For whom the bell tolls

Costa Levante News - - VOX POP - By Dave Jones

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.

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