Why leave the EU? What would leaving the EU mean for expats?
Here we are writing about moving to Italy and trying to offer advice and assistance on helping those contemplating moving to Italy from the UK and now we find ourselves in a situation where we are asking ourselves ‘What would leaving the EU mean to British expats?’ and facing the prospect of moving back from Italy (and other EU states) to the UK. There are lots of discussions on this at the moment and although none of the European consulates are willing to enter into any significant dialogue or really have any clear views on the topic there are lots of stories doing the rounds most of which I believe are ‘scaremongering tactics’ to get British voters to vote one way or another. In a recent article in the Telegraph the ‘Remain’ camp are advocating that British expats may be stopped from living abroad if Britain leaves the EU. I find this highly unlikely as the question immediately arises around what would happen to their own nationals living in the UK.
Why leave the EU?
It is understood that around 40%of the British population believe that they are being held back by the EU in terms of rules and restrictions being placed on Britain by the EU. In addition, for many, Europe is seen as an economic burden and there is a belief that Britain would be significantly better off by not paying the exhorbitent membership fees that are used to supplement the incomes of weaker European countries. But the main point being driven by the Brexit supporters is on the topic of immigration. These parties want Britain to take their borders back and to regulate the influx of people coming to the UK to work. In 2014 Europe’s free movement rules were looser and 250,000 people moved to Britain which amounted to about 40,000 more than the previous year.
What would leaving the EU mean to British expats?
Although it is difficult to get a precise figure there is somewhere between 1.4 and 2.2 million British expats living in Europe. Spain has 320,000; Ireland has 250,000 and France has 175,000 of these. Leaving the EU will undoubtedly cause some sort of economic uncertainty in so far as trade agreements that are already in place and which Britain benefit from as part of the EU would need to be renegotiated and not necessarily in Britain’s favour as they may now be viewed as a poor cousin.
Expats living abroad are sure to be against the Brexit as this could take away their freedom to live and work anywhere in Europe. It puts their very status into question and could see the need for work or residency permits being a requirement. If the only option for British expats is to return to the UK then this in itself will put a huge burden on the British government’s resources, as they may find many of the expats being homeless and in need of healthcare and government benefits.
What are my views on Brexit?
So there are a couple of things to consider:
- Member states could bear a grudge and due to Britain’s exit could put pressure on British expats whereupon expats could be asked to pay for their own healthcare
- Equally they could remove expat’s rights to work, reside or own property in other EU states
If the above was likely to happen then there is no doubt that Britain would adopt ‘tête-à-tête’ retaliatory measures wherein approximately 3 million EU nationals would be asked to leave the UK and bearing in mind that the UK pays about £675 million pounds to the EU countries for medical treatment alone and only get £49 million from Europe in return then this is highly unlikely to occur.
I think many British expats at this stage living in the EU are most concerned about losing their main home or second homes for those still sitting in the UK and so I believe that international law is on our side “as expats would have individual acquired rights under international law based on the Vienna Convention of 1969” meaning if you have already exercised your right to live in the EU you would in fact keep that right. Individual property rights should also be respected under the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights; however, as previously mentioned in so far as expats may be asked to pay for their own medical expenses they may also find that property tax have risen significantly for them.
While the debates continue, there is no real way of knowing which way the pendulum will sway so the uncertainty about where our rights as expats lies is up in the air; I am fairly certain that even Britian will remain in the EU based on the present polls and existing sentiment but even if this is not the case I believe that those of us who have been living abroad for some time will find our lives should continue in the same ‘modus operandi’ as we are used to presently.