UK Foreign Office speaks to Britons abroad about Brexit - but no new information

11 April 2017
Julia Longbottom answers questions about Brexit on Facebook
By Oliver Rowland

A QUESTION and answer session was held on Facebook by the British Foreign Office today – highlighting the government’s wish to secure Britons’ rights in the EU after Brexit, but offering no new guarantees.

During the session held at the FCO Travel Facebook page this morning (you can find it at this link) the FCO's director for consular services Julia Longbottom said the government is working hard to try to understand the concerns of British people in the EU as the country prepares for Brexit. Embassies have also been talking to many Britons in the EU, she said, and they have been feeding information back to the FCO and the Brexit Ministry.

She said they are impressed by the fact that new groups for expats have emerged - many of them grouped into the British in France coalition, to help make sure their voices are heard. Embassies are keen for groups to make contact to arrange further meetings, she said.

As negotiations begin, Mrs Longbottom said the government aims to increase contact and communication to keep people up to date with developments.

She said she knew there were many concerns about residence rights – the ability to live and work in our EU countries of choice.

“I know many of you have established your families, lives and businesses in other EU countries and we are very keen that you can continue to do that in the future," Ms Longbottom said.

“As the PM has said, reaching an agreement on the status of British people in the EU and EU nationals in the UK is a key priority for the negotiations.

“In the meantime, for the next two years, the very important message is that the UK remains a full EU member with all the rights and obligations or membership and nothing will change.”

The half-hour session did not reveal new information as to British people’s rights after Brexit, but stressed that they remain to be secured in the negotiations that will soon get underway and that they will be prioritised.

Ms Longbottom said the session was part of the FCO’s efforts to keep in touch with expats and further such sessions may be organised.

She concluded saying: “I appreciate there aren’t that many concrete answers to your questions as yet. This has been one part of our communication plan and we want to do more of this in the future. Please keep in touch with us.”

She advised people to consult regularly:

The ‘UK leaving the EU - What you need to know’  page at gov.uk 

FCO Travel’s Facebook

The Facebook page of the British Embassy in Paris 

Here is an edited selection of the main questions and answers that arose that affect Britons in France:

Do you think people will still be able to move to countries like Spain in the future?

The question of what the EU migration system will be in the future is being considered and there are a number of different options. I can’t comment now on what the future immigration system will be. It will be very much down to the negotiations, where the Prime Minister has made it clear we want a reciprocal deal and that’s why it is very important that we take account of the interests and rights of British people living elsewhere in the EU as we negotiate with our EU colleagues.

The reason the Prime Minister was not prepared to unilaterally secure the status of EU nationals in the UK was because we felt it was important that first and foremost we support the status of and argue for the interest of British citizens and that any deal takes account of your interests.

Will EU citizenship be given to, or retained by, British people?

That’s something that’s a matter for the negotiations. We won’t be continuing to provide rights to free movement, that’s one of the freedoms of members of the EU, so the status of British people elsewhere in the EU and EU nationals in the UK will be something we have to agree on.

The Prime Minister was clear that their status was something she would have liked to have agreed even in advance of the negotiations and it’s something we think we should be able to agree, at least in principle, very quickly. As soon as the other member states have agreed their negotiating position, we want to start that part of the negotiation.

Will anything change now with regard to establishing residency in countries like Portugal?

Nothing will change for now with regard to people’s rights and status, until the point at which the UK leaves.

What about retirees’ healthcare after Brexit?

We know that the question is an important one for many of you. I met a number of Britons in Spain recently, who rely on being able to access healthcare. For now, nothing has changed. The question of the future is very much a priority for us to secure in the negotiations so as far as possible those who enjoy that access can continue to do so in the future.

Many British people work in the EU countries in schools, teaching English. What will happen to these working rights and the ability to recruit British teachers to schools?

You can continue the same as now for two years. The status and ability to move around the EU in the future will be part of the negotiation and linked to decisions about future immigration systems. However we know that your contribution to other economies is very important and that both sides have an interest in allowing that to continue.

What will happen to rights with regard to healthcare while travelling?

These issues will affect people in the future as we leave. Access to healthcare is something we will seek a good agreement on that supports the interests of British citizens.

Will student fees for study in Europe change – and for people coming to study in the UK?

For the next two years it will not change. The future again, is part of the negotiation. I appreciate that seems to be the answer to a lot of questions, but it’s very important we’ve captured all of these issues and I assure you that they are all things the government departments in the UK that lead on these policy issues are working hard on, being pulled together by the Department for Exiting the EU – making sure the rights and status issues are all looked at together so we know what it is we need to secure for you as we move to a future where we are part of Europe but not the EU. Considering our shared heritage I think all sides recognise that the flow of people between us for work, study and to live will continue to be extremely important.

Will there be a website where we can express our concerns?

This conversation is part of creating communication channels to make sure the latest information reaches you. At gov.uk you can also search for ‘UK leaving the EU What you need to know’.  As negotiations progress we will keep those pages up to date and any new information will be posted there. You should also follow the Facebook pages of your British embassy.

Will it be possible to come back to the UK in the future with a spouse who is an EU national?

The answer is until we know what future EU and UK migration systems look like we can’t answer this for certain, but we understand many of you are part of a family including other EU nationals where your children have dual nationality and we will be taking all those issues on board and will try to make sure the deal about the future secures your status as far as possible.

Is it a good idea to apply for other countries’ nationalities?

The UK recognises dual nationality, so there is no problem with it. Some countries are happy to accept dual nationality and others don’t so you will have to choose. You should seek further information so as to make a well-informed decision.

What about access to health?

At the moment the UK government pays for healthcare accessed by UK retirees in the EU and the Ehic is used for access to emergency medical care when travelling. Healthcare is a high priority on the agenda. It’s one of the rights that matter to people to allow them to work and live in other countries and we are very much trying to secure it for the future.

We could not vote in the referendum and feel frustrated about that – can you comment on this?

The government committed to bringing forward legislation to change the rules so people living overseas have votes for life. It won’t change the past, but you should be able to vote in the future in general elections however long you have been overseas.

Have any decisions been taken with regard to things that are in the gift of the UK government, such as pension uprating?

Uprating has been guaranteed by the government for those overseas in the EU. Together with the ability for people who have established that right in other EU countries to be able to continue to draw their pensions while living elsewhere in the EU, the question of the rate will be considered at the same time. We hope to be able to provide information as soon as it has been decided.

Will be still be able to live legally in other EU countries?

We absolutely aim that you will be able to continue to live legally in other EU countries in the future. The key will be to clarify what the new system will be and how it will work and to get that information to you as soon as we can.

If the authorities in countries where you are living are giving you the impression that your rights or status have changed – that is not the case. In this case tell your British embassy. We have been able to take issues up with the authorities in EU countries to make sure they understand and that problems are unlocked.

What about free translation and apostille services to help us stay in countries with our rights protected?

There has been an increase since last June in requests for legalisation and apostille services, which must mean people are looking at questions around their status, residence, perhaps marriage, to secure their status for the future. I can’t promise such services will be provided free but we will continue to deal with them efficiently and quickly. But your status and rights now are well worth checking and regularising, so when we reach the point when we leave, you have really secured your status clearly.

Will this Q&A exercise be repeated?

This is just one part of our engagement with Britons across the EU. Ambassadors have held discussions and visited community groups and held events in town halls and they are very open to invitations to do more of that. It is impressive how many new citizens’ groups have grown up, and that many have come together under an umbrella to make sure your voices are heard. It would be great to do more sessions like this as it is not possible to meet everyone face to face. You should also keep in touch via Facebook channels including FCO Travel and the embassies’ pages as well as gov.uk

What will happen with UK passports?

Planning is going on for new UK passports. In the meantime your passport remains valid and you don’t need a visa to travel to EU countries and you don’t need any extra validity on your UK passport for it to remain valid. We will make sure everybody has the information on the new passports in good time when it is available.

What is the timescale for the negotiations for securing British people’s rights?

Securing rights of British citizens is a high priority. We believe we can reach an agreement in principle very soon and will put a lot of effort into it. It’s encouraging that all sides, including the European Commision, have said it’s a priority in the talks.

What about property purchases?

I appreciate that property ownership, both existing and future, is something that you need clarity on as soon as possible. We hope to let you know soon what the future rules will be. We know that continuing to live and have ownership of property smoothly and securely is very important.

Will UK citizens still have the right to use the NHS on return to the UK?

Nothing changes while the UK remains an EU member and after we leave we hope to have an agreement on how healthcare will work, in all directions. It will be an urgent part of the discussions.

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