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What Now For British Women Living In Europe?

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Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
The future of thousands of British women living in Europe has been thrown into jeopardy following the referendum. Worried, angry and with plans up in the air, four expats share their concerns.

It was two hours after Brexit was announced when 30-year-old British copywriter Hayley Chappell was at the airport catching a flight from her home in Berlin to Frankfurt that the enormity of the result hit her. “I had my passport in my hand just in case I got asked for ID when I was boarding my flight and I looked down at it and saw "European Union United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland". I actually just wanted to cry there and then. I was just so incredulous at the news and suddenly felt this very strange sense of limbo.”
Courtesy of SUZANNE BEARNE.
Hayley Chappell
The historic and divisive decision by 52% of the UK to leave the European Union has not only sent a shockwave to many of those on home soil, but has unearthed uncertainty across the waters for the 1.3 million Britons living and working in Europe. Although it’s unclear as to what will happen next, whether Brits living abroad might be stripped of their rights to freely move across Europe or if it might be possible to maintain free movement if a deal is struck within the European Economic Area, many expats – and those like myself who hoped to live on the Continent and dip into those wonderful, varied cultures in the future – feel that our plans could be scuppered.

“Suddenly, one vote threw my vague plans for the future up in the air,” says Chappell, who has lived in Germany for four years. “I'd love to live in a few other EU countries but now I’m filled with questions about what this vote means for my future. Suddenly it feels like that my freedom and future possibilities have been restricted and reduced.”

Katie Hargreaves, a primary teacher at international school in Netherlands' The Hague, says she’s worried for what the future holds not only for her but for the younger generation. “Will my seven-month old nephew have the same opportunities I have been lucky enough to have? I studied European Studies at university, studied at a French University, taught practice in a French school as part of my teacher training and lived and worked in Spain and the Netherlands. Working outside the UK has really broadened my horizons.”
The uncertainty especially weighs on Hargreaves and her British partner as they’ve recently bought a home in The Hague. “I would give up my British passport if I had to but I haven't been living here long enough to apply for Dutch citizenship,” says the 36-year-old. “I know plenty of British people here who are seriously considering this option.”

As a Marie Curie European research fellow living in Hungary, Dr Verity Campbell-Barr’s role is funded by the European Commission. “On a professional level, the irony of being a European Research fellow when my country had just voted to leave Europe was not lost on me,” says the 36-year-old from Ivybridge near Plymouth, who now lives with her partner and son in Hajdúböszörmény. “Whilst universities have been told that funding will still be available under the European Commission Horizon 2020 Framework [a programme for research and innovation], what happens after that is far from certain. Like everybody it is the lack of certainty that is most frustrating. I believe that my European colleagues will still want to collaborate but what financial support there will be for collaboration I don't know.”
The result has dealt a mighty blow to Ruth Downey, 32, who splits her time between Devon and the French Alps, where she runs luxury chalet holidays White Mountain Chalets with her husband. “I thought my husband was going to throw up as the implications for our family, business and life are potentially so huge,” says Downey, who has a one-year-old. “In the short term, our biggest concern is the strength of the pound in Europe. We have large outgoings to pay in euros for chalet leases, food and wine, and staff accommodation, and our income is in pounds so even a small percentage change can have a very real impact on our bottom-line profits.” As a luxury holiday operator, she’s also concerned about the impact of a potential downturn on the economy.
Chris Brazier, a senior associate who specialises in business immigration at law firm B P Collins, says that given members of the Leave campaign assured UK nationals in Europe in the run up to the referendum that they would not be affected by Brexit, he suspects that those already living in the EU will not be forced to leave. “That said, it would seem sensible for ex-patriates to assess their options such as obtaining permanent leave in the EU country where they are based, but each country will have different rules which should be carefully considered before doing anything at this early stage,” he says.

With a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them, each of the women have started thinking about their future. “I'm considering looking into getting another passport somehow,” says Chappell. “I've joked with friends here that I should try and find myself a German or at least EU-born husband pronto so I can claim citizenship through him when the time comes.”

Like a flood of others in the UK and abroad, Downey’s husband is in the process of applying for his Irish passport on the back of his father being Irish. The couple are also considering relocating the registration of our company to Ireland so that they can remain within the EU. “With so many unanswered questions, the next couple of years for us are going to create great uncertainty for our business and our family. At present we just have to sit tight and wait to see what type of settlement is negotiated. After four years of really hard work to get our company going and achieve outstanding feedback from all of our clients on the holidays we deliver, it would be devastating if that was all for nothing, simply because we couldn't make it work in the future due to the decision the country has made to leave the EU.”

Still, at least some Europeans reacted to the result with humour. “I was in Spain for a wedding last weekend and the Spanish took the piss out of us, saying "non-Europeans at the other side of the bar please,” laughs Hargreaves. At least we can still bank on our European neighbours for some light relief while we face uncertain times.

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