‘We are not, we’re not reassured … yet!’ Our report Talking citizens’ rights with UK citizens living in the EU27

By Katherine Collins and Michaela Benson

In this post, Katherine and Michaela reflect on the latest report released by project team. The report is drawn up from responses to the question of the extent to which the recent agreements re: citizens’ rights had provided UK citizens living in the EU27 with reassurance about what Brexit would mean for their lives and futures. 

Download the report

Are you reassured? 

The draft withdrawal agreement published on 19th March 2018 translated into law the agreements between UK and EU negotiators reached in December 2017. Citizens’ rights both for EU nationals who have made their homes in the UK and UK citizens living in the EU27 were a significant element of this. While in the run up to the agreement, we had registered considerable uncertainty and disquiet among the UK citizens living in the EU27 taking part in the research, we wondered whether the agreement would offer any reassurance? With this in mind, we approached our Citizen Panellists and the people we’d interviewed in France and Spain to tell us, using a simple online poll, how reassured they felt by the announcement.

Over 72% of the 131 people who responded tended towards the ‘not reassured’ end of the scale. It is notable that of those taking part in the research only 5% said they were very reassured by the announcement. In this post we focus on the overwhelming lack of reassurance and the strength of feeling communicated in the speed with which people responded, often within minutes or hours of our request for participation.

Why are UK citizens living in the EU27 not reassured by the withdrawal agreement? 

One main concern is what our respondents see as the neglect of the implications of Brexit for the lives of UK citizens who have settled in the EU27. This is coupled with a lack of understanding, as they see it, of who the British in Europe are, the wide demographics of this population often undermined by stereotypes and caricatures that see them as gin-swilling expats, or pensioners living in English enclaves. Trade was seen as being taken more seriously by the negotiators than citizens’ rights by those taking part in our research, a fact echoed by British in Europe chair Jane Golding in response to the agreed legal text for withdrawal, ‘… after Brexit English cheddar will have more free movement rights than we will’.

This neglect translates into uncertainty about what Brexit would mean for them on a personal level. Concerns persist about what Brexit will mean for their tax status, pensions, working rights and exportable benefits among others. It was also the case that they expressed concern about those rights not yet agreed—including their continued freedom of movement within the EU27—and their concerns about what Brexit would mean for the mobility of dependents such as adult children and elderly parents.

It is not clear what steps I would have to take to obtain the right to reside. I have a residence certificate for life but that was granted, I assume, because I was an EU citizen. I[t] seems that I may have to go through the tedious lengthy process again with no guarantees that I will succeed—UK citizen resident in Spain

The lack of specific detail available at this stage and no guidance on how legal residence would be implemented for UK nationals in the places they call home are a big part of why so many people aren’t reassured … yet.

Who cares about the British abroad?

The responses to the poll highlight a broader landscape within which it remains unclear who has the best interests of the UK citizens living in the EU27 at heart. A clear sense that the UK government neglects this population has come through our interviews and in responses to the poll.

On the face of it, it would seem to be reasonable.  BUT I do not trust Theresa May.  She says what is expedient and we know they are looking to destroy peoples’ rights in the UK.  So why can we take this at face value.

Another part of this jigsaw is the mistrust UK Citizens in the EU have for the UK Government, to safeguard their interests and to honor the agreement—given the caveat ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’, but also in terms of what recourse would be available should they renege on this agreement after Brexit. They described the UK government has having ‘zero interest’ in their UK citizens living overseas, a fact further upheld by the limited political representation of these populations

… if you look outside of Brexit negotiations, the outlook does not get any brighter when you consider the ongoing failure to address the removal of voting rights of British citizens livings overseas after 15 years, or the lack of dedicated representation in the House of Commons.  Generally I remain hopeful but sceptical, but the proposal hasn’t given me any reason to change how I feel.

As such responses make clear, these UK citizens living in the EU27 hold the UK government to account for their fate. But what of Europe? Those taking part in the research, for the most part, seem more reassured by the EU and their negotiating team …  but this is not level playing field. As far as they are concerned, it was the British government that instigated this and their responsibility to deliver on the promise of the leave campaign that the lives of UK citizens living abroad and those of EU citizens living in the UK would not be affected by Brexit.

A route map to reassurance? 

The issues outstanding in respect to the rights and entitlements of UK citizens who have made their homes and lives in the EU27—onward freedom of movement among them—need to be resolved as a matter of urgency. While there may be some reassurance derived from these agreements, until the terms of legal residence in each member state are clearly spelled out, uncertainty will continue to circulate among those who have exercised their treaty rights. This highlights the urgent need for credible and understandable information—clear route maps to legal residence in each member state—about what the agreements to date mean in practice for the lives of UK citizens living in the EU27.

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