Brexit: Is the British government really doing enough to support Britons in Europe?

Through its embassies the British government has been holding outreach meetings with its citizens across the EU. But is it enough? Campaigners from Spain, France, Germany and Italy explain the pros and cons of the efforts of the British representatives to help their citizens in these troubled times.

Brexit: Is the British government really doing enough to support Britons in Europe?

Representatives from the British in Europe group were invited this week to give evidence to a parliamentary committee in London about the impact of Brexit and in particularl how a no-deal would affect Brits throughout the EU.

One of the things the representatives of British in Europe were asked about was the efforts by the UK government to inform citizens living in the EU of their rights and what they need to do to prepare for Brexit.

Embassies have been holding scores of outreach meetings across Germany, Spain, Italy, France and other countries to hear their concerns.

But have they been helpful? Is it enough? 

Here's what the British in Europe representatives had to say.


Jane Golding, British in Europe's co-chair who is based in Germany said: “There have been a lot of events, which is good. I would say that some of them, until recently, focused too much on the withdrawal agreement and not enough on no-deal contingency.

“I think now there has been more focus from the embassy side on no-deal contingency. What they have done with us and with German authorities, for example in Berlin, in the last few months, is to organise info fairs.

“There is a very short presentation at the beginning, rather than a long speech about what the current Government position is, and people can go to stands where they can actually talk to German officials about issues like residency, insurance, health insurance, employment, professional qualifications and all those different areas.

“I must say that I think that our members in Germany have appreciated that approach. That sort of event is needed more and more—more co-operation with the authorities in-country and more focus on being able to answer people’s individual questions when they come along to an event.”


British in Europe's Kalba Meadows said: “The situation in France is not quite as developed as the situation in Germany. We have a very different population.

“We are a rural population. British citizens in France are spread over a really wide area, with some living an hour or two hours from a big centre of population. That means that events that have been arranged don’t necessarily have a very large catchment area for people.

“One of the big problems has been that they have often been arranged at very short notice—sometimes a week or 10 days—and they have often been arranged during working hours. We have noticed that the numbers of people attending have been decreasing.

“They do not have terribly good feedback, because people say to us that they are not really addressing the issues. Therefore, people do not go.

“Another problem is that they are only advertised via social media— Facebook particularly—and you are simply not going to reach all British people living in France via social media. Of course, that leads on to a whole big question about communication and outreach. We do not have the same very positive report that Germany has. It could do better.”

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British in Europe's John Richards, who lives in Spain said: “In Spain, the British embassy has made a lot of effort in respect of outreach, because there is quite a large population.

“Residents also use the filter of our associations.

“There are associations on the coast and mine, EuroCitizens, is basically concentrated on Madrid; we have all had a lot of interaction with both the British authorities, in the form of the embassy, and the Spanish authorities.

“There is a way that people can get information. We all have meetings of our respective organisations, which are well attended from time to time and less so on other occasions. 

“It is not that people are living completely in the dark, but of course things can always be better. People are always concerned about their situation. There is an element of uncertainty that just cannot be explained however much outreach you have.”


Jeremy Morgan, from British in Italy said: “We have had a lot of outreach meetings. Again, it is a population that is difficult to reach because it is partly rural and partly urban, but spread all over a very long country, so if you get 30 or 40 people at a meeting you have really done quite well. 

“One of the problems was that, certainly in the early days, there was a great tendency to sell the party line. For example, I remember the ambassador giving a talk about a week before the second of the votes in the House of Commons on the withdrawal agreement, when it was fairly clear from the press that it was highly unlikely to be passed, being confident that it was all going to go through. That kind of thing is not helpful, because people are realistic. I would say there has been a great improvement over the past year, with much more focused attention on rights.

“By and large, if you want to find out what your rights are in Italy, you are better off looking at a British in Italy website, because we can be franker and clearer, or we can express doubts, whereas, because of the desire of the Government to maintain a relationship with the Italian Government, they will perhaps be rather more cautious in their wording.

“For example, there is a “Living in” guide for each country in the EU27; it is organised by the FCO, but you get it through your local embassy website. That is all vetted by London, so it tends to be a bit bland at times and not helpful.”


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Brits in Europe still face complex post-Brexit cases, rights’ group warns

Resources for Brits in Europe to overcome any problems regarding post-Brexit residency issues are being cut just when some people need them most, citizens' rights group British in Europe has warned.

Brits in Europe still face complex post-Brexit cases, rights' group warns

While the implementation of the Brexit agreement on citizens’ rights has gone “relatively smoothly” in some countries, “resources allocated to the rights of UK citizens in the EU are being reduced drastically” at a time of “a rise in serious and complex cases,” warned British in Europe co-founder Jane Golding at a recent meeting of the House of Lord’s European Affairs Committee.

Golding was participating in an evidence session on Tuesday, together with representatives of EU citizens in the UK and Dr Kathryn Chamberlain, CEO of the UK Independent Monitoring Authority overseeing the implementation of EU citizens’ rights under the withdrawal agreement.

The session followed up on an enquiry carried out in 2021 and will set the basis for a “substantial letter” to the UK government.

Golding said that the experience of British citizens varies depending on EU countries.

“Systems for applications for residents have gone relatively smoothly in some countries, for example, France, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Hungary and Austria.

But in others, they have not,” she said.

Golding cited Sweden as a “big example”, where the rate of refusals is “statistically higher than in other comparable countries, at around 11 to 16 per cent”.

“We have seen cases like a family of four with young children facing an order to leave and the recent well publicised case in the media of a 74 year old lady with Alzheimer’s, living in a care home, who also faced an order to leave”. She added that in Sweden there are more than 900 late residence applications from British citizens under the withdrawal agreement and the current refusal rate is around 60 per cent.

Golding also mentioned problems in Denmark, Portugal and Malta.

As funding for the support network on citizens rights in UK Embassies across the EU was terminated at the end of March 2023 and people rely on volunteer groups for advice, Golding called on the government to maintain support services in place.

She also urged Whitehall to introduce secondary legislation on voting rights so that Britons abroad can have their own representatives in Westminster. The full session can be watched here.