What would the Brexit mean to European expats?
Uncertain times lie ahead as the UK gears up for a referendum on its EU status, possibly as early as June. Rob Horgan weighs up what Brexit would mean to European expat.
IT has been dubbed the ‘most important issue of a generation’.
But what would Britain leaving the EU – better known as a ‘Brexit’ – really mean? And what would an independent UK mean to expats in Spain?
It all depends on who you listen to and – more importantly – who you believe.
Eurosceptics talk about a brave new world with the UK cut adrift from the EU, while Europhiles (EU supporters) warn of a dark and isolated existence should Britain cut ties with Europe.
Now the boss of the UK’s most powerful business body, the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) has thrown his weight behind the ‘stay in’ campaign, arguing that ‘nothing’ about a Brexit ‘would be better for economic growth’.
In no uncertain terms, Paul Drechsler added there was ‘not one benefit’ to leaving, dealing a massive blow to those hoping for a Brexit.
“We have to be careful we don’t think there’s a great new world out there for us,” he warned. “Brexit means a significant period of uncertainty.”
And that is exactly it. Drechsler hits the nail firmly on the head when he talks of ‘uncertainty’ as nobody seems to know the true economic or social fall-out should it happen.
The problem is there are so many contradictory theories and opinions in the media, and even the government itself, it is hard to build up a clear picture.
While questions remain unanswered (and they must be answered before a referendum is held), scaremongers have been insisting that a Brexit would be bad news for expats.
According to former attorney general Dominic Grieve, an EU exit could make ‘two million Britons abroad illegal immigrants overnight’.
And it is easy to see what all the fuss is about. But, in reality, it is very unlikely to happen.
While Europhiles claim it could lead to a mass exodus of Europeans from the UK and British expats from Europe, their claims have no legal grounding.
In fact, it is quite the opposite. According to the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties 1969 expats have now ‘acquired rights’ in their home countries, which they should hold onto in the case of a Brexit.
Generally speaking, expats should retain their free movement rights within Europe and will retain all their rights following a withdrawal.
That said, this has not been confirmed in the European Parliament – and will need to be discussed should David Cameron set a referendum date – but precedent suggests that all EU citizens should keep their rights after any Treaty changes.
This, in fact, was the case when Greenland withdrew from the EU in 1985 and it can be safely assumed that the same would apply to a Brexit.
The most obvious problem therefore would not be Brits already living abroad, but Brits wanting to move abroad – which, of course, would have an impact on expat businesses as the steady stream of Brits heading to Spain to live could become in danger of drying up.
Only time will tell the true impact of a Brexit.
If you run a business or just want your say, send your opinion of what a Brexit would mean to you and your business to firstname.lastname@example.org