E.g., 10/16/2019
E.g., 10/16/2019

After the Divorce: British Families Living in the EU-27 Post-Brexit

Policy Briefs
November 2018

After the Divorce: British Families Living in the EU-27 Post-Brexit

When the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in June 2016, it left many British families living abroad in the EU-27 fearful for their future. Their concerns have only increased amid confusion over the final shape of the UK-EU divorce.

Legal systems are not always designed to cater to the needs of families rather than individuals, and the patchwork of differing rights and benefits for EU citizens and non-EU nationals could mean some family members—third-country nationals, adult dependants, and same-sex, or unregistered partners—will fall through the gaps of national legal frameworks. Moreover, existing vulnerabilities are likely to be exacerbated as Member States retain a large degree of discretion in designing post-Brexit residence application systems.

This issue brief looks at the potential impact of Brexit on British families in the EU-27, a group that is much less discussed and studied than their counterparts in the United Kingdom. 

Without agreements on the thorny issues of secondary movement, the provision of cross-border services, and recognition of professional qualifications, many families’ livelihoods are at stake. A new set of challenges also faces dual nationals. Thousands of Britons and their family members have tried to secure their residency in the European Union by naturalizing in their host Member State. But restrictions on dual nationality in some Member States (including some with large UK-citizen populations, such as Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands) leave British residents of these countries with a difficult choice. It is also unclear whether UK citizens who hold dual citizenship are covered by the withdrawal agreement, which has more generous provisions for family reunification than some Member States’ national legislation.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Families and EU Free-Movement Rights

III. Key Issues Facing British Families in the EU-27

A. Family Reunification and Residence Rights

B. To Naturalize or Not to Naturalize

C. Gaps in the Rights of Children

IV. What Happens If There Is No Deal?

A. Becoming Third-Country Nationals

B. Other Routes to Secure Status

V. Conclusion