What does a ‘Leave’ vote mean?
By Nick Nugent
We are heading for one of the most potentially life-changing situations in any British Expat’s lifetime here in the Netherlands. The EU referendum on the 23rd June.
I know many British citizens in the Netherlands are concerned about what will happen if the UK decides on a vote to leave. If you want to read detailed advice you can curl up with this light bedtime reading written for the government from here:
I am not a lawyer or financial expert, but I will try to summarise the situation as I see it which would occur if the UK votes to leave for all of us here in the Netherlands. Three areas give us most concern.
- What happens immediately after a vote leave?
- Will my family and I be able to stay here?
- What happens to my assets?
What happens immediately after a vote leave?
The short answer is nothing, apart from a big party for Nigel Farage and some glum looking faces on the remain side. Firstly the UK government is not bound by the referendum to do anything at all, but if they were to choose to do nothing or immediately try for another referendum then it would political suicide for the PM and a lot of the remain campaigners. The second point is according to Article 50 of the treaty we have to apply to the EU with our intention to leave and then the clock starts ticking.
There are three possibilities:
- We manage to come up with an exit plan and agree an exit date
- If no exit plan is approved within two years then all treaties will lapse unless;
- The EU members agree an extension to the current membership (one veto by a member state, however, can stop this!)
During this two-year hiatus with stock markets all over the place, with the doom and Armageddon prophecies as most remain campaigners would have you believe will happen, all of the treaties remain in place! In fact, the EU would continue as normal and the UK would be subject to any new treaties which they came up with. The UK would however no longer be invited to the EU meetings and cannot vote on any of this new legislature. I not sure what is means for our MEP’s but maybe a fewer politicians is a good thing.
Will my family and I be able to stay here?
In the short term, of course, nothing will happen and then the next question is what sort of deal can we negotiate with the EU for the over two million or so UK citizens living in the EU. The situation, if we get to the end of the two-year period and nothing has been agreed, looks something like the following:
- The UK could attempt to sign up to the EEA agreement which is the treaty which Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein operate for the free movement of EU citizens within their countries. This treaty is a replication of the EU free movement treaty. Apart from some caveats, the three countries involved have no control over EU Immigration, which is partly what the Brexiteer’s have been fighting for! It would be unlikely the UK would go for this.
- The UK sign a similar bilateral deal as Switzerland has done, which restricts EU migrants. There is, of course, no way to know how long that would take and what EU restrictions would be placed on UK citizens.
- No deal can be established after two years and, if an extension is not granted, we then enter the realms of “third country nationals” status.
- In this case, we would be subject to a mixture of EU and national immigration laws which could mean greater scrutiny at border points and the potential that we would need visas to enter EU countries in the case of travel.
- Those of us who have decided to remain in the Netherlands and want to go through the red tape then there are some EU mechanisms for controlled migration:
- Highly skilled workers can apply for the EU Blue Card, which is more restrictive compared to the freedoms we enjoy now.
- Unskilled workers would be subject to the domestic immigration laws.
- Students would also have greater restrictions.
- British Citizens resident in the country for more than five years can apply for EU third country national status which again is less advantageous compared to the rights we enjoy now especially for bringing your families here.
- British Citizens without five years or wish to enter the Netherlands for the first time to remain here would be subject to the quota system for Third Party Countries.
What happens to my Assets?
Those of you have been here for a while have probably built up quite fair amount of assets such as a house and a pension. In most of the scenarios were the free movement applies or you can obtain some EU status then there is no effect as you will be under EU law. There is the possibility that if that if we revert to third party national status the terms and conditions for your financial instruments become more burdensome to administer. It may also be that your costs will rise somewhat for healthcare for example.
The EU law of human rights and some international conventions should cover the ownership of assets and they should remain yours. In the UK, however, if the Brexiteer’s get their wishes and manage to repeal the Human Rights Act the situation for our fellow EU citizens in the UK could be much more difficult.
If you are currently entitled to benefits, such as a state pension or disability payments, which is covered by the EU laws (http://www.gov.uk/claim-benefits-abroad/where-you-can-claim-benefits) then the situation is less clear should an agreement not be found before end of the two year period. In a brief search of the treaties between UK and the Netherlands, I have not been able to find anything other than the 1953 treaty on the matter, which is between EU states. If in two years time all the reciprocal agreements lapse then any of you who are entitled to these through EU arrangements could lose that overnight. If you rely on this then this could be quite a worry.
I will, however, repeat I am not a lawyer or financial expert and in the situation, should it come to it, I would strongly recommend getting sound financial or legal advice.
Potential political scenarios following a leave vote
As I mentioned earlier that David Cameron does not have to do anything following the vote but it would be political suicide. He has already stated that he is not going to continue anyway so he could hold out till the end of his term and leave it to the next government. Another possible option is that on a leave vote he could say that he tied his political life to a remain vote and it could potentially trigger his resignation. This would leave the Conservative party with a choice of George versus Boris. Since George has aligned himself squarely with the remain campaign he would probably suffer in this vote and we would be facing a Boris-led Conservative government. This would likely take 2-3 months delaying the government application to the EU to leave. Nevertheless, in this scenario we would apply to leave. There are some more extreme potentialities, such as this triggering a general election, which would take maybe six months to sort out and most likely return another Conservative government. They would maybe choose to follow the referendum result or maybe they might decide to possibly run another referendum to check the first one was correct. I don’t wish to engage with the project fear, but if leave wins we enter a period of uncertainty for us all.
So there will be some genuine concerns following a vote to leave, but nothing will happen for around two years. If you, like me, have not managed to learn Dutch and would fail the inburgering exam then we need to get our skates on and do that! Other options include marrying an EU citizen in the next couple of years before you will come under the scrutiny of the inburgering police, but I would say marriage should be for life not just for EU membership!
Fingers crossed for the right result on the 23rd!