Brexit: UK government writes to expats about their future
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Brexit: UK government writes to expats about their future

The British government has written to 365,000 UK nationals living in Europe to outline their situation when the country leaves the EU at the end of the year.

The number includes 5,248 people living in Belgium.

The letter explains that UK nationals living in EU member states before 31 December will have their status protected by the Withdrawal Agreement, regardless of the results of the ongoing negotiations over the trade arrangements after Brexit.

British people in the EU are advised to take several steps before the end of December, if they have not done so already: applying or register for residency; register for healthcare; exchange a UK driving licence for an EU version; and check passport validity.

The information campaign is claimed to be one of the largest-ever mail-out campaigns organised by the British government, and includes not only residents of the EU, but also Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.

Since 2017, British embassies across Europe have organised 853 outreach events, with more than 510,000 Brits attending in person or online,” said Martin Shearman, British ambassador to Belgium.

We will continue to support them, including through our ongoing public information campaign.” That includes a website specifically for British people living in Belgium.

However the campaign will be far from reaching all British expats in EU and EEA countries.

There is no requirement for UK nationals to register with their local British embassy, and the UK Government does not keep a database of UK nationals living overseas,” a spokesperson for the British embassy explained.

However a large number of UK nationals are Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) customers, which enables the UK government to contact them with information that’s relevant to their circumstances.”

Many expats, for a variety of reasons, will not be ‘DWP customers’. And in any case, the vast majority of British people living here will already be aware of the need to register for residency and health care, which are legal requirements.

And whatever protection the Withdrawal Agreement grants to British people living abroad – and the British government is currently steering legislation through parliament which gives it the express right to break the Agreement unilaterally – the Belgian government already has them covered.

At the end of last month, the Belgian federal secretary of state for migration, Sammy Mehdi (CD&V) introduced a proposed law to give British citizens already resident in Belgium a special status and a new residency permit.

The procedure would be rolled out before the end of 2021. In the meantime, British citizens retain all of the rights they have now.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times