Campaigners have urged European governments and the UK to clarify their ‘confused’ policies in order to guide UK citizens living in the EU through the post-Brexit “no man’s land”, following the publication of two new reports on Friday (6 March).
The two reports by Goldsmiths, University of London – ‘Brexit and the British in France’, and ‘Brexit and the British in Spain’ – draw on three years of research with UK nationals living in France and Spain.
Between 300,000 and one million British people live for at least some of the year in Spain, while approximately 150,000 live in France, making those countries home to the two largest populations of UK nationals in the EU.
The findings suggest that ex-pat Britons face a lack of clear information, unresolved questions and confusion over residency regulations, and feel abandoned by the UK government, and let down by the French and Spanish authorities.
The UK and Spanish governments, as well as UK and Spanish media, still tend to treat UK nationals as “long-term tourists”,
The status of EU citizens in the UK and their UK counterparts in the EU-27 remains confused. The UK government has established a Settled Status Scheme for EU nationals living in the UK, and there have already been more than 3.2 million applications to the EU Settlement Scheme and nearly 2.9 million granted status, with over a year left to go.
However, concerns have repeatedly been raised about the number of applicants – around 40% of the total – who have received temporary status, which lasts for five years and after that, they will have to apply again, rather than indefinite leave to remain.
Meanwhile, because EU law requires the other 27 member states to organise their own bilateral rather than Union-wide rules on the status of UK nationals, the picture on residency, health care and social security rights varies from country-to-country.
“The UK government, and those of other member states, were slow off the mark in thinking about how they might communicate to these individuals how they should best prepare themselves for the future,” said Dr Michaela Benson, author of ‘Brexit and the British in France’.
“Even today, it is clear that any communication efforts are limited in their reach.”
The reports call for Boris Johnson’s government in London to extend lifetime enfranchisement to Britain’s emigrants, as promised in the last three Conservative party manifestos.
They also urge EU and UK negotiators involved in talks on future relations to consider options to maintain the right to Freedom of Movement within Europe for UK nationals living in the EU, and the possibility of offering Associate EU citizenship to Britons who would like it.
In London, the UK government is alive to criticism of its treatment of EU nationals. On Friday (6 March), the UK Home Office announced a further £8 million of funding to help vulnerable EU citizens apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.
Last year, £9 million of funding was provided to 57 charities across the UK to help vulnerable groups navigate the Settlement Scheme.
“No stone will be left unturned in ensuring everyone gets the help they need,” said Immigration Minister Kevin Foster.
Nonetheless, the Johnson government has been encouraged to change the Settled Status scheme to provide physical proof for EU citizens living in the UK, on the grounds that landlords and employers could otherwise be reluctant to let a home or offer a job to EU citizens.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]