British business owners in Italy feel Brexit jitters

It’s been three days since Britain voted to leave the European Union, and the shock of the outcome, along with the calamity that’s followed, is yet to subside among Britons living in Italy.

British business owners in Italy feel Brexit jitters
Photos: AFP

Even more so among those who have established businesses here, many of which are dependent on the UK market.

Chris Myton owns two businesses – in property management and swimming pool construction and maintenance – in the southern Italian region of Puglia.

Some 70 percent of the 35 properties, owned by Italians, on his books are rented out by British holidaymakers.

His biggest concern, as the summer season gets underway, is the exchange rate and the impact its volatility will have on both his British customers and the Italian property owners.

The UK’s financial markets were still in turmoil on Monday, with the British pound plunging to a 31-year low against the US dollar. There is also pressure on the euro, with the bloc’s currency hitting a three-month low against the dollar.

“We advertise [our properties] in sterling; we did try to advertise in euros, and while it shouldn’t sound like a huge issue, a lot of people in the UK were uncomfortable with not having a fixed sterling figure on what they would pay,” Myton told The Local.

“Meanwhile, because we have advertised in sterling, the Italian owners will get less than they expected. It’s going to have an impact as clearly anyone doing business in sterling will be hit by the exchange rate.”

Ginny Bevan has lived in Italy for 20 years and owns a wedding planning business in the Lake Garda area.

“I’m feeling panicked,” she said.

“I thought the vote would be close, but I didn’t think this would be the outcome – I thought commonsense would prevail. There is also incredulity among Italians here, they’re thinking: ‘What have we done?’”

Her business is also largely dependent on the UK market.

“The exchange rate will put customers off. It will affect travel and how many guests will be able to come, which will mean smaller weddings.

“People are always more cautious anyway when planning a wedding abroad. A wedding needs to be booked in advance, and so this outcome adds to the uncertainty.”

Expats in the EU will retain their rights for at least two years as the UK and EU negotiate a “withdrawal agreement” before the real Brexit takes hold.

“Thankfully they’re not going to untie everything in one go, or maybe won't untie everything in the end,” Bevan added.

So for the most part, at least while there are more questions than answers, the outcome of the referendum has left British business owners not only feeling worried, but baffled as to why 52 percent of people voted to 'Leave'.

“Just generally, I’m massively disappointed and really concerned about the future and the economic implications,” said Emma Cuthbertson, who runs La Piccola Agency, a boutique marketing and PR agency, in Lombardy. 

“It’s creating an atmosphere of instability, the pound is crashing. From a business perspective, it’s very concerning. I don’t understand why we voted out. Something as complex and important as this should not have been left to a referendum.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but just doing trade with the UK will be more difficult. It’s a step backwards, not forwards.”

Cuthbertson, who has lived in Italy for eight years and was in Spain for a decade before that, was in the UK a few days before the referendum.

“There was a really unpleasant atmosphere, it was very divided, politicians are not leading the way. Many concerning things have come from this.”

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Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Brexit really does mean that Britons are no longer EU citizens. Claudia Delpero looks at whether there's any other way they can keep their rights.

Is new court ruling the end for Britons fighting to remain EU citizens?

The Court of Justice of the European Union confirmed on Thursday that Britons lost EU citizenship when the UK left the EU, on 1st February 2020. 

It is the first time the EU’s top court has rules on the matter, after a number of legal cases challenged this specific Brexit outcome. The decision also sets a precedent should other countries decide to leave the bloc in the future. 

What has the EU Court decided?

The Court of Justice decided on a case brought by a British woman living in France.

Before Brexit, she could vote and stand as a candidate in her town of residence, Thoux. But after the UK withdrawal from the EU, she was removed from the electoral roll and excluded from the municipal elections that took place in March 2020, during the transition period.  

As the mayor refused her appeal to restore the registration, she took the case to the regional court in Auch, which agreed to request an interpretation of the rules to the EU top court. 

Julien Fouchet, the barrister supporting her and several other cases on the EU citizenship of British nationals, argued that the loss of EU citizenship and voting rights was disproportionate. It would also be contrary to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, given that the woman also lost her voting rights in the UK, having lived abroad for more than 15 years.

Alice Bouillez, who has lived in France since 1984 and is married to a French national, could have applied for French citizenship, but did not do so because she said “this was not necessary” before Brexit and, as a former UK official, she had taken an oath of allegiance to the Queen.

On Thursday the Court of Justice announced the decision about her case. The court ruled that the “possession of the nationality of a member state is an essential condition for a person to be able to acquire and retain the status of citizen of the Union and to benefit fully from the rights attaching to that status.”

The court therefore confirmed that British nationals automatically lost their EU citizenship as a result of Brexit and, as a consequence, Britons also lost their voting and electoral rights in municipal elections in the EU (unless the country where they live set different rules). 

What is EU citizenship?

EU citizenship was introduced by the Treaty of Maastricht of 1992, when borders were opening and the bloc was integrating economically after the end of the Cold War. 

Under the treaty, every person holding the nationality of an EU member state is a citizen of the Union. EU citizenship is additional and does not replace nationality, the treaty specifies. But this creates the first form of a transnational citizenship that grants rights across borders.

EU citizens have the right to access each other’s territory, job market and services under the principle of non-discrimination. If they are economically active, they have the right to reside in other EU states and be joined by family members, access healthcare at the same conditions of nationals (for emergency treatment also when travelling temporarily), obtain social security benefits and see their professional qualifications recognised.

Beyond free movement, at the core of EU citizenship there are also political rights, such as participating in the European Parliament election, voting and standing as candidates in municipal elections when living in other EU countries, receiving consular protection from other EU states outside the EU, and taking part in European Citizens’ Initiatives asking to the EU to legislate on certain matters. 

Which EU citizenship rights have Britons lost with Brexit? 

For British citizens who were living in the EU before Brexit, the Withdrawal Agreement protects some of these rights. Britons covered by deal have their residence, access to work and education, healthcare, social security and qualifications secured, but only in the country where they were living before Brexit.

But the right to free movement in other EU states, consular protection in third countries, and the political rights attached to EU citizenship were lost, the Court confirmed. 

For British citizens in the UK, the trade and cooperation agreement has preserved some social security rights and, in theory, the possibility to have professional qualifications recognized when moving to an EU country. These provisions however lack details and may take a long time before they work in practice. 

As the “European Union” no longer features on British passports, the possibility to access EU lanes at airports to skip passport control queues has also vanished. 

“The loss of those treasured rights has been clear to those of us living in the EU from the early days of Brexit. But for Brits in the UK, the realities of life outside the EU, and the consequences of Brexit, are only just dawning. Long queues at the borders, roaming charges, obstacles to working abroad, etc. are the new reality,” said Sue Wilson, Chair of the group Remain in Spain. 

While she said the court’s decision was “no real surprise,” she argued that “this is not the Brexit the public were promised, or that the majority voted for.”

Can British citizens get some of these rights back?

Julien Fouchet was disappointed at the Court decision and promised to continue the legal fight, bringing the case at the European Court of Human Rights (which is not an EU institution). 

Other two cases on the matter of EU citizenship for British nationals are still pending at the Court of Justice of the EU. One of them aims to determine whether EU citizenship is a “fundamental status” that cannot be removed but Thursday’s decision could have already provided the answer.

Another option to reconsider some of the rights is the renegotiation of EU-UK trade agreement, when it will be reviewed in 2025. 

Meanwhile, the EU is revising the rules for non-EU citizens living in EU countries on a long-term basis, making it easier to move across borders. 

Applying for citizenship is so far the only option to regain voting rights, although not all EU countries allow dual nationality. 

Sue Wilson, who has long campaigned for the UK to stay in the EU, said: “There is only one way to restore the loss of our rights, and that’s to rejoin the single market, rejoin the customs union, and eventually, rejoin the European Union… Until that day, we will continue to be second class citizens whose rights have been diminished for the sake of an ideology.”