BELD Survey Results

February 13, 2017 9:14 PM

'Can I stay?' (please)
Survey of 5000 Brits in the EU finds losing the right to reside is their biggest Brexit fear

A survey of more than 5000 British citizens living in the EU has found that 4 out of 5 are worried that Brexit will strip them of their automatic right to live in their country of residence.

The UK Government has consistently said it will not act unilaterally to guarantee the right of 3mn EU citizens to remain in the UK until it has agreement that the EU 27 will do the same for the estimated 1.2mn UK nationals living in the EU.

However, the survey, which was conducted by the Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats, also found that the automatic right to work, both for UK citizens and those that have non-EU spouses, as well as continued access to child, disability, healthcare and pension benefits were all issues that might limit the ability of British migrants to remain in their EU country of residence after Brexit.

Some Key Facts

- The right to reside, automatic pension increases and S1 healthcare concerns were the top 3 concerns for Brits living in Spain and France

- The right to reside, the right to work and freedom of movement for the top 3 concerns for Brits living in Belgium and Denmark

Laura Shields, Chair of Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats said:

'UK politicians must accept that the 'right to reside' is not the same as an actual ability to stay. Losing their EU citizenship will bring a myriad of practical problems for Brits in the EU which can't be fixed in a quick quid pro quo residency deal with the EU 27. The Government must think this through properly and ensure it doesn't throw us under Boris's Brexit blunder bus.'

UK Government faced down calls to act to protect Brits living in the EU

The survey's publication follows last week's UK House of Commons (lower chamber) vote which authorised the Government to begin the formal Brexit process by triggering Article 50. There was a further blow to Brits in the EU after Lib Dem and Labour amendments, which would have required the Government to act proactively (e.g. by guaranteeing state pension increases and S1 healthcare contributions) their rights after Brexit, were either defeated or not called. The Bill has now passed to the House of Lords (the upper chamber) where Opposition peers are expected to re-table the amendments on UK nationals in the EU 27 and EU citizens in the UK.

Catherine Bearder, Liberal Democrat MEP said:

'The Conservative Brexit Government is playing fast and loose with the lives and families of Brits living elsewhere in the EU. It denied many of them a vote in the EU Referendum and now it is using them as bargaining chips. Liberal Democrats will not stand by and see them left in the dark.'

A selection of testimonials from British citizens living in the EU who responded to the survey

'I am studying for a master's degree in European history. Upon graduating i would like to work in either Belgium or Germany; i don't fancy spending over half my salary on renting a bedroom in London. I fear that the future loss of my rights as an EU citizen may put off prospective employers'.
British man, aged 25-34, France

'My son and I moved to Spain where the peace and quiet, low population and good weather are helping to manage his Asperger's Syndrome. Because we are EU citizens my son receives a PIP (personal independence payment) and carers through reciprocal arrangements between the Spanish Government and the UK. We are waiting to find out if we will lose these once Britain leaves the EU and what this could mean for our ability to stay here'.
British woman, aged 45-54, Spain

'I am own a small business in Germany and we offer services in several EU countries. Will I still be able to work in these countries out of Germany, or will I require a separate work permit for every country?'
British man aged 45-54, Germany

'My husband is not an EU citizen. He is eligible to work here solely because I am an EU citizen. Non-EU spouses of non-EU citizens do not automatically get work permits here. Spouses of EU citizens are entitled to work regardless of their citizenship.'
British woman aged 35-44, Ireland

Media coverage:


  • The online survey of 5170 British citizens living in the EU, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein was conducted between 7th and 22nd January 2017.
  • The response ratio was 5:1 non-member to Lib Dem member and included results from British citizens in all EU 27 plus Norway, Switzerland and Iceland.
  • Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats (BELD) is the local party of the UK Liberal Democrats in Brussels and Europe. Its membership has more than doubled since Brexit and recently passed the 1000 mark.

For more information please contact:

Laura Shields, Chair Brussels and Europe Liberal Democrats
Tel: + 32 (0) 497 409 884 Twitter: @mediawhizz @brusselslibdems