The Guardian wrote:'We are being abandoned': Britons in EU on the Brexit deal vote
A British carer, a caterer and a winemaker are among those feeling anxious as MPs prepare to vote on Theresa May’s deal
Jon Henley, Jennifer Rankin, Sam Jones and Angela Giuffrida
Les and Louise Buchanan, who live in Barcelona, say Brexit has left them racked by uncertainty
Their problems, fears and concerns run the gamut, from the practical to the emotional and the existential to the deeply personal.
In advance of the Commons vote on Tuesday, some of the estimated 1.3 million British citizens living elsewhere in the EU worry they will lose their livelihoods because they will no longer be able to work across more than one country, or their professional qualifications may no longer be recognised.
Others fear they will have to refocus and rebuild businesses they have built up over decades, or are concerned they will not now be able to look after ageing parents in the UK. Emotionally, many feel a part of their identity is being amputated.
The freelance consultant: Fiona Godfrey, Luxembourg
Brexit has “completely turned my life upside down”, says Fiona Godfrey, who fears being out of work in less than three months. A health policy consultant, she lives in Luxembourg and often works in Brussels and other EU member states.
As a freelancer, she is deemed to be providing services and so is not covered by the Brexit withdrawal agreement, which protects the rights of employees. Deal or no deal, she faces “a daunting and huge undertaking” to find out whether she can continue to work after 29 March.
While she hopes to gain Luxembourgish citizenship, if that does not come through soon she will be scrambling for legal advice. “I’ve worked all my adult life and it is a big worry to think that I might be about to lose my livelihood,” says the 53-year-old.
Like many British nationals, she feels abandoned by the British government and is scathing of officials’ advice to her and other British nationals that the best way to secure status is by applying for citizenship in their host country.
“I find it astonishing that the only way the British government can tell us to maintain our rights is to apply for the citizenship of another country. We are being completely ignored and abandoned and there is very little help from anyone, anywhere.”
The caterer: Helen Burnham, the French Alps
Helen Burnham and her husband, Duncan, a private chef, run a successful catering business in the Belleville valley, part of the Trois Vallées ski area, where they settled permanently 11 years ago after selling up and leaving their jobs in the UK.
“We’re going to be the ones who lose out: British citizens in the EU,” says Helen Burnham, 42. “EU nationals may face barriers to living in Britain, but they’ll still have the other 27 member states to choose from. After Brexit, we won’t.”
That could cost them half their annual income, she says, since, when their work catering for French, British, Belgian and Dutch clients in ski chalets is quiet during the summer months, they move their business to private villas in Spain, Portugal or Greece.
“For the last 10 years, all that business has come to us through word of mouth, from contacts we’ve built up in those countries,” she says. “It will really not be easy to replicate that in the south of France. And it’s nearly 50% of our revenue.”
She says she is “angry – at the whole way it’s been dealt with, how people have been treated: we were promised nothing would change. Well, a lot’s changed already.”
Owing to what they hope was an administrative error, the couple were granted only temporary residence permits, but have begun the process of applying for French nationality. “We have nothing to go back to,” says Helen. “All we have is here.”
The carer: Nicola James, Enkhuizen
Nicola James left the UK in the depths of the 1991 recession with “very little money in her pocket”. She got a job teaching English in Cologne and later worked in hotels, banking and on a cruise ship.
“I am a bit of a poster child for the freedom bit of freedom of movement,” says the German language graduate. Nearly three decades later, living in the Dutch city of Enkhuizen, she finds herself caught: she fears she will one day have to choose between living with her Dutch husband, who has multiple sclerosis, or being close to her elderly parents in Hertfordshire.
Under the terms of the withdrawal agreement, once the Brexit transition period is over, her husband would have no automatic right to live in the UK. Their family income is below the current UK minimum threshold, barring him from settling in the UK if the rules remain unchanged after 2020.
“It seems to be to be utterly Kafkaesque to be in a situation where you didn’t get a vote and you are suddenly asking, do I leave my husband to fend for himself or do I leave my parents to just get on with it?” she says.
Twelve years ago, James was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and lives with a generalised anxiety disorder. She says Brexit is not helping. “One of the worst things for mental health is uncertainty.”
This week brought good news when the Dutch government announced British citizens could stay in the event of no-deal Brexit, but she is still gripped by existential worries. “I’m being exiled for the crime of falling in love and exercising my freedom of movement rights.”
The winemaker: Gavin Quinney, Bordeaux
At the personal level, Gavin Quinney, who after floating his IT business bought Château Bauduc in 1999 “for the price we were going to pay for a family home in Putney”, reckons his family should cope, eventually, with the practicalities of Brexit.
“We’re economically active, we pay taxes and social security, two of our four children were born here so now have dual nationality, and we’re finally starting to move on residence permits for the rest of us,” he says.
“There’s a distinct feeling of ‘why should we even have to’ and deep sorrow at losing our European identity.” His primary concern is for his daughter Sophie, who has special needs: he fears a no-deal Brexit could affect the French state’s provision for her.
Business-wise, it is tougher. No deal would be “catastrophic”, says Quinney, who sells about 60% of the wine produced from his 65-acre vineyard direct to private customers in the UK and restaurateurs including Rick Stein and Gordon Ramsay.
His short-term plan is to stockpile enough of his wine in UK warehouses to at least tide him over until the autumn. After that, he says there will be a hard border at the Channel whatever anyone claims, and his business will have to adapt.
“Frictionless trade does not exist outside the single market. Once the UK is unplugged from the EU system that lets trucks go straight through Dover … Our strategy I guess will be to use the transition period to move some business away from the UK.”
The lawyer: Charlotte Oliver, Rome
The Italian government has said British nationals in Italy would remain legally resident, keeping their existing rights to work, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but myriad concerns remain.
“I believed it would be easy to get a job in the legal world in Italy – it was Europe and opportunities were growing,” says Charlotte Oliver, a lawyer, who moved to Italy in 2001 to join her Italian boyfriend and became the first British solicitor to be admitted to the Italian bar council thanks to a new EU directive.
“It was in fact very tough. It took 10 years, while at the same time raising two children, to build up experience and perfect my Italian.”
Oliver, 52, went on to establish her own firm in 2013, but now faces uncertainty over whether her qualification as an Italian lawyer can or will be revoked, or if she can continue to practise as a British solicitor.
Her rights to healthcare, a pension and freedom of movement within the EU, which is crucial for her job, are also at risk. She is applying for Italian citizenship, but that process now takes about four years, instead of two, under new rules recently approved by parliament.
“It is immoral, and I believe illegal, that any person who has been given EU citizenship, and then exercised free movement, can be told our rights could be taken away,” she says.
The psychologist: Matt Bristow, Berlin
Matt Bristow returned to Berlin last summer fearing it could be his last chance. A 33-year old psychologist, he had always intended to live again in the German capital, where he owns a flat. Brexit forced a decision.
“I have always felt happiest here and I felt the need to grab this opportunity while I still have it,” said Bristow, who quit the NHS earlier than planned and now works for a local authority in Berlin.
Despite being fluent in German and doing part of his psychology training in the country, getting his qualifications recognised was not easy: it involved 18 months of form filling, language tests and legal translations costing hundreds of euros.
At least the cost of living is cheaper than London: “I never felt like I had much money at the end of the month despite being in a reasonably well-paid professional job.” But he is increasingly anxious about no-deal Brexit, as his contract expires in the summer.
“My worry is that I might be caught in a catch-22, that it will be harder to convince new employers to employ me if I haven’t got a clear residence permit, but for some residence permits you need to have a job or a clear offer of work.”
While the referendum result left him devastated, he now feels frustrated with the process and believes British nationals in the EU have been forgotten by British politicians. “We are out of sight and out of mind.”
The job-seeking academic: Louise Howes, Lund
After finishing her PhD Louise Howes, 30, moved to southern Sweden in 2015 to take up a research post in the astronomy department at Lund University, a contract that is up at the end of February.
“My fiance is also British – we’re getting married this summer – and his contract runs another five years,” she says. “We want to stay in Sweden, we like it. So I’m currently job hunting, for something maybe in research project management or data science.”
Howes says she feels a “constant underlying nervousness” about what Brexit may bring, a “level of added stress I really don’t need … We’ve been told it will all be fine, but there’s nothing in writing. If you’re in full employment it should be quite straightforward, people say – but what if you’re not?”
She is also applying for jobs in Copenhagen, less than an hour’s commute away across the Oresund Bridge. “Lots of people do it, in both directions,” Howes says. “But I have absolutely no clue whether as a British citizen I’ll be allowed to after Brexit. Non-Europeans have had problems, I know.”
Brexit will ruin the lives of British citizens in Europe. We deserve a vote
More generally, she says, she is, like almost everyone in the university sector, “acutely aware not just of the damage it will do to British universities but the problems it’s going to cause for EU academics and researchers in Britain, and Britons in European universities”.
The pensioners: Les and Louise Buchanan, Barcelona
As the hours tick by towards the Brexit deal vote on Tuesday, Les Buchanan, 75, and his wife, Louise, 71, in Barcelona find themselves assailed by an all too familiar sensation.
“It’s the uncertainty,” says Les Buchanan, who worked as a diplomat for 40 years before retiring to Spain in 2000. “Once you know something, you can face up to it.”
He still feels exasperated at being denied a vote in the referendum because he had lived outside the UK for too long. But the pressing concern is what happens next, especially if the UK crashes out.
“We don’t really know what the Spanish government line will be,” he says. “At the moment, we’re covered by the local health service and the British government pays the Spanish government for expats who were in the British system. Will that cease?”
He is also worried his sterling pension could take another knock and that the British government could use Brexit as an excuse to freeze expat pensions. But he is grateful that at least he and his wife should be able to weather the financial loss.
“For young people embarking upon their lives and being denied the benefits and freedoms the EU provides, it borders on the criminal,” he says.
The couple have taken the necessary tests to acquire Spanish nationality but Les Buchanan is holding off renouncing his British citizenship, as he would have to: “I’m very pissed off, but not pissed enough to say I’m not British any more.”