British wanderers have long been putting down roots in diverse areas of the world. If the UK Parliament follows through on leaving the European Union (EU), how could Brexpats (British expats) be affected?
With the reality of Britain’s vote to leave the EU now settling in, Prime Minister David Cameron and Member of Parliament Boris Johnson have both indicated a desire for the UK to remain within the EU’s single market. Yet, Johnson—a driving force of the Leave campaign—simultaneously railed against freedom of movement and fears over immigration as the foundation of the campaign.
As neatly stated by European Council President Donald Tusk on 29 June, there cannot be ‘à la carte’ access to the single market after Brexit. Choosing market access is not possible without adhering to freedom of movement. The situation has created a sense of foreboding for UK citizens who are retiring, living, or were planning to retire within the EU’s boundaries.
Difficulties for Brexpats in Europe
There are currently 1.2 million British citizens living in EU countries, with Spain being the most prominent destination.
Once article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (withdrawal) is invoked and the exit negotiations begin, the fate of Brexpats in Europe will slowly become more clear — albeit over a two-year process.
Fortunately, international law offers some degree of protection. Those who owned property in an EU country before the Brexit would not be at risk of losing rights to their personal property under the Vienna Convention of 1969.
However, the same populations could face difficulties depending upon what is decided during negotiations with the EU. Some topics that are of particular concern will be working legality, healthcare access, retirement benefits outside of the UK’s borders, residency, and freedom of movement — as well as tax and inheritance implications.
Long-term, there could be solutions to the most pressing questions. However, there are persisting fears that the EU will be harsh during negotiations to make an example of Britain and thereby discourage a Frexit, Nexit, or Auxit.
Positive Impacts for Brexpats Beyond the EU
Outside the EU’s borders, advantages and disadvantages to the Brexit are very much tied to the change in the GBP’s value.
In Australia, the 1.2 million British expats voted largely to remain. Like all expats outside the UK, those with UK-based assets immediately realized that their personal wealth had suffered a loss due to market volatility. Canada has seen an uptick in requests for employment from British citizens after the Brexit, showing the future importance of countries the UK has close relationships with.
In another example, over 150,000 British citizens live in the United Arab Emirates. As the news of the Brexit hit the Arabian Gulf’s shores, banks began to report an over eightfold increase in remittances from the UAE to banks in the UK.
This demonstrates a positive side to the Brexit: Brexpats that are paid in euros or currencies pegged to the US dollar (such as the UAE Dirham) are maximizing benefits of the pound’s crash by transferring funds home at a beneficial rate.
Those benefiting from the change in currency value could seize the opportunity to buy property in England, getting a higher yield while making a “Brentrance.” While monetary gains may not be long lasting, they are always appreciated.
However, both EU-based and non-EU British expats are also grappling with the reality that their homeland has changed during their absence, and become less open to the globalized world of which they may feel more a part of.
Repercussions on the international level
With the positives impacts also come negatives. There is speculation that the Brexit will cause a decrease in Spanish real estate values in the uncertain short-term, given the large expat population there. Spain’s housing surplus could lack the expected demand from now wary would-have-been Brexpats; those who were hoping to buy EU-based property will likely hold off until the situation stabilizes.
In addition, many advantages of EU membership — such as lowered university tuitions across the bloc — may be withdrawn for Brits, further minimizing the scope of opportunities. In light of this risk, even popular issues related to British expat travel can seem somewhat trivial.
Furthermore, duty paid allowances on wine and cigarettes and cellular roaming charges could be altered under new regulations. While not representing a major loss, many will feel these effects upon visiting the UK from their expat homes. In return, the UK can only hope that a weakened pound will instigate higher rates of tourism.
British citizens—or for that matter—anyone with interests and assets in sterling have experienced a recent drop in the currency’s buying power.
Those retired on the Costa del Sol and surviving on a pensioner’s salary will be immediately impacted by financial uncertainty in the face of a shaky situation with future unknowns. The rise of the far right and its penchant for nativist ideology vis-à-vis immigration—in spite of its economic benefits—aims to shrink the effects of globalization.
Ironically, with the Leave campaign adamant about controlling immigration to the UK, single market access may be untenable without freedom of movement. Should the EU-exit negotiations be stringent, there will be greater negative impacts on British citizens living within the EU than those beyond it —even without devaluing the massive ramifications that are being felt the world over, Brexpat or otherwise.