Carlie: Hey there, it’s Carlie with the Expat Focus podcast. If you’re a Brit in Europe, or a European citizen living in the UK, the issue of Brexit will be high on your radar. At the time of recording this, there’s just 6 months to go until the UK leaves the European Union, and there’s still no deal. European leaders at a summit in Salzburg just shot down the UK Prime Minister’s latest plan, and so everyone’s gone back to the drawing board.
There have been ‘no deal’ planning papers released, and right now that prospect is looking like a scary reality. So, where does Brexit leave citizens’ rights, on both sides of the Channel, and what can expats in the UK and Europe be doing now to best prepare? Today’s guest is Daniel Tetlow, co-founder of the organisation British in Germany, and a member of British in Europe.
And, spoiler alert, he doesn’t have definitive answers. No-one does right now. But he does explain why he and others are working so hard to get them. You’re going to hear Daniel mention the name Michel Barnier a few times in this interview. He’s the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. And you’ll find all the useful links that Daniel mentions listed in our show notes.
Daniel, you’re part of the group British in Germany, and you lead that group, which is under a bigger organisation, British in Europe, which has been quite active in campaigning and pushing for UK citizens’ rights. Can you tell me a little bit about those organisations, and what you’ve been doing?
Daniel: Yeah, sure, so, we are representing between about 30 and 40,000 British, living across Europe, ‘we’ being British in Europe, which is a coalition body of ten organisations, citizens’ rights organisations across the whole of Europe. And, the idea really started just before the referendum, in that we thought a few Brits should get together in Berlin, and, you know, discuss what the implications of the Brexit referendum could be, whichever way it went.
About 300-odd Brits turned up, which was not what we were expecting in a, in a bar in the centre of Berlin! And, because of the enthusiasm and because of the people you know wanting to discuss this more and more we thought, well, let’s make an arrangement to, to meet up afterwards, you can sign kind of here on a, as people came in, and then we got in touch with people, and that then was the beginnings of the organisation British in Europe. At the time we called it Brits in Europe.
We then put together written evidence for the House of Commons Select Committee for Exiting the EU, and that caused them to invite us along to give oral evidence at the Select Committee on January the 18th, 2017. We then thought as a group of Brits in Berlin that we’re not representative enough of Brits across the whole of Europe, if that’s what we were gonna be representing at the Select Committee, and we should get in touch with other British citizens’ rights organisations across the continent, to have a much better representation of British people living in all sorts of different situations across Europe.
We then actually decided to exclude ourselves from the panel, because we thought there were four people who were much better kind of representative of, of the different demographic of Brits across Europe. And that was the beginnings really of British in Europe. British in Germany then became an offshoot of that, as one of the coalition members of these ten organisations in total.
Carlie: I guess as an outsider myself in Europe, I’m an Australian, I was in London for the vote and I’ve since moved to France, and I’ve watched this unfold over the past couple of years. And it’s surprising to me that we’re now down to the last 6 or so months and there is still so much uncertainty.
Daniel: Yeah, we feel the same. We feel that citizens’ rights could have been ringfenced last year, so the, the agreements that were being, come to from both sides, from Barnier and from the UK, they could have said, you know, whatever happens in the future with the rest of the negotiations, we will ringfence, which is what we want, the citizens’ rights part of the withdrawal agreement, and so people feel secure where they are, and feel like they can start to plan for their futures. Unfortunately that hasn’t happened, and that’s something we’re still pushing for right now, especially with this increasingly precarious situation post-Salzburg.
Carlie: At the time of recording this, there is no deal yet. But what do we know about British citizens’ rights in Europe post-Brexit?
Daniel: Right, well we know that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, unfortunately, and we’re campaigning as I say to, to ringfence citizenship rights, to make, to give us some security about our futures, whatever happens with the rest of the negotiations. But to, to this day, that hasn’t yet happened, and so we do not know whether we’re gonna be falling out with a no deal, which basically would give us, it would mean the rights that, the existing rights that we have at the moment as European Union citizens living in, in the EU, would no longer be, and so there would have to be all sorts of emergency legislation that each national country would have to enact, in order to deal with the British citizens living in the different respective countries.
If there was a withdrawal agreement, then there’d be a certain amount that we’d obviously know from the detail of the withdrawal agreement, which we’re also campaigning for, to improve for the future of British citizens living in the EU. The basic idea is that we moved in good faith. We moved as European citizens, from the UK to another European country. And we had no way of telling, obviously no, there was no prospect of leaving the European Union. So, moving in good faith, you know, changing our lives and shifting our lives around, on the basis of the rights that we had when we, when we moved from the UK, and how our lives continue to change, we feel that those rights should be absolutely maintained.
Carlie: Daniel, in the last month we’ve seen the UK government publish a series of technical notes about what would happen in various areas if there is no deal. And I know that the EU has a similar set of documents. How much should we be looking into these and taking these as fact right now?
Daniel: We’re certainly looking as, as British in Europe and British in Germany, at the detail of the no deal notices, both on the EU side and the UK side, but sadly neither of them refer to citizens’, citizenship rights, so far. And that, we’ve, we’ve brought to the attention of both the EU authorities and the UK, to say we need to see the ringfencing of citizens’ rights, even with a no deal. So we’re very disappointed that so far the no deal technical notes have not referred to how citizens’ rights are going to be dealt with. We hope that’ll change, certainly there’s been a lot of lip-service to securing to, the rights of more so EU citizens living in the UK recently from Theresa May. But we need le-, we need, you know, firm assurance, we need that in, in writing. We need, you know the le-, the legal international law backing those points and not just political lip-service paid to those points. So, that is crucial really to us.
Carlie: There is talk that, oh well, worst case scenario, Brits will just be treated like any other third country into Europe, for example Australians, New Zealanders, Americans. Would that be a fair deal though?
Daniel: Well we believe not, because people, people moved to the EU from the UK with the assumption that they could create their lives, they could manage their lives, their children’s lives, their family’s lives, around the existing rights that they moved with. And not that they were gonna have those then taken away, you create your life around what you expect to continue, and that’s why we believe there are, there are all sorts of situations where children have been sent, sent off to schools, to universities, on the basis of rights, the existing rights that they had when they moved from the UK.
For, I mean, and a little example would be right now, under the, the existing rules, you would not, if you were married for instance to a Spanish person and you were wanting to move back as a British citizen with your, with your Spanish partner to the UK, that partner would not have guaranteed rights to live and work in the UK, and that is obviously a huge concern to many many Brits.
Say if you’re wanting to go back and look after an, an elderly member of the family, you obviously want to take your partner with you, and at the moment that can’t be assured that that person’s gonna have the residency or working rights to do that. And they’re gonna have to go through the, the normal Home Office application, those rights would not be automatic. And that’s of major concern to, to thousands of people who, you know, at the moment have created their lives about having that, that freedom of movement.
Freedom of movement being another case in point. At the moment you would only be able to live and work in the country where you’re registered, and not have the freedom of movement to, to work in other countries, so that is having huge implications for many people, freelancers, border workers, for instance musicians, caterers, people are constantly dependent on their business, if by having to work and cross borders all the time. And they’re in incredible kind of stress and, and have no idea how the future of their businesses is, are going to look, if that freedom of movement right is being withdrawn.
Carlie: Reading discussions in the Expat Focus facebook groups, some citizens in some parts of France, for example, are able to apply now in their local department for permission to stay, as if they weren’t EU citizens. And so they’re taking those proactive steps. But not all countries are giving actual guidance, and not all areas in the one countries are giving actual guidance of what Brits can do now, and some are being told to wait, others are being told to, to start making moves. What are you seeing in Germany, for example?
Daniel: That’s right. I mean we, every country has a different rule, set of rules for its citizens, for its British citizens, for its foreign citizens, coming to live in the country, unless, especially if they’re not European, then they’re not covered by the, the European Union rights, citizenship rights.
So for example in Germany, yeah we’re finding that there has been a huge hike in the number of Brits applying for citizenship, for German citizenship alongside their British citizenship, because they’re concerned that when Brexit happens they’ll no longer be able to have both, they’ll have to forfeit one to, in order to become a, a German for ins-, for instance, and many people, many Brits obviously don’t want to have to forfeit their British citizenship.
There is an argument to say that that’s not possible, that you always have British citizenship, but the German authorities would want to see evidence that you’ve actually given up your British citizenship, potentially. That is the general rule that, that Germany lays down to say as, that you need to be a European citizen to be able to have double citizenship. But there are also exceptions to that rule. So, we’re obviously keen to look at the exceptions, but there has to be some fairness in terms of what the German authorities agree with other nationalities, the many other nationalities that also reside in Germany.
That is a very different experience to other smaller countries, to, to Spain for example, where the largest number of Brits live, around 300,000, and there you, you cannot have two citi-, two European citizenships, so you would have to give up one. The devil is absolutely in the detail, unfortunately. And that means that each situa-, each national country will have a different set of rules that applies to the Brits living in that country.
Carlie: Not all Brits are being proactive in trying to secure their residency rights, or their citizenship rights in the country they are living in now. Some, according to our forums, are just waiting, they’re waiting to be told officially, through the deal, that we’re hopefully getting, what to do next. Is there a, a right and wrong way to be waiting this out at this point?
Daniel: Well we in British in Germany, and I think British in Europe would, will also take this line, we’d advise that if you have the opportunity to maintain your European Union citizenship through another form of citizenship, then that is always an insurance that it’s worth doing.
You’re giving yourself a British identity and giving yourself a lasting European identity, that’s gotta be worth doing in terms of the maximum protection of your citizenship rights. That of course is not possible for many people. For people who’ve just recently moved to Europe, for example, for, for many students who have recently come, there is all sorts of criteria that you need to meet depending on the country in which you’re, you’re living, in order to be able to get citizenship, and as I say, some countries also won’t even allow double citizenship, so you’d have to forfeit your British citizenship in order to get for instance Spanish citizenship.
So, it’s a bag of worms, and we would absolutely encourage people to be proactive about finding, from their local town halls, from their local citizenships group, from British in Europe, where you can find lots of information on britishineurope.org, or britishingermany.org if you’re living in Germany, information about how you can go about looking into, into your rights post-Brexit.
Carlie: Another question that comes up quite a lot in the forums is Brits who are currently still in the UK, and had planned to move, for example to Spain or Germany or France, and whether they should rush their plans to get to the other side of the Channel before the March exit, or whether it’s safe to wait.
Daniel: Yeah, I mean that also depends on which country you are going to. There is no safety here, Carlie, it’s, there is, it is about really looking at the odds of, at the moment a ‘no deal’, and now those odds have just risen pretty high with the Salzburg meeting, so for sure, there are, there is likely to be certain rules that apply to Brits pre-Brexit, and that’s, we’re hoping that’ll be, that’ll be maintained through transition, as to Brits who arrive after the Brexit de-, has been seen through. So, for example, here you need to have been in the, Germany between 6 and 8 years just to be considered for German citizenship, and similar rules apply in di-, in the other 27 EU countries.
Carlie: Yeah, so in some cases even if you rush your plans, you still may not meet the criteria, even if you set it, yourself up before March at this point.
Daniel: That’s right, yeah.
Carlie: Daniel, we’re talking a lot about the situation of Brits in Europe, but what about the European citizens living in the UK? Are they facing identical or different challenges?
Daniel: I mean I would say they’re slightly different, but, and it’s very important that the threemillion.org.uk works together with British in Europe, because we have, we’re, and we also go to the negotiations with Michel Barnier and with the, the UK government, together. British in Europe and the threemillion group. And so at the, I mean an example of, of the situation in comparison say between Brits living in Germany and living in the UK, at the moment the UK have said that all EU citizens have to reapply for settled status.
And, we’re against that, the threemillion were against that because there’s often all sorts of inconsistencies or unpredictable responses, and the Home Office doesn’t have a great track record at the moment in, in the mistakes they’ve made recently. So, we wanted there to be automatic right to remain, and not have to reapply.
That now means that the EU countries, the other EU 27 countries have to make a decision about how that applies to Brits living in the EU, and whether they request their British citizens to have to reapply for their status. At the moment in Germany you get automatic right to remain, but the, but that may change, depending on, on the decision made by the German government, as to how Brits will have to if you like recognise their future citizenship as Brits, as non-EU citizens living in Germany. So, as British in Europe, we’re campaigning for those rights to remain and for not, to not have to reapply, but you can see the problem when EU citizens in the UK are having to reapply for settled status.
Carlie: What’s next on the cards for the representatives of British in Europe?
Daniel: So British in Europe meets fairly regularly with Michel Barnier’s office, and also meets with, with British officials, and also meets with the representatives from their own, from the own EU countries where different organisations are based. I think we’ve now met with Michel Barnier’s office four times, and sadly we’ve never met the Minister of State at the Department for Exiting the EU, despite having tried many many times to, to get an invitation. But we have met many diplomats and, involved in negotiations from the UK side. So, we, we’ve basically just also decided that we are gonna come off the fence as British in Europe, and that we’re gonna back a second referendum, a people’s vote, because we believe that’s the best way of securing our rights.
Carlie: Do you think the people’s vote is going to happen? A second referendum?
Daniel: I think it’s, it’s certainly on the cards right now with, with the announcement that the Labour Party has just made that they will respect the, the membership wish, and at the moment the polls look like the majority of the Labour Party members are in favour of a second referendum. So it’s looking more likely, I think as time goes on, but, but things change day by day, and when this podcast goes out that may be a very different situation. So, it’s certainly difficult to tell, but it’s, it’s one of the options we’re looking at, and it’s, and it’s the option British in Europe have decided to, to back in order to maximise our potential future rights living in the, the respective countries we live in.
Carlie: Finally Daniel, anyone who has been on the fence, or waiting for official word before they take any further action, what would be your top pieces of advice for them to do now?
Daniel: My top piece of advice would be don’t put your head in the sand. It’s worth finding out what your rights are in your local area.
Contact your, your local town hall, contact your local group of British expats, perhaps organisation, there may be a British in Europe organisation nearby, or otherwise if there’s not, look on the website britishineurope.org, or our website britishingermany.org, and you’ll find all sorts of resources, all sorts of information about the present status of citizens’ rights and about what we’re doing to campaign.
We’re encouraging people to go along to the march on the 20th of October in the UK if they can, or to, to do shadow marches in the countries, the respective countries where they live, to raise the, again, the absolutely crucial issue, that people’s lives are at stake here. People have created their lives for years and years and years around the rights that they have assumed, and those rights cannot just be taken away because of a, a political decision that’s been made in one country. And that is absolutely crucial to our futures, to our, to the security that we have assumed for many many years, and we believe strongly that that should be maintained.
Carlie: That’s it for this episode. If you want to join the conversation on Brexit, ask Daniel any questions, head over to expatfocus.com and follow the links to our forums and Facebook groups. For more interviews on all aspects of expat life, check out our podcast through the website. It’s also on iTunes. And if you like what we do, we’d love you to leave us a review. I’ll catch you next time!