E.g., 06/23/2024
E.g., 06/23/2024
Safe or Sorry? Prospects for Britons in the European Union after Brexit

Following the 2016 referendum that saw a slim majority of UK voters opt to leave the European Union, and with exit negotiations in full swing, approximately 1 million UK citizens living in another EU Member State face an uncertain future. This report—part of MPI Europe’s ongoing examination of what Brexit means for mobile EU and UK nationals—sketches a profile of the Britons living abroad in Europe and assesses their prospects in the years to come.

The UK population of the other 27 EU Member States, the author writes, is both diverse and growing. While the stereotype of British pensioners tanning along the Spanish coast has captured media attention, "Brexpats" span age and income groups to include workers and business owners, students, lifestyle migrants, retirees, and children. The biggest challenges many of these Britons will face in the European Union after Brexit, whether the negotiations succeed or not, include:

  • Difficulty securing future legal status, a process that may require them to document their current and/or past financial and residence status.
  • Complications participating in EU labor markets as third-country nationals, with more limited employment rights and fewer guarantees that their qualifications will be recognized.
  • More limited access to social security and health care amid questions about EU-UK coordination and varying Member State interpretation of key legal terms.

Whether or not a deal is reached, the report finds, some Britons are likely to find themselves in legal limbo until their residence status is resolved, while other may find their only option is to return to the United Kingdom.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. The British in Europe

A. How Large is the UK Population Abroad?

B. Trends over Time and within Destination Countries

C. What Are the Characteristics of this Population?

D. How Likely is the Population to Obtain Permanent Residence or Citizenship in the Country of Residence?

III. The Future of UK Nationals in the European Union

A. Challenges Following Brexit

B. Prospects for a Deal

IV. Looking Ahead: Issues to Watch