UK citizen rights and Brexit: What now?


29 March 2019, a day like any other. Except it isn’t. If you are a Brit in Leipzig, this could significantly change your life, because it is the official exit date of the UK from the European Union.

Wednesday, 16 May, you have the opportunity to find some answers to questions you’ve no doubt been asking – in a Q&A at Uni Leipzig.

You’ll be able to pose your questions directly to Tim Jones, head of Economics and Trade at the British Embassy. This is your chance to find out first-hand how Brexit, as it stands, is set to affect your rights as a British person, and what you can do to protect them.

Most of the world woke to unexpected referendum results in 2016. The results were all the more surprising to the British citizens living in Europe, particularly those who were unable to vote due to having lived outside the UK for 15 or more years.

Fifteen or more years, you say? Surely this fits in with the stereotypical image of British people living in Europe: retired, sunbathing in Costa Brava, imposing self-segregation by refusing to learn a word of the local language.

But this is far from the truth.

Nearly 80% of the 1.2 million Britons who live abroad in European countries are of working age or younger.

Photo credit: Frankenstein on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC
Photo credit: Frankenstein on Visualhunt / CC BY-NC

Most make their living within the EU 27 states where they live. We now think this number may be even higher, with many leaving the UK for a European sanctuary after the referendum.

The March 2018 draft withdrawal agreement (WA) left question marks looming over several serious citizen rights issues, just one of which was free movement. Under the draft WA, if you are a Briton living in Europe, your rights are about to change significantly.

If you moved to an EU 27 country before the exit date, then you are entitled to stay in your host country. You will, however, no longer be an EU citizen. This means you will only have your rights confirmed in your host country, unable freely to live and work across the EU.

Many people use their free movement rights for work, IT consultants working on short term contracts being just one example. This change will mean that they will be unable to continue their work as before, jeopardising their livelihoods and families’ well being.

There is a partial solution, if you’ve been living in an EU 27 country for a more significant period. For instance, if you have been in Germany for eight or more years, you have the right to apply for citizenship. This means you will be a UK/German dual citizen.

Seems like a wonderful solution, right?

Well, if you already possess dual citizenship in another non-EU country, then be prepared to have to give one of these up if you want German citizenship too. And what about those who have been in Germany less than eight years?

If you have a permanent right of residence through five years’ residence in Germany, this should be protected under the draft WA. If you have less than five years’ residence, under the draft WA you would have the opportunity to build up the five years and obtain this status.

MEPs lay out their input for the upcoming European Council - with Guy VERFOSTADT (ALDE, BE) Photo credit: <a href="">European Parliament</a> on <a href="">Visual Hunt</a> / <a href=""> CC BY-NC-ND</a>
MEPs lay out their input for the upcoming European Council – with Guy VERFOSTADT (ALDE, BE) Photo credit: European Parliament on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Thus far we have only touched on the right to free movement.

The draft WA, as it stands, will also affect recognition of qualifications. This means you may not be able to practice in your EU 27 country of choice under your home title after the exit date – unless you already have a specific recognition decision in your host country for that qualification. But this will only apply in that country, not EU-wide.

Then there is the issue of a spouse or partner being able to join you in future. This right is not guaranteed unless they are an existing family member.

No longer EU citizens, what will happen to us? Photo credit: <a href="">Dai Lygad</a> on <a href=""></a> / <a href=""> CC BY</a>
No longer EU citizens, what will happen to us? Photo credit: Dai Lygad on / CC BY

These are merely issues affecting people who are choosing to stay in their EU 27 host country and not leave. The government seems to have a rather narrow view of the world and people’s lives, as Brits’ right to bring their family members with them when returning to the UK for sustained periods – for example as a carer to an elderly parent – are not catered for in the draft WA.

The fact is that citizen rights seem to be far down the list of priorities for the British government. Media and politicians alike have moved on after the December 2017 agreement. They are now more interested in trade and hard or open borders in Ireland.

This inequality and uncertainty of continuing rights for UK citizens prompted a group of Britons in Berlin to get together prior to the referendum, to talk about potential scenarios.

So many people came that they decided it was worthwhile meeting again after the referendum, no matter the result.

It was in January 2017 that a turning point arrived for this group, now dubbed British in Europe. Asked to present evidence to the Select Committee for Exiting the EU, the group contacted various other groups of Britons from across the EU, who were equally worried. At this point, the different groups got together into a coalition, including what is now the British in Germany branch. The coalition currently represents the rights of UK citizens across Europe.

British in Germany is now in the process of becoming a Verein.

It works alongside British in Europe and the3million in the UK, helping to ensure the rights of both UK citizens in the EU and EU 27 citizens living and working in Britain. The goal is to lobby at the UK, EU and EU 27 levels to ensure that all current rights citizens have will be guaranteed in the final withdrawal agreement.

British in Germany also realises that this cannot be done without the support of those living in Germany. For this reason, besides lobbying, British in Germany is running events in various cities across the country. The purpose is to inform British people of changes to their rights, and how they can protect themselves where possible.

As it stands, there are groups in Munich, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Nuremberg, Bonn, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Hanover, Berlin, and finally Leipzig – where the first ever event is planned for 16 May.

The aim? To empower Britons in the area to get together, and to help gather evidence and questions from those whose livelihoods and futures need to be catered for in the WA. There remains a short time window to campaign to secure our rights in the final withdrawal agreement, which is slated for this autumn.

By Emma Corris

Emma is a volunteer at British in Germany.

British in Germany @ Leipzig:
What does Brexit mean for my Rights?

Wednesday, 16 May, 7-9 PM

Location: Beethovenstr 15, 04107 Leipzig
Hörsaal 2010, GWZ-Gebäude, Universität Leipzig

Guest speaker: Tim Jones, Head of Economic, Finance, and Trade Teams at the British Embassy
Daniel Tetlow, co-chair of British in Europe, will also be attending.

Please RSVP:

Join the British in Germany Facebook group / Find all British in Europe groups

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