British citizens in the EU are by far the largest national group affected by Brexit, with an estimated 1.5 million living on the continent.
As Boris Johnson ploughs full steam ahead into Number 10, his pledge to leave the EU “do or die” on October 31st leaves little comfort for Brits living in the EU27.
A reciprocal deal on citizens’ rights after Brexit is currently wrapped up in Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement (WA). But with that deal now dead, and both candidates for the Tory leadership prepared to take the UK out of the EU without a deal, citizens face more uncertainty than ever about their rights in the future.
While the Government has guaranteed the rights for EU nationals in the UK, deal or no deal, the EU is dragging its feet and leaving a lot to be desired. British in Europe, a coalition of Brits living and working across the EU, has said they “continue to be left hanging, living in limbo, waiting for the impossible.”
Should there be no deal, individual EU member states will be responsible for implementing their own measures on citizens’ rights, including social security entitlements. The European Commission has published a guide to where Brits stand so far in each of the EU27.
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Most states will provide a grace period if there’s no deal. But the length of these vary by state from a few months to a few years. The rights Brits will have during these periods – on employment, benefits, healthcare, family members – are also lacking detail in many areas. Legislation on Brits’ rights across the EU27 after no deal is inconsistent. Some countries haven’t even passed laws yet. The longer term picture, after the grace periods end, is even more hazy.
With Boris Johnson threatening to withhold the UK’s £38 billion divorce bill, Brits abroad fear they’re being used as bargaining chips. British in Europe says the best way to stop this is to carve out existing aspects of the WA on citizens rights and ring-fence them. But the EU insists so-called ‘mini deals’ on issues covered by the WA cannot be done, at least until a no deal Brexit occurs.
So outwith trade, borders and other headline issues to deal with, any no deal Prime Minister must also face up to the gamble they’ll be taking with the rights of over 1 million British citizens.