The events that have unfolded since the Brexit referendum on 23 June 2016 have left many of us – UK citizens who live in EU countries – in the soup. Followed by Pig’s Ear and Eton Mess. The aftertaste is vile.
I’m a former Sussex resident, based in Germany since 2015 when Brexit wasn’t even a word. Sitting in the El Horst beer garden with three German friends on the eve of the 2016 referendum, there was unsurprisingly one subject of conversation. “Who will win?” Are you concerned?” “What will you do if the vote is leave?” Obvious questions.
It was clear the vote was going to be a close-run thing and doubt lingered in my head. I responded: “I think Leave is unlikely”. I didn’t think my caveats around that judgement would be necessary. But then, most people I knew thought so too.
So where do the events since then leave me and others resident in the EU? It feels like limbo.
Despite Boris Johnson’s ‘oven-ready deal’, which appears to be little more than Theresa May’s hash with added waffle, British citizens in the EU face an uncertain future. British citizens’ groups have engaged with the British Embassy and lobbied the German Government and, in fairness, the Germans have tried hard to be accommodating, for example over issues such as retirement and residency.
Consequently, a draft law guaranteeing residence and labour rights of citizens resident in Germany before 31 December is awaiting Bundestag ratification, possibly this coming autumn. Germany’s famed efficiency notwithstanding, the process of government and its civil service can plod along at a snail’s pace. The Government has yet to set a date for ratification, which creates uncertainty.
The status of British citizens will be downgraded to that of a third country. And many previous rights as an EU citizen will be lost, despite provisions contained in the draft legislation.
By far the biggest impact on British citizens will be losing freedom of movement (FOM). The loss of this right cannot be understated. The impact will be negative for many reasons.
Many British citizens commute to work cross-border daily, or they work periodically for their employer in another EU country. Today, this presents no problem due to FOM: those already resident and working cross-border are protected by the withdrawal agreement.
However, for example, should a previously non-cross-border worker wish to take up employment in Holland after the transition period, this will not be possible under current arrangements. The provisions in the withdrawal agreement are a ‘grandfather right’ only for current workers.
Reports suggest some employers are now refusing to consider employing British citizens. When somebody else can be employed with minimal fuss, why bother with an employee who generates more bureaucracy? Reports of British citizens on fixed-term contracts not having them renewed are plentiful.
Loss of FOM not only affects those who currently live and work in Germany. For most of those wishing to take up employment here, the door slams shut on 31 December. The 80s cult TV series Auf Wiedersehen Pet won’t be getting a remake. Future migrants will almost certainly need to be in a highly qualified category on Germany’s wanted list to have any chance of obtaining a work visa.
FOM isn’t the only issue, of course. Retirement in the EU gets a whole lot more complicated after Brexit proper. While EU countries will have individual policies, in Germany the chances are that only those with deep pockets will be able to retire here. And retirees will not be able to access the S1 reciprocal care scheme which enables them to use EU state health schemes; the UK Government decided it didn’t want to negotiate this, with expensive private health schemes the only alternative. Tick the box for pre-existing health conditions? Nein. Nicht möglich (No. Not possible).
So, what does the future hold for myself and other UK citizens? FOM, length of time you can stay out of Germany without losing residence, pension rights, local voting rights will all change: the list goes on. While nobody is likely to be forcibly returned to the UK, life will be different – and not in a good way.
From a personal perspective, I remain happy in Germany. Naturally I miss Brighton. Germany isn’t a utopia, but looking at what the UK has become in recent times saddens me. I sometimes struggle to recognise what was once a tolerant and welcoming country. Sooner or later, I trust the tide will turn, and Brexit and the damage to the fabric of society it has caused will be reversed. Until that time, Germany and I can only wave auf wiedersehen Great Britain.