respect for human dignityand human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. These values unite us all. 

“This is also an opportunity for us to make a fresh start to get citizens' rights to the top of the agenda, and you can bet we are going to make a lot of noise about it.”

Some UK citizens in Europe were grateful that they could now at least look forward.

Clive Williams said: “For me personally this gives a way ahead with a withdrawal agreement that should protect my rights having decided to live in France 18 years ago. So now the uncertainty is gone, some bureaucracy is required and I can continue to live in a tolerant, beautiful country.”

Many spoke of the steps they will now take to secure their future in the EU, even if meant having to overcome some bureaucratic and linguistic hurdles.

Mary Hartley said: “This is a very sad day for me, I honestly did not believe that it would come to this but that’s made my mind up to go for dual nationality.”

Christine Craik had a similar reaction.

“I'm gutted. But it has made my decision easier to apply for French nationality,” she said.

Andrew Crowe said: “I need to be fluent in French fast to pass the nationality test. My life, family and business are here in France yet if i am not fluent i cannot be a citizen.”

 

While many Brits spoke of being grateful they were living in the EU given the Brexit chaos that has engulfed the UK, one reader Thomas Lam was not looking forward to the future.

“I am so genuinely disheartened and devastated by the result of the election,” he said. “I'm moving back to the UK in the next few days, but now I'm not sure if I want to.”

 

 

 

 

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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