Since the “Heavy Fog in the Channel…Continent cut off” headlines Times on 22 October, 1957, the UK has always been seen as ‘stubborn’ and unpopular in the EU. We are somewhat perceived as wanting to share in the blessings of the European Union but dodge our heads from the curse of it. More like the child that wants to ‘have their cake and eat it’. Choosing to be a part of one European market but not the European currency.
It is therefore understandable, that the EU referendum has been greeted with this much hype, expectation and mixed reaction. Due to hold on the 23rd of June, the EU referendum has split the nation into two; leave or remain. This has left fragments of uncertainties among groups currently resided in the UK.
Prominent among the groups beset with uncertainties include not only the European nationals currently living in the UK, but also British Expats living outside the UK. British expats living in other European countries are now uncertain, scared and ultimately angry. Uncertainties arising from how their residence in an EU country will be affected should the UK leave the EU. Scared about the impact of a Brexit on their pension, employment and their livelihood and angry with the government for putting them through this.
Recall, that the European Union allows for free movement within member states; and under the free movement arrangement within the EU, European nationals are free to live and work in any member state. And just as we have European nationals coming to live and work here in the UK, so also are there British nationals living and working in other European countries. We must therefore not fail to acknowledge the fact that some of our British brothers and sisters living outside our shores in Europe may be affected directly or indirectly by our actions today.
More problems if the EU returns the favour
It would be a blatant act of naivety to assume that other members of the European union will not react but simply accept anything that the UK throws at them. To think that if the UK decides to start issuing visas only to skilled workers (or whatever the arrangement within the Brexit innuendo is), that other European countries would simply ‘sit down and watch‘, is nothing but an empty puff.
Imagine a situation where a country like Spain, that is already plummeting economically, decides to stop the over 300,000 Britons in Spain access to their healthcare. Can the UK Government simply ignore this, knowing that she had already paid £580m to other EEA countries solely for the purpose of treating British pensioners?
The free movement principle is the steel foundation upon with the structures of EU principles and doctrines are laid. It is almost non-negotiable. Countries such as France and Germany have made their unwavering stance known, ‘that Britain will not be permitted to wiggle out of it and retain free access to the EU market’.
What now for British Expats?
Should Brits in other European countries begin to plan their return or live on hoping that somehow, things would sort themselves out? Are they trapped in Europe or do the government have a plan in place for them?
Importantly, protection offered from ‘acquired rights’ under the 1969 Vienna Convention would serve as succour to British expats should Brexit occur. The lives of Brits that have been built in those European countries as a result of their many years of residence and input into the country may not be entirely thrown away in the event of a Brexit. This gives a little room for some optimism. However, the only way to guarantee your right to remain in any country is to become a citizen of that country.