There is a lot of talk about what Brexit would mean for the British economy, foreign policy and society. What about the British expats? Over 2.2 million British citizens live in the EU, including 1 million who own holiday homes. If you are an expat yourself, should you sell your property in Spain, France or Portugal, keeping the June 23 referendum in mind?
What does Brexit mean for British expats? The question many expats are asking is, “What could happen to us if the UK leaves the European Union?” Michael Masson is a 57-year old expat who has been living in Spain since 2002. He says in an interview with Financial Times, “All of us are worried what impact Brexit would have on our lives. If we leave the EU, do we lose our medical cover here in Spain? What will happen to pensions and other benefits? Nobody seems to know.”
As of now, Brits are free to live and work as they like in all EU nations. They have the same property rights as the locals. They are citizens of an EU member state and have complete freedom of movement.
Will this change if Britain leaves the EU? Well, theoretically, yes. If Britain was to leave the EU, British expats would be treated as non-EU citizens. This means they will be treated much differently than they are treated now.
But it’s not as simple as that. There are likely to be bilateral agreements between Britain and every other country in the EU and with the EU itself. Britain is too important a country to be cast aside. A serious attempt will be made to establish a working system for British expats, especially for those who own holiday homes in the European Union.
There will be obstructions, such as the EU’s extremely tough immigration laws. Will these laws be applied on Britons once they are no longer EU citizens? Will they then be treated at par with an immigrant from, say, Egypt or Malaysia? These are serious questions that need to be asked.
So what would a Brexit mean to you if you own a holiday home in Spain or Portugal? Well, EU law would require you to apply for a visa to visit a country within the European Union. This might be very inconvenient for British expats who are not used to applying for a visa when travelling in Europe. Expats might be asked questions about their income, health cover and how long they plan to stay – which they might find to be highly intrusive, not to say inappropriate.
If you have lived in an EU state such as Portugal or Spain for over 5 years, you can apply for a long-term resident status. However, this status would be restrictive and wouldn’t give you the same rights as you currently enjoy as an EU citizen.
As an EU citizen you have the freedom to travel as you please in Europe and don’t have to worry about each nation’s integration rules. Now, if Britain ceases to be a member of the EU, you may have to learn the host nation’s language. This may be a deal breaker for a lot of people.
There are other worries about what Britain leaving the EU would mean for their property rights, health benefits and pensions. So which way would British expats lean on in the referendum? There is no question that a vast majority hope to stay in the EU, not because of any political beliefs, but because they want their present high standard of living to continue. There is a fear that Brexit would take it away from them.
However, Roland Smith of the Adam Smith Institute claims that a Brexit would not really affect expats negatively. He says, “The Conservative government, the majority of whom have declared for Remain, are not about to cut off from the EU in a lengthy and complex way. Equally the EU is unlikely to offer anything other than the ‘off the shelf’ EEA deal, similar to Norway and Liechtenstein’s, and will make a tailored deal for Britain impossible to discourage other members from leaving.”