Brexit impacts the lives of 4 million expats and their lives are in limbo as talks start in Brussels to settle Britain’s leaving arrangements from the EU.
Expats rights are a two-way street.
Getting on for 1.5 million British expats live in another EU country, while millions more Europeans have left their homes to start afresh in the UK.
The EU’s starting point for talks is that all EU expats in the UK should have the same rights and rules as their compatriots in Europe.
The British government feels this gives them an unfair advantage over British citizens.
Five year rule
The talks will centre around the EU expat five year rule. Under EU law, an expat living in another country for five years or more assume full rights of residence in that country.
Where the cut-off date falls determines the fate of hundreds of thousands of EU expats in the UK.
The dates to discuss include the Brexit referendum in June, the notice to quit delivered in March, the final date for the EU split in March 2019 or some other suggestion.
Besides the time limit, many expats face an uncertain future – for instance spouses and families who arrived in the UK at a different time from each other, expats without the right papers and those claiming state pensions or benefits.
Other expat categories also need discussing – for instance, prisoners, children and unborn babies and those seeking work or who have become unemployed.
Army of forgotten expats
Some forgotten expats fall outside the scope of Brexit talks with the EU.
Those that come from European economic Area countries such as Liechtenstein, Iceland and Norway come under this banner.
The expectation is Prime Minister will seek to make political capital by stealing a march against the EU by announcing a raft of measures in the Queen’s Speech to secure European expats a future after Brexit.
Even if she does, unless the pledges are reciprocated by the EU, the rights of British expats in favorite retirement destinations, such as France, Spain and Italy remain in doubt.