If the UK votes to leave in the EU referendum, two million British citizens could possibly lose their residency, employment and pension rights overnight – but no one is talking about it
The UK is acknowledged to be the country in the EU with the highest number of its citizens living abroad. No one knows exactly how many UK citizens have taken advantage of free movement, but estimates are that there are more or less the same number as EU citizens in the UK (about two million.)
A lot of us work and take advantage of public health systems and social benefits in our adopted countries. There are some 800,000 retired UK citizens in Spain alone, who are free to use the Spanish health system (and therefore don’t take up valuable NHS beds).
If, as seems increasingly likely, the UK votes to leave the EU, no one seems to have considered the situation we, as British citizens, will find ourselves in, practically overnight. If the UK denies EU workers the right to work in the UK, why on earth would our adoptive countries maintain our rights to do precisely the same thing? We will suddenly become non-EU citizens with the same residency and work entitlements as, say, Americans or Australians. No one seems to have thought of contingency plans if we all have to come home. On top of this, those of us who have been living aboard for more than 15 years don’t even have the right to vote in a referendum that will affect our lives infinitely more than most of those who can vote.
It’s true that over the last few years the UK economy has been stronger than the Eurozone. Economics do however fluctuate over the years. I left the UK for France at the beginning of the 80s after the winter of discontent. I also had more personal reasons to move. Being gay I didn’t want to live my life in Britain, which at the time had Section 28, banning any promotion of homosexuality in public. I moved to a country which was at the time much more open.
If we vote “leave”, we will be denying young people the right to free movement for all kinds of reasons. The Swiss (not in the EU and often cited as a model by the “leave” campaign) have recently had their rights to take part in EU research and Erasmus programmes drastically curtailed. Their newspapers are full of young people complaining about this.
If Britain does withdraw from the EU, two million of us will be stranded and no longer have equal rights as the citizens of the countries we live in – overnight. Other EU countries are not going to grant hundreds of thousands of us nationality. We are UK citizens and yet very proud to be Europeans, our lives having been greatly enhanced through free movement. All of a sudden it seems more than likely that we will lose a lot of our rights, and find ourselves in a legislative limbo. It would be nice if someone would mention us!