No-deal Brexit: Brits in Europe furious over EU’s new contingency plan

The European Commission published its contingency plans for a no-deal Brexit on Wednesday and asked member states to take a "generous approach" to securing the rights of UK citizens living in their countries.

No-deal Brexit: Brits in Europe furious over EU's new contingency plan
Photo: AFP

The EU Commission, just like the British government, is ramping up its preparations for the growing possibility that Britain could crash out of the EU without a deal.

Although a Withdrawal Deal has been agreed between London and Brussels it still appears unlikely that British Prime Minister Theresa May will have enough backing in the UK parliament to ratify the agreement.

MPs are not set to vote on the deal until January which means both sides are rapidly stepping up their contingency plans for a no-deal, an event both Brussels and London are still keen to avoid.

On the crucial subject of citizens rights the Commission has decided not to take action as a bloc but instead urge individual EU countries to take steps that would allow UK citizens to stay and give them time to apply for the relevant visa.

But campaigners for Britons in Europe say the EU's decision to leave the issue of citizens rights up to individual countries shows that the millions of EU citizens in the UK and the one million Brits in Europe have been “abandoned”.

'The UK will leave the EU in 100 days time'

They are particularly angry that Brits in the EU will not benefit from any transition period if there's a no-deal.

Jane Golding, Co-Chair of British in Europe said: ‘We are appalled to learn that, while aviation and financial services merit an extension of current agreements in the case of no deal, people do not.

“This means that there will be no soft landing for over 1.2 million British nationals living on the continent who will have to adjust to life as third-country nationals overnight once all their EU rights have been stripped from them.”

The EU Commission said on Wednesday: “The United Kingdom will leave the European Union in 100 days’ time.

“Given the continued uncertainty in the UK surrounding the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement, as agreed between the EU and the UK on 25 November 2018 – and last week’s call by the European Council (Article 50) to intensify preparedness work at all levels and for all outcomes – the European Commission has today started implementing its “no-deal” Contingency Action Plan.”

“Today’s Communication invites Member States to take a generous approach to the rights of UK citizens in the EU, provided that this approach is reciprocated by the UK,” read a statement.

“In particular, Member States should take measures to ensure that UK citizens legally residing in the EU on the date of withdrawal will continue to be considered legal residents. Member States should adopt a pragmatic approach to granting temporary 2 residence status.

“It is recalled that the Commission has already adopted a proposal for a Regulation which exempts UK nationals from visa requirements, provided that all EU citizens are equally exempt from UK visa requirements.

“As regards social security coordination, the Commission considers it necessary that Member States take all possible steps to ensure legal certainty and to protect the rights acquired by EU27 citizens and UK nationals who exercised their right to free movement before 30 March 2019.”

The Commission also released a Q&A that covered the issue of citizens' rights.

It says EU countries should “stand ready to issue residence permits to UK nationals” and “take all measures to be able to issue those permits by the withdrawal date and to process applications for definitive residence permits by the end of 2019.”

Reacting to the plan British in Europe's Jane Golding added: “In practical terms with only 100 days to go, the Commission is merely asking the EU 27 to make sure we can still be considered legally resident on 30 March 2019 and stand ready to issue documents to provide evidence of that.

“This will be a massive and overwhelming task in some countries. After that, the EU 27 would then be asked to process applications for permanent third country national documents by the end of 2019.”

'Anxiety levels rising'

Golding said the Commission's plan was proof that British citizens will have to fend for themselves if there is a no-deal.

“With the spectre of no deal rising again, so are people’s anxiety levels and it is wrong that citizens’ rights were not guaranteed at the outset,” she said.

“Now British citizens have a been given a clear message that if there is no deal they are on their own, abandoned by the UK government and the EU. This is a far cry from the negotiators’ promises that we would be able to live our lives as before.”

Photo: AFP

Kalba Meadows from the Remain in France Together (RIFT) told The Local: “They're kicking the entire citizens' rights can across to individual member states, which is going to lead to widespread differences in treatment of British people living in different countries because residence rights for third country nationals is a mixture of shared and national competence.

“When the negotiations began, citizens' were the “first priority” for the Commission. Now we're just 'a' priority, and not a very high one at that.

“The only light in the tunnel is that France is well ahead with its own no deal contingency planning and has shown itself to be genuinely concerned to protect the rights of British residents, although obviously that is contingent on the UK's treatment of French citizens living there.

“All of this shows why a ring fenced citizens' rights agreement is so desperately important.”

Local Europe has reported in recent weeks the preparations certain EU countries are making for a no-deal Brexit.

In France French MPs have just voted through a bill that will allow the government to take emergency measures that would effectively allow Britons already in France to continue to stand work or be retired.

A similar move has been taken in Germany  and Sweden has also been stepping up its own contingency measures to prepare for a no-deal.

Member comments

  1. Calm down, this hysteria just frightens people. There is not going to be mass deportation of Brits from EU Member States. Yes, things are going to change, possibly to what existed before FOM and we will have to ‘regularise’ our status. But we still lived easily then and we will continue do so after next March.
    Don’t get caught up in politicians’ silly mind games!

  2. I absolutely agree.
    Non French have lived happily in France for decades without any special EU type deal

  3. Two wise and helpful comments – there is too much synthetic anger around all this and it frightens the more nervous of the horses!

  4. Most things maybe..but where are the guarantees from April 2019 for our continued CPAM cover and therefore our mutuel? Fully private healthcare is impossibly expensive and would make life impossible.

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Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.