In today’s world talk is cheap and words often mean nothing. In Theresa May’s speech on future UK-EU relations 2 March, she said referring to the EU, “We know what we want. We understand your principles. We have a shared interest in getting this right. So, let’s get on with it.” We all know the exact opposite is true. The reality is, nothing is settled and internal UK political conflict is preventing agreement. Therefore, Brits living in the EU are in a permanent state of worry about the impact this will have on them personally.
I am a British citizen. I was the archetypal Brit that Theresa May speaks about – innovating in both technology and commerce, a global business person representing my country. I was born and lived in the UK and several other countries including the USA, Ireland and South Africa. I also travelled and worked in countless other countries as a researcher and consultant in information technology architecture advising many of the worlds’ leading enterprise. I moved to Ireland 17 years ago, and last year retired at the age of 70.
Brits in Ireland are in a slightly different situation to those in the other EU 26. Ireland and Britain maintain a Common Travel Area (CTA) that allows free movement as well as linked social services. But there are several issues that I am very worried about.
- The UK government has said they are committed to the CTA. But relations between UK and Ireland have seriously deteriorated over the Northern border. So, in the event of a “no deal” what will happen to the CTA? While I will retain residency rights, my UK pension may be frozen. There are precedents for this for Brits living outside the EEA, such as Canada. The pound has dropped in value by around 30% since June 2016. This important part of my now fixed income is under threat.
- The negotiations around citizens’ rights have not focused on issues specific to Brits in Ireland; perhaps because the CTA is assumed to be enduring because of Theresa May’s earlier statements. I would not be so confident. British in Europe have pressed the point that, given the citizen’s rights were not finalized in Phase 1, they should be made a separate agreement from the trade agreement to ensure they do not become a bargaining point in the trade negotiations. I have heard no commentary regarding the future of the CTA. Now I really don’t know whether this is a good or bad thing; if it is opened up for negotiation anything could happen. If not, it might actually be allowed to wither away, just like the Good Friday Agreement.
- Ireland is a thriving country with world leading tourism, technology and pharmaceutical industries. The stability of Northern Ireland is a key aspect of this success. The current machinations of the British Government and their allies in the Northern Ireland DUP have rendered the Good Friday Agreement and the devolved government inactive. The DUP have effectively seized control of Northern Ireland by proxy without either a popular mandate or compliance with the Good Friday Agreement. The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU; but the DUP are strong supporters of Theresa May’s conservative government and Brexit. If there is a “no deal” a hard border will inevitably be required and all the efforts to establish peace through the Good Friday Agreement will be lost. The impact on Ireland may be profound. Peace is hard won and easily lost, and the UK government is playing with fire. Brits in Ireland will be deeply concerned that the success and stability and peace may be compromised, with unforeseen consequences for macroeconomics and personal safety.
In my lifetime I have seen at first hand countries undergo major transformations for the worse for no good purpose other than the incompetence or venality of politicians. I am deeply concerned that the UK is throwing not only its ex patriot citizens over the cliff but also the indigenous population. For Brits in Ireland the position is compounded by the clear threat of destabilizing the hard won peace in the North.
Published for Brexpats Hear our Voice and British in Europe March 2018