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BREXIT

BREXIT

The burning questions for British expats about Brexit

For expats who have chosen to take full advantage of the European Union freedom of movement and make their home in Austria, the questions about the effects of a Brexit just keep mounting.

The burning questions for British expats about Brexit
Photo: Wikimedia

Matters are further complicated by the fact that Austria doesn’t allow dual citizenship, meaning Brits would have to give up their own nationality in order to gain an Austrian passport – something many are loath to do. At present, 9,975 British expats live in Austria, according to Statistik Austria.

No-one will be asked to move home or even be made to apply for a visa or residency permit just yet, and we know that negotiations will last at least two years once Britain has formally notified the EU that it intends to leave – thereby triggering the legal process known as Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

 

 

Britain may be able to secure continued residency and work rights for expats living in EU countries in its exit negotiations, but at present it’s all unknown. While we can’t give you any answers – except wait and see – these are just some of the issues that could have profound consequences when Britain is no longer an EU member-state.


Susan le Jeune d'Allegeershecque, the British Ambassador in Vienna, has a message for you.

What about healthcare?

Health treatment is currently free for those travellers with a European health insurance card (EHIC) and for UK state pensioners living in the European Economic Area.

That deal will automatically end when Britain pulls out of the EU and separate deals with European nations will have to be struck.

Before joining what was then the EEC, the UK had reciprocal health agreements with many European nations, including Austria, so a new deal is likely on the cards.

What will Brexit do to my pension?

If British citizens are still permitted to retire in an EU state, they may find their pensions affected, not least because at present, anyone who retires within the European Economic Area, has their state pension increased every year under the “triple-lock” system.

This means that pensions rise by the higher of wage or price inflation, subject to a minimum of 2.5pc. With Brexit the UK will have to negotiate individual reciprocal agreements with EU countries if annual state pension increases for expats were to continue.

Will my driving license still be valid?

Just as in the case of UK passports, driving licences issued in the UK are EU-branded and will have to be phased out as people renew them. But post-Brexit will British driving licenses be valid in Austria or will people living here have to apply for Austrian ones? What about those expats who have already got themselves a Austrian driving licence? Will they be valid if and when you return to post-Brexit Britain?

Will Brexit bother my four-legged companion?

Remember those days when pets had to suffer six-months of quarantine to bring them into the UK? The EU pet passport scheme put an end to that but for the Brits who take their furry pals back and forth between Austria and the UK each year, Brexit could be a disaster.

It could also have a dire impact on the charities that seek British homes for the animals abandoned in overcrowded shelters across Europe.

What about the study abroad programme?

The Erasmus+ scheme is an EU programme open to education, training, youth and sports organizations. It offers opportunities for UK participants to study, work, volunteer, teach and train in Europe. And thousands of British students opt to study in Austria each year, while the UK is the favoured destination for Austrian students.

Jo Johnson, Minister of State for Universities and Science, released this statement following the referendum result:

“The referendum result does not affect students studying in the EU, beneficiaries of Erasmus+ or those considering applying in 2017. The UK’s future access to the Erasmus+ programme will be determined as a part of wider discussions with the EU.

“More broadly, existing UK students studying in the EU, and those looking to start in the next academic year, will continue to be subject to current arrangements.”

But after Brexit, who knows?

What will happen to roaming?

Mobile phone users across Europe are looking forward to the complete removal of roaming charges between EU states in June 2017 but the controls were introduced under an EU regulation and are not incorporated into UK law.

So the UK will have to negotiate their own deal with mobile phone operators once Brexit occurs or we will all be looking at a hike in roaming charges on trips back to Blighty.

Don't Panic, Keep Calm and Wait and See.

Whatever is on the cards for the next few months and years, just remember that right now nothing has changed.


 

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BREXIT

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.”

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