Repercussions of Brexit for expats living in Europe
A lot of readers will be concerned about the implications for expats living in Europe of the dramatic vote on Thursday for the UK to leave Europe. The are 1.3 million Britons living in the EU compared to 3 million non-British UK residents.
The Telegraph a while ago posed the question ”Could Brexit see expats deported by EU members?”, and concluded it was highly unlikely. The article pointed out that there are numerous political reasons for EU states not to do such a thing, including the treatment of their own nationals living in the UK. The Lusa Press Agency yesterday quoted the Portuguese Minister of Planning and Infrastructure, Pedro Marques, as “lamenting” the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, but accepting that it was a democratic act by its citizens. “It is a decision we obviously regret. Not the fact that the people voted democratically, because that is normal and healthy in a democracy”, he said. “We are European supporters and we want Europe to continue to expand and continue to be a space of cohesion and peace”, he said. The minister also sent a message to Portuguese emigrant communities, particularly the one in the UK: “The government will do everything so the living conditions of these people is ensured and that they have all the support they need at this time”. In 2014 the Portugal News reported that 30,000 Portuguese were arriving in the UK every year – a remarkable one in four of those leaving their country each year.
Returning to the Telegraph article, it notes that expats would also enjoy significant legal protections that will apply after Brexit. Many lawyers argue that British expats living elsewhere in the EU at the time of Brexit would have individual “acquired rights” under international law.
This is based on the Vienna Convention of 1969, which says that the termination of a treaty “does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination.” The House of Commons Library says that “withdrawing from a treaty releases the parties from any future obligations to each other, but does not affect any rights or obligations acquired under it before withdrawal.” In other words, Brits who have already exercised their right to live in EU states can expect to keep that right after Brexit. Presumably the cut-off point will be when the “divorce” is technically concluded in two years time at the earliest.
The Telegraph makes one important final point: the above only applies to people who have started expat life in the EU before Brexit. After Britain has left, Brits’ ability to live and work in EU nations would depend on new agreements the UK negotiates with those nations.
Second homes in Portugal
No matter how hostile European nations become after Brexit, they still have to respect individual property rights. Both the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights make this clear. It is possible, however, that remaining EU nations could consider a variety of measures, depending on vindictive they feel towards Britain, like making UK homeowners pay more in tax.
This is a somewhat grey area, but the same Telegraph article concludes that healthcare is unlikely to be withdrawn from expats – not least given that it would open the door to retaliatory measures from the UK which hosts its own share of expats from European nations: there are as many as 3 million EU nationals living in Britain. British expats can also claim to pay their own way in Europe, as the UK paid £674 million in 2014-2015 to other European countries for the treatment of UK nationals. However, the UK received just £49 million from other European nations in the same year to treat those from other countries residing in the UK.
The Portuguese perspective
Sapo report that the Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa observed yesterday that this “is a sad day for the European Union”.
The head of government is directly quoted as saying that Portugal “will endeavour to ensure all rights of the Portuguese community in the UK” and will also guarantee “all the rights of British citizens who live, visit or invest in Portugal.”