Brexit – Britain’s 2016 EU Referendum
As the upcoming referendum draws near, what’s the likely impact for UK citizens living abroad?
British expats live in various countries across the European Union including the Czech Republic. Prague is home to a healthy sizable British expat community, so news of the United Kingdom’s referendum on leaving the European Union brings a lot of questions to the surface for this community.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced that the EU referendum will take place on Thursday 23 June 2016. With a vote as important as this taking place in such a short time scale, it is no wonder that many expats living in Europe are worried about the possible outcome if the UK actually decides to leave the European Union. It seems appropriate at this point to deliver important information to the expat community which may not be as readily available as it would be in Britain.
Who is eligible to vote?
First of all, it is important to know who is eligible to vote in this referendum. British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 years of age who are residents in the UK will all be entitled to vote. To Specify, citizens in Malta and Cyprus are the countries in the EU where their citizens will also be able to vote. Alongside this, UK nationals who have lived overseas for less than 15 years will also be entitled to vote. So for those UK nationals across Europe including here in the Czech Republic, there will be an opportunity to vote if you have lived outside of the UK for less than 15 years. Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also get to vote as well as Members of the House of Lords. For UK nationals living abroad, voting by post will be the option given to them.
What is public opinion on the referendum?
The United Kingdom is essentially split 50/50 on the referendum, from politicians to citizens there is a clear split in the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ answer before campaigning on the issue has begun. So who wants to leave the European Union and who wants to stay? In the last General Election, UKIP (UK Independence Party) won 4 million votes, which is about 13% of the total vote in the 2015 May General Election. Around 50% of Conservative MP’s – including 5 Cabinet Ministers – are in favour of leaving the EU along with a handful of Labour MP’s and the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) of Northern Ireland. Many of these political members feel that the EU is stunting the growth of Britain, they disagree with the expense of annual membership fees to the EU and also the “free movement” of EU citizens without visas.
On the other hand, Prime Minister David Cameron and 16 of his Cabinet Members are in favour of staying in the EU. Other political parties including the majority of Labour, the SNP (Scottish National Party), Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats also want to remain in the EU. These parties all feel that membership in the EU benefits Britain and also enables easier trade with the EU. They are worried British status will be damaged by leaving.
As for the general public, they are largely split 50/50 on the matter. The feeling among many of the public who want to leave the EU is that Britain is paying too much in the way of membership toward being part of the EU. The public are taxed because of this membership and so people feel they would be better off with the money to help support their families. There is also a growing concern due to numbers of workers from the EU coming to the UK to work, many fear that this is a problem when it comes to the availability of jobs for UK citizens living in the UK. However, in the Pro EU camp, the public believe there are several benefits to being part of Europe. Trade and a close relationship with Europe are two big factors which many want to continue. With global conflict continuing to spread there is collective security within the EU which a lot of people support. They also believe that trade would suffer if Britain left the EU which would result in prices being driven up. Trade and collective security are the two big topics on the surface for now.
If the UK exits the EU, what happens next?
If the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union, the next question is what happens to UK nationals living in the European Union and vice versa with EU citizens living in the UK. There are several situations which could occur, this will depend on the deal struck with the EU. If the UK was to stick with a single market, this would enable free movement to continue for both UK citizens in Europe and EU citizens in the UK. However, if the British Government imposed a restrictive work permit (like UKIP believes in) then countries within the EU could impose similar restrictions on UK nationals in Europe and those planning to work in Europe. This would mean UK nationals would have to obtain a visa to work in an EU country which made this a requirement.
This is a serious vote for not only the UK but also for UK nationals living inside mainland Europe. Depending on the outcome it could mean that several obstacles have to be overcome before UK nationals living in Europe’s vast expat community can continue to get on with their lives.
If the UK left and didn´t enter into bilateral agreements with the EU regulating movement and residence of British nationals similarly to Switzerland or Norway (who enjoy the benefits of membership of the Schengen Area), UK citizens would fall into category of so called third-country nationals and could be subject to the same rules and requirements as for example citizens of the United States.
US nationals (together with nationals from another 50 countries) are exempt from the visa requirement for traveling to the Schengen Area if their stay doesn´t exceed 90 days within the 180-days period, provided that purpose of their stay is of non-profit character (if not, Schengen visa for the purpose of employment or other profit-generating activity is required). However if they want to remain in the territory after the given period has passed, they are obliged to apply for a long-term visa or a long-term or permanent residence permit.
In the Czech Republic, a long-term visa (a visa for a stay of over 90 days) is granted for a specific period of time in compliance with the requisite purpose of stay (studies, employment, business, family etc.) with the maximum validity up to one year. For those wishing to stay longer, a long-term residence permit is an option. Again, there are different purposes of stay such as business, family reunification or scientific research. For the purpose of employment, applicants have to apply for a specific permit called the employee card, this is issued for the period of employment however for no longer 2 years (with possibility of extension).
A family member wishing to stay in the country with the holder of a long-term or permanent residence permit has to apply for long-term residence for the purpose of family reunification. However in many cases the aforementioned is possible only after the foreign national with whom the applicant seeks the reunification has spent a determined time in the country.
There are therefore a lot of rules to adhere to. Conditions have to be met and the process of granting visas, residence and working permits can be lengthy and intricate.
However, if the UK does decide to depart the shores of the European Union there will be a minimum period of two years before Britain can separate itself. In that two year period the UK would have to abide by EU laws but would not be involved in decision making taken on by the other members of the EU. In practise, it could take the UK more than the estimated two years to separate itself from Europe.
Whatever lies ahead for Britain after the referendum, it is clear that Britain’s relationship with Europe will never be the same again. This referendum has the potential to damage that relationship whatever the outcome as Britain lingers on the fringes of the European circle.
This article was created in cooperation with our partner rutland ježek:
The rutland ježek law firm in Prague focuses mainly on business law, real estate law, litigation, finance and banking law; the firm is ready to provide adequate comprehensive consulting thus offering an alternative for clients of international law firms. The international dimension of the provided services is guaranteed by its track record and cooperation with leading law firms in most European countries, the USA and other jurisdictions. Czech lawyers of the rutland ježek team have long experience in providing legal consulting to transnational corporations, large Czech companies as well as medium size firms and individuals, acquired in leading international law and tax firms. More on www.rutlandjezek.com.
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