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UK government is inflicting ‘ghastly limbo’ on Brits living in EU post-Brexit, writes expat Giles Tremlett

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HERESA May cares about me and a million more people like me – British citizens who, before Brexit, chose to make their lives in Europe. There are, however, only two reasons why I know this. One is that the prime minister has repeatedly said so. The other is that three million Europeans who live in the United Kingdom are being held to ransom on my behalf, forced to endure the stress and chronic uncertainty inflicted on those ‘displaced’ by the new wall being erected in Europe. Aside from these two things, evidence is glaringly absent. The Government shows no sign that it understands who we really are. Nor has it displayed much interest in finding out. And it still has not stated how it proposes to fix the ghastly limbo into which one million UK citizens were plunged the day after the referendum. Instead, it hides behind the excuse that it can do, and say, nothing until negotiations start. Yet this is not true. Important matters that have nothing to do with other EU states can be fixed immediately. 200,000 fearful retirees, some of them poor and vulnerable, can attest to that. They want to know whether their pensions will be frozen for ever and gradually eaten away by inflation – as currently happens to UK pensioners who retire to most non-EU countries. The government has had seven months to calm their fears. It has chosen not to. That is, at best, lazy. At worst, it is cynical and callous.




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Held to ransom

Three government departments have been unable to tell me why this has not been settled already. The obvious suspicion is that the real plan is to use Brexit to claw back pension payments, effectively punishing those who moved to the EU in the secure belief that this would never happen to them. Kelly Hall, from Birmingham University, who is following Brexit on the ground in southern Spain, says that for the many people scraping by on small state pensions, the worry is contributing to ill health, depression and anxiety. “This is the one thing they can resolve now,” one pensioner told me recently in Malaga. He is right. May’s pledge of ‘care’ looks shallow, or simply false, without it. Pensions are just the most easily fixed problem. In fact, despite the stereotype of wealthy, gin-swigging retirees sunning themselves beside their pools, the vast majority of UK citizens living in the European Union do not draw one. Some 80% of us are under 65, mostly pursuing careers and bringing up families in the free way permitted by UK membership of the union – with the thousand rules, large and small, that make this university in the UK without risking the loss possible. We are also the grafters who deof acquired rights associated with long-term liver British trade and culture EU residence. As the Lords – the things meant to put the EU committee has pointed ‘great’ back into post-Brexit out, EU citizenship rights are We need to hear Britain – to our biggest tradso intertwined as to make ing partner. that the plan is to them indivisible. A “right to For many of us, the impact remain” is only a small part of of Brexit is already devastat- maintain all of the it. We need to hear from the ing. Imagine being unable to rights we acquired UK government (and the EU) make, with any security, bathat its plan is to maintain all sic decisions about whether, when we moved the rights we acquired when, for example, one can return in good faith, we moved to to the UK temporarily to look Europe as fully paid-up EU after an elderly parent, take employment in citizens. That will require creating new catanother EU country or even send children to egories of residents in both the EU and UK

ON MESSAGE: Giles Tremlett (left) in La Cala de Mijas with Olive Press editor Jon Clarke, while (below) a typical expat scene found in every Costa town

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– “those in place before Brexit” – but, given the other complexities involved, this seems relatively simple. Until recently, I agreed that reciprocity was the best way to achieve this. It may still prove effective, but the evidence so far suggests it is mostly being used as a smoke-screen. It was shocking to read in the Brexit white paper, for example, the government’s claim that it had engaged a range of stakeholders, including expatriate groups. In fact, the largest groups working to help UK citizens in Europe, despite their best efforts, have been unable to talk to the Brexit ministry. I know that, mostly in the weeks since that claim was made, the consular service has reached out. I joined a focus group it ran in the southern Spanish town of Mijas recently. The two Brexit ministry representatives who had been invited failed to turn up. They had been kept in London to help quash the rebellious Lords, some of whom were putting forward amendments to the EU withdrawal bill in order to safeguard the rights of the same people they might have been listening to. It is not surprising that the government does not understand us. Unlike other countries, Britain has long ignored its diaspora. This is curious, because we are the EU’s biggest exporter of migrants, with about five million Britons, or 8% of UK citizens, living abroad. Many of those of us who live in the EU were prevented from voting in the referendum that turned our lives upside down, can no longer vote in general elections and have no MP. May says she will correct this but, again, has not lifted a finger to do so. With no voice or impact in parliament, we remain completely in her power. This article first appeared in The Guardian

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