Where next for Britain after Brexit vote - and how will expats be affected?
Connexion spoke to Damian Chalmers, professor of EU Law at the London School of Economics, to get answers to questions about Brexit. He is co-author of The End of the Eurocrats’ Dream, Oxford Handbook of EU Law and European Union Law
Will there be a difference in the rights of those who have already moved in within Europe vs those who plan to? When would the cut off point be?
For the next few years until the UK formally leaves the EU, as in fact the Prime Minister said, nothing’s going to change in terms of people’s rights. Up until October 2018 nothing changes. After that it will depend what’s in the agreement.
I think it’s quite unlikely that the agreement would not make provision for existing residents to continue to have the rights of residence and employment. Where the agreement might be more speculative is on the question of social benefits and the like and there will obviously be questions about the rights of new residents.
Is there a way to separate the question of social security and migration? Could you imagine a Europe where Briton’s could move freely if they could pay their own way?
That might be a little bit what happens. If you look at the existing citizenships directive for those who don’t work that is what you’re meant to do. Today, it’s very difficult to say what will happen when the UK leaves.
I feel quite confident saying those who’ve lived in France for a while have no reason to worry. If you’re a UK citizen and you’ve lived in France for more than five years you’d have the right to permanent residence, anyway, and you should seek to exercise that right. Even non-EU citizens have that right.
For people who have been living there a while, I really wouldn’t get too anxious. That said, migration has been a big issue in the UK and there will be reciprocity if the UK if the UK is seen as taking a tough line on EU citizens then the UK can expect a similar approach to UK citizens in the EU.
How likely is it that the UK could secure access to the Single Market, as demanded by the CBI, and immigration quotas, as demanded by the voter?
That depends what the quotas are, how they are formulated and all these things. If you have a situation of a Conservative Party that’s saying ‘points system’ to get migration down to say 150,000 net, you’ve got to bear in mind that non-EU migration is 188,000 despite their best attempts, then you’re in real trouble.
If on the other hand they said we’d be comfortable with 250,000 a year, they’d be vulnerable to Ukip, but then what you’re talking about is a reduction of 60-70,000 from the EU - many of these people would have been people who would just have arrived looking for work - the EU might be able to live with that. I mean they’d squeal a lot but one of the things you have to bear in mind is that any agreement has to be agreed first of all by unanimity and then by qualified majority.
There will be all the states that have joined since 2004 plus Spain, Italy, Portugal and Ireland - and Ireland is aware that while the UK has promised a special deal for it, that might not stack up if other EU states are not happy. So you’re looking at a really big majority of states that have an interest in securing free movement of persons for their citizens, so the UK if it wants to deal with the EU is going to have to be responsive to that.
That’s really difficult because the referendum really was about migration.
Is it possible for the UK to negotiate subsequent bilateral deals on migration - ie could it come to a special deal with France?
I imagine it’s possible because EU law doesn’t actually regulate, even for the Schengen state, the numbers of non-EU citizens that come in or out. There’s requirements on things like employment, a Union-presence condition that if there’s a Union citizen that could do the job you should give it to them rather than to a non-EU national but these are quite weak.
The UK might try to do that.
The issue that it faces is will the EU be happy about doing bilateral deals? I think they will probably take a position for all kinds of reasons - no you negotiate with all of us or none of us. This is why the deal with Ireland, where the UK has already promised that Irish citizens will still be able to everything they like, if I was the EU or other member states I’d say this isn’t the way this works. You treat us all the same.
There’s going to be a lot of tough issues to negotiate and one side is going to have to concede on some pretty important principles and the UK has more to lose economically from no agreement than the EU does.
How confident are you about the future of the UK outside the EU?
That’s not really a question for me to answer, but I will say nine out of 10 economists think that the UK will take a significant hit. These aren’t all in the pay of the government, in fact I don’t think any of them are apart from the Treasury officials. That means the UK has challenging times ahead. That said, it can maybe debate things that it has previously blamed on Brussels or not debated because of Brussels and that might lead to something.
Are you aware of any previous treaties between Britain and France that might inform discussions?
Not really. The double taxation treaty will continue, those are negotiated separately. They shouldn’t worry about that.
Some of the expat worries, and I understand the anxiety completely because I have and Italian-Argentinian wife who’s got very anxious, things like you’ll have to pay higher taxes or lose their homes or are forced to go back to the UK, I think that these are really fanciful. I just don’t think that will happen.
In terms of having to pay fees for their children to go to school, whether access to healthcare will be as easy, whether there will be exportability of pension rights, all these things - that’s where you can look for a lot of agro.
There will also be issues about when expats started to reside in France and the like. They might say ‘if you’ve been here two years we’ll give you everything’. But one of the features of the EU is no one has really bothered registering if you’re an EU citizen, that’s been the nice thing about it. It’s going to be a very difficult process to determine things like that.
In terms of something like owning a bank account, would that come under EU law or the taxation treaty?
That would be the EU side of things. The right to open a bank account is the agreement to provide services to you. I don’t think things like that will be affected too much. At the moment, for reasons like money laundering, you have to have proof of residence all these things. People should not worry about that. I’ve gone to the US and Singapore and if you have a job or something like that, you get a bank account. People won’t have their bank accounts stopped or anything like that
The vote leave argument about acquired rights is nonsense. Everyone has said that to them and it will be nonsense. If it was true it would mean that you couldn’t change any EU law here in the UK. People needn’t worry until we leave the EU. The default is that UK citizens who have been resident in France for a while will be treated like non-EU citizens who have been resident in France for a while - if you’ve been there for five years as residents you pretty much get all the rights that EU citizens get. Anyone who’s been there for five years or more has very little to worry about.
There might be some anxiety for people who moved after 2013 but before that I wouldn’t get too worried.
But the thing about that is that it does exclude core benefits, so things like healthcare, social assistance, public housing, could be excluded. States could take a strong view about university education and education. I do think many British citizens will have to pay for a lot more in countries like France from 2018-2020 onwards than they currently do in terms of public services - and that’s a sadness, that really is a sadness for British people in France.