For whom the bell tolls
The UK government set out its post-Brexit policy plan for expats in the EU this week.
And it’s one which could bring a slow death for British communities in Spain and neighbouring countries.
The plan centres on seeking ‘ arrangements’ for UK nationals and EU citizens who have lived abroad for more than five years – or who will have reached the five years by the time the final Brexit deal is struck. However, expats who come now will not have it so easy, under Theresa May’s proposals.
“Those EU citizens who arrived after the specified date will be allowed to remain in the UK for at least a temporary period and may become eligible to settle permanently, depending on their circumstances – but this group should have no expectation of guaranteed settled status.”
That is the rather chilling assessment from the UK government’s policy paper on who may be booted out of the UK in the future – and, through reciprocal treatment, Britons would expect to face the same fate here. That is the ‘limbo-land’ situation facing ‘new’ expats affected by Brexit, wherever they might be.
However, the policy paper is rather Jekyll and Hyde. It appears to have been drawn up by someone who is confused about where they are going (maybe some who backed Remain and then became a champion of Leave and isn’t quite at the races).
If we do a bit of a rewind, we can see via the news report on page 12 that Mrs May and her team claim to have the very best interests of long-term expats at heart. They talk of ‘safeguarding’ our position. Then express love for those pesky Europeans.
“EU citizens are valued members of their communities here,” they state.
We are also told that the ‘UK is one of the most tolerant and welcoming places in the world and will remain that way’.
That is good to hear because anyone reading The Daily Mail or The Express would think that the UK has bought a one-way ticket to intolerance and that Enoch Powell was being lined up for a posthumous knighthood.
The language used in the policy paper is promising for long-term expats – but stops short of giving guarantees.
“During negotiations, the UK will seek to protect the healthcare arrangements currently set out.”
Seeking, but nothing stronger. (I sought… I sought bloody hard, but…)
On pensions, it’s the same – with just the two caveats. Can you spot them?
“The UK intends to continue to export and uprate the UK State Pension within the EU, subject to reciprocity.”
Despite the lack of clarity, it seems that the good will on both sides of the fence will see a deal struck for long-term expats. It may not be exactly what we have now but the expressed desires from both parties would appear to imply that these people will find that they are able to make a fist of things in post-Brexit EU countries.
But what about the future? If the Conservative government project is carried out to the letter, where will expatriate communities be in 20 years’ time?
This is where the problems arise. Under the plans, it seems that new arrivals to the UK in the future may not be particularly welcome. And of course, this would have to be reciprocal for Britons going to Europe.
“Following the UK’s exit from the EU, the government may wish to introduce controls which limit the ability of EU citizens (and their families) who arrive in the UK after exit to live and work here,” they state.
The policy document also notes: “The ability of EU citizens arriving after the specified date subsequently to obtain further or indefinite permission to stay will depend on the rules in place at the time at which they apply. These will be decided by the UK closer to the time.”
Then, after Mr Hyde has said his piece, Dr Jekyll steps forward with a different interpretation… in the same policy document.
“After the UK leaves the EU, free movement will end but migration between the UK and the EU will continue. We will continue to welcome the contribution EU citizens bring to our economy and society; the UK will remain a hub for international talent. The government is carefully considering a range of options as to how EU migration will work for new arrivals post-exit and will publish proposals as soon as possible, allowing businesses and individuals enough time to plan and prepare.” Confused? I am. So here we have the big enigma. What rules will be in place for those Britons who want to exercise their right to roam after the UK exits the EU?
Parts of the policy document suggest that the rather Orwellian concept of ‘settled status’ could be denied to Europeans in the future. And if that’s the case in the UK, then it will be the same going the other way.
The policy document spells out that freedom of movement for Britons in Europe will come to an end (but migration will continue!). In effect this means that the dream of many, to be able to freely country-hop and enjoy the same rights as the nationals in that land, has been crushed. Future generations of British people – the current youth of the UK – will not be able to enjoy the rights that we have had, if Theresa May’s plan comes to fruition.
In a world in which we would always hope that the next generation would have more rights than the one that has gone before – this would be a very sad regression. We bequeath you, our children … a less generous future… but hey, at least we got the Poles out.
And the knock-on effect for expat communities of the future can only be negative. Under the proposals set out by the Conservative government, it appears that it will be much more difficult for EU citizens to live in the UK and, necessarily, for Britons to live in Europe. And so it seems that Theresa May has just started the clock ticking on the expatriate community in Spain, as we know it.
The underlying message seems to be: stay home, marry young, farm the land – and whatever you do, don’t dare dream of walking out one midsummer morning and discovering the world that lies beyond your shire.