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ELECTION

OPINION: ‘Nothing can stop Brexit now, we will all feel foreign on February 1st’

Boris Johnson's resounding victory means nothing will stop Brexit now, writes columnist John Lichfield. But it's still the biggest blunder the UK has ever made and will leave the hundreds of thousands of Brits across Europe feeling like foreigners on February 1st.

OPINION: 'Nothing can stop Brexit now, we will all feel foreign on February 1st'
Photo: AFP

In the name of greater democracy our future has been decided without us. Once again.

I speak of the 1.2 million (at least) British citizens living in the other countries of the European Union. We were almost completely forgotten, and denied a vote, in the Brexit referendum in 2016. 

We were entirely forgotten and many of us were denied a vote in the disgraceful and dispiriting general election campaign which has just ended. 

Nothing now can stop Brexit. We will become foreign on February 1st, or more completely foreign, in countries that many of us have come to regard as or home. 

There was an angry reaction in parts of the UK media last week – and glee in other parts – to one of Boris Johnson’s most crassly xenophobic remarks of the campaign. “For too long”, he told Sky News, people from other parts of the EU have been “able to treat the UK as though it’s basically part of their own country”.

Johnson ignored the huge contributions made by the 3,000,000 or so EU-27 nationals in the UK. He implied, deliberately and mendaciously, that most EU residents in Britain were milking the system.

He made no reference to the fact that  1.2 million UK citizens (at least) have equally come to regard their EU-27 host states as “basically part of their own country”. He ignored the contribution that they – we – have made to our host countries and often also to the UK. This is just as true for the Sun-reading Brexiteer retired on the Costa del Sol as the Europhile British Erasmus student in Denmark or Germany. 

READ MORE: Brits in Europe urged to look at bright side of 'devastating' election result

Johnson also ignored the fact that, under the UK withdrawal agreement that he filched with detailed changes from Theresa May, both the “3,000,000” and the “1.2million” will have a continuing right to live and work in our homes from home.

This will probably come as a surprise to those British people – not all but many – who voted Johnson to “get rid of” the Poles and Romanians and Estonians who are propping up the National Health Service. 

Given his Trump-like attention to detail, it is probable that Johnson has never bothered to read this important text, largely negotiated by Mrs May’s government in March last year. 

We (the 800,000 and more) are lucky in this at least.  Johnson and the hard Brexiteers had nothing to do with the “citizens’ rights” clauses of this text which will go “oven ready” through the House of Commons in the next couple of weeks.

The document, enforceable in both EU and UK law, has many gaps or limitations. It means, however, that we can continue to live in our adopted countries beyond 31 December next year – even if  Johnson’s government fails to reach a long-term trade deal with the EU and even if Britain “crashes out” with no deal on 1 January 2021.

This, for the 1.2 million, is one of the silver-linings in yesterday’s election result. It happened too late for the extremist Brexiteers to impose the most extremist possible Brexit. 

The pressure group British in Europe describes the withdrawal agreement as a “mixture of good news, bad news and unfinished business.”

The good news is, briefly, as follows:

  • If you are, or become, legally resident in any of the EU27 countries before the end of next year, you have an absolute right to stay.
  • If you’ve lived in the host country for less than 5 years, you must be employed, self-sufficient, a student or  family member. This is also the case within the EU now.
  • After five years, you will be entitled to permanent residence without these conditions.
  • You can then move away and come back.
  • Existing, reciprocal health care rights will still apply.

 

The bad news is:

  • Depending on decisions made country by country, you will probably have to take steps to prove that you hold the above rights.
  • Some countries, such as France, will insist that you have  a residency permit (Carte de séjour).  
  • You will not, at present, have a right to move residence from one EU country to another. This may be re-examined in negotiations on the final EU-UK relationship this year. 
  • Some professional qualifications will be automatically recognised. Others not.
  • Non-British, non-EU partners, who are not married or  not civil partners, are not automatically considered “family members”.    

On the whole, however, there is no legal reason why legal UK residents in the EU-27 should think they have to leave their homes. Life may be more complicated for the Brits in Spain, France or elsewhere (numbers unknown) who have always avoided contact with local officialdom. 

There may be another silver lining in the sheer scale of Johnson’s election victory.

It will free his hands to negotiate a sensible, final trade deal with the EU in the next few months. He no longer has to please the hardest of the hard Brexiteers. He can, if he wishes, break a campaign promise and extend the negotiations and the transition period for another year, or more, after the end of next year.

Since agreement on final trade deal will take many, many months, an extension of this kind is now likely. That is good news for UK businesses, big and small, based in the EU-27 which trade with Britain.

For the rest of us – thanks to Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement – it will make little practical difference whether the transition agreement is extended or not.

Any other silver linings?

None that I can think of. It is my belief that Britain is now committed to the most serious blunder that the country has ever made.

 

Member comments

  1. What a load of bollocks….. The UK voted to leave the EU as an organisation, not set sail from Europe and move to another part of the world.

    After many years it is about time people accepted the vote and got on with life. The UK wants to be friends with Europe as it is in everybody’s interest to do so. The overwhelming majority that Boris got will enable a proper deal to be arrived at.

    No Brit in Europe should feel a foreigner – if they do it shows the extent that they have not integrated.

    The only difference in the end will be that the UK controls its own borders and laws. Mainland Europe is different than the UK and political union was always going to be a problem. This way we can get a good trade deal and still remain politically separate.

  2. You’re an idiot or can’t read. What the writer is saying is that the British living here now will be classified as foreigners and certainly not members of the EU as is the case before January. Free movement between other EU countries has gone and has gone back to pre 74′ which I remember all too well. As has the movement of goods.

  3. Goods are yet to be decided – it’s called a trade agreement! Obviously leaving the EU will mean that UK citizens will be foreigners in EU countries, but if you currently live in an EU country then you will not be a foreigner if you have integrated!!

    And as for blunder, remember that the UK was a country for many years longer than the EU has existed – It seemed to do OK before!

  4. What a load of bollocks indeed ‘Tony’. What is a ‘proper deal’? What was wrong with the deal we already had?? We already had control of our borders (do your homework) and please tell me ONE EU law that you were really unhappy with? Yep – takes a while to find one dunnit.

    And how were we not ‘politically separate already? We never lost our sovereignty (do your homework) and any trade deal will inevitably be worse than what we already had. It can’t DE FACTO be any better.

    As for the UK doing ‘OK’ before joining the EU – you obviously weren’t there, or need some reminding old chap. The UK in the early 1970s was dull, prudish, hypocritical, boring and, depressing. The banks closed at three, the shops closed at five and the pubs closed at 10.30. On Sundays and on Wednesday afternoons everything was shut. Late night television finished at midnight, and that was only on Friday and Saturday. Food was bland, beer was warm, lager was trendy and wine was for the wealthy. British cars looked awful, were badly built and you usually had to wait months for delivery because the car makers were on strike; or the trains or the power stations etc.
    Still it was the good old days:eh? Women, children, foreigners, homosexuals and blacks still knew their place. There was no domestic violence, although a lot of women accidently walked into doors. There was no rape or child abuse or, if it did happen, it was the “slut’s” own fault “for leading men on”. Everybody trusted bankers, businessmen, doctors, journalists, policemen, politicians, priests, and Rolf Harris.
    Oh and if you were rich, white and a man the UK was great place to live in the early 1970s. Boris Johnson would have loved it in fact.

    So please do get a life Mr Tony. You have absolutely no idea what you are banging on about, like all the other leavers.It’s just a feelin’ innit. Yeah. Bloody foreigners. Blah blah blah.Zzzzzzzzz.

  5. “We already had control of our borders (do your homework)”
    To be fair not entirely. Yes the UK is not a part of Schengen zone but they have to let all the EU citizens in by law. It means that they cannot deny a right to live and work in their own country to citizens of another 27 countries. It’s a big number of people.

    No other “developed” county has that. It’s almost exclusive to the EU. Most other “developed” countries outside of the EU have such agreements with 3-4 countries tops.

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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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