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How The Brexit Could Change The Lives Of British Women Overseas

The Brexit referendum is fast approaching. On June 23, British nationals will decide whether the UK should stay in the EU or go at it alone. While leaving the EU would have various effects on the average Briton in the UK, those who could be hit even harder are the millions of Brits currently living abroad.

There are just over 4.5 million Britons living overseas, with around 1.3 million of them in Europe, according to the United Nations. The top destinations for British expats in the European Union are Spain (host to around 319,000), Ireland (249,000) and France (171,000).

Naturally, there is palpable nervousness within the expat community about the referendum’s outcome. Recent research carried out by financial advisory firm deVere Group and shared with Refinery29 showed that over two thirds (68%) of British expats in Europe are worried about a potential Brexit.

One of those Brits is Lorna, 25, who moved from Shropshire to France in August 2012. She is unsure how a Brexit might affect her status in both countries.

She explains: “It worries me how I will be considered in either country. In France, I am not officially seen as a French citizen and so therefore I’m a British citizen, but with a much wider divide between the two countries, what does this mean in terms of my world-wide status and legibility for living in a non-British country?”

Paying for healthcare

So far, various financial institutions, including the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund, have come out against a possible ‘Out’ vote as they believe it would come at a high cost. Predictions include a weaker pound and even another recession, with loss of jobs and lower living standards as a result.

Meanwhile, the Cabinet office has warned that Britons living on the continent may lose a range of rights that are only guaranteed to them because of EU law, including access to pensions, health care and public services. As a result, a Brexit might see British women living abroad having to pay for private healthcare themselves.

In a paper outlining the risks of a Brexit, the Government said: "Many UK citizens would want any negotiations to secure their continued right to work, reside and own property in other EU states, and to access public services such as medical treatment in those states. UK citizens living abroad would not be able to assume that these rights will be guaranteed."

Difficulty moving around

Luckily, those currently living overseas are unlikely to be booted out the country overnight if a British exit was to happen. The 1969 Vienna Convention says the termination of a treaty "does not affect any right, obligation or legal situation of the parties created through the execution of the treaty prior to its termination”.

Simply put, Brits currently living in the EU should be able to stay in the country they’re in. But those who are planning to move abroad after the referendum might not be as free to relocate, with the Government suggesting that a Brexit could prevent UK citizens from moving abroad in future.

David Lidington, Europe Minister, said in an interview with the Observer: “Everything we take for granted about access to the single market – trade taking place without customs checks or paperwork at national frontiers, the right of British citizens to go and live in Spain or France – those would all be up in the air. It is massive. It is massive what is at risk.”

Years of legal limbo

If Britain leaves the EU, a British person's ability to live and work in the EU would depend on new agreements that the Government will have to negotiate with EU countries. According to the Treaty of Lisbon, the UK and EU would have a minimum of a two-year period for the dust to settle and for new agreements to be put into place.

However, this has never been put into practice in the history of the EU and no one really understands the implications of it, says Jonathan Watson, associate director at currency broker firm
“There will be a period where we don’t know exactly what is going to happen and Brits will find themselves in a legal limbo. While people won’t lose certain rights overnight, there will be a transitional period to discuss new agreements,” he explains.

“This could go on for years – for example, it took five years for Canada to come to a trading agreement with the EU. You can only hope common sense will prevail and that politicians will make it as seamless as possible.”

Excluded from voting

Waiting to see how your country is going to decide on your future might sound stressful enough, but some expats are in an even worse position as they won’t be able to vote at all. British law says expats who have lived abroad for over 15 years lose their right to vote.

One woman who finds herself in this position is Nicola, 35, who works at a holiday rentals company called and moved there after finishing her languages degree 15 years ago. She finds it “somewhat frustrating” to be ineligible to vote on something that will directly impact her life, but she’s determined to stay level-headed.

“As an expat living in Spain, with children born and raised here but who are British passport holders, a Brexit will have consequences on my life. However, I am too pragmatic to be worried yet. The UK is a resilient nation and if the vote to leave wins, then I’m sure it will figure it all out. But I won’t be surprised if it takes as long as the M25 roadworks to complete.”

Despite the current uncertainty, Nicola is grateful the UK has been a part of the EU her whole life, as it has shaped who she is on a personal and professional level.

“I would not have been able to pursue my dreams to travel and broaden my horizons, which has ultimately seen me create a home and a life for myself in Spain. Every aspect of my life has been positively affected by the benefits of being part of the EU,” she says.

No one can truly say how severe the outcomes of a Brexit will be. What is for certain, however, is that if a Brexit was to happen, millions of British people abroad will be kept in the dark for quite some time.

Lorna concludes: “The worst thing is the uncertainty. When I’ve tried to gain a better understanding of what the possible outcomes might be, I’m left with no clarity at all. All I can do is wait and see.”