British ambassador to Luxembourg John Marshall is pictured speaking at the conference on 27 November 2018
Photo: Esther Bechtold
The auditorium at St. George's International School in Luxembourg was almost completely full on Tuesday night as people came en masse to hear how the Brexit withdrawal agreement would impact them.
Several hundred concerned Brits and other residents directly affected by the Brexit withdrawal agreement came to listen to John Marshall, UK ambassador to Luxembourg and Fiona Godfrey, representative of BRILL (British Immigrants Living in Luxembourg). The apprehension about the future was almost palpable in the room. The ambassador opened the conference with an overview of the main citizens’ rights that the withdrawal agreement guarantees, focusing on residency, work and social security.
UK nationals who will have lived in Luxembourg for five years at the end of the implementation period (1 December 2020) will have the right to permanently live, work and receive social benefits in Luxembourg as well as bring close family over. Those who have not resided in the country for five years can remain until the five-year period is complete and then apply for permanent residency. If British nationals leave the country for longer than five years, they lose their right to permanent residency.
British nationals will continue to have the right to work in Luxembourg, whether they are cross-border workers or not. Cross-border workers will still have their qualifications recognised if they started working before the end of the implementation period. The matter is more delicate for self-employed cross-border workers because the mutual recognition of these qualifications is not yet guaranteed.
Social benefits, access to education, full healthcare and pensions are still available to British nationals in Luxembourg after the UK has left the EU. They will also keep their right to vote in and be eligible in local elections, a privilege that not many EU countries reserve for non-EU nationals.
Photo: Esther Bechtold. Fiona Godfrey, pictured left, said she considered it unlikely that the UK and EU governments will be able to find a viable solution to the freedom of movement issues
Loss of freedom of onward movement
What Ambassador Marshall and Godfrey highlighted, however, is that the agreement entails the UK nationals’ loss of freedom of movement within the EU. This will make it harder for Britons to move to and work in another EU country because they will then have the status of third country nationals.
Another issue is that of British students who live in the grand-duchy but might want to go on to study in the UK. The current British government has assured that for the 2019 entry, British nationals will only be expected to pay home and not international fees. There is no indication as to whether this will remain the case for 2020 entry and beyond.
Godfrey considered it unlikely that the UK and EU governments will be able to find a viable solution to the freedom of movement issues because they cannot base their negotiations on reciprocity. As it stands, EU countries and the UK are involved in a political stare-down: every EU country is waiting to see how the UK treats EU nationals before issuing their own legislation on the British living in their countries. Godfrey commented that Theresa May calling EU citizens “queue-jumpers” last week did not help to put the UK in their good books.
The Q&A session was dominated by anxieties around the nuances of the loss of free movement in individual cases. Explanations of the upheavals of daily life in the unlikely but possible case of a no-deal-Brexit affected everyone in the room. It ended on a cheerful note, however, when a member of the audience mentioned the overall affection for Brits and for all things British he experienced from locals in Luxembourg.
This generated a round of applause from the rest of the attendees. Godfrey agreed that of all the countries to live in during these turbulent times, everyone was very lucky to live and work in Luxembourg. While the atmosphere of apprehension had not dissipated by the end of the conference, there was a now also a sense of mutual support. In Godfrey’s words: “If one good thing has come out of this, it is the solidarity between the EU citizens and the three million UK citizens living in the EU.”