Who cares about #Brexit & #BritsinEU27?

Welcome back to the Brexit Brits Abroad
podcast. I’m Dr. Michaela Benson. In today’s episode Chantelle and I discuss
who represents the British who live in the EU-27. What we’re trying to
communicate here is the complexity around the ways that UK citizens living
in the EU-27 are understood and represented in UK Parliament. For this
work Chantelle’s been looking back over parliamentary proceedings through the
Hansard reports going back a few years to look at what particular issues have
been brought to Parliament that are of specific interest and that specifically
relate to UK citizens abroad. And I think it’s fair to say as a starting point
that there are very limited issues that get brought to UK Parliament pre-brexit
relating to the rights of these UK citizens. Would you agree with that
Chantelle? Yeah I would agree with that. There seems to be a collection of
members of parliament and Lords who care about the representation of British
people living within the EU but there is a select few. There isn’t a universal consensus on how they should be treated and
how they should be represented. There is a select few people who care basically.
Yes we have rather evocatively titled this episode ‘who cares about the British
in the EU-27?’ but really our focus today is specifically going to be on UK
Parliament because I do think that there is a broader sentiment circulating at
the moment, particularly around the people that we’ve been speaking to, and
certainly as illustrated by the campaigning of particular groups
supporting the rights of British populations living abroad that the
British government has somehow neglected them. And certainly looking back through
that record it does look like there’s very
limited concern for their interests although as you said yourself there are
some people who have historically cared more than others. What would you say are
the main kind of flash points where UK citizens who live overseas are referred
to in Parliament? So I would say prior to brexit the key theme that appears to
come up in the hands out reports is the voting rights of British citizens living overseas so not just within the EU and how they should have a right to vote
for life. Yes in a previous episode we did talk a little bit about that
extension of the vote for life and just a little reminder at the moment British
citizens who live overseas are only eligible to vote in UK parliamentary
elections for 15 years after they leave the UK so once that time is up
they are disenfranchised politically disenfranchised from the UK
parliamentary politics. Yes and for the collection of MPs and Lords that care
about the voting rights of the British living overseas they describe the fact
that this 15 year rule is in place as a democracy deficit or a deficit to our
democracy. When did we get to the stage where this 15 year rule came into play?
What came before it? So prior to this it was actually 20 years that you
could live abroad for whilst keeping your right to vote in UK parliamentary
elections. The Labour Party changed this in 2000 and their thoughts were that you
can’t vote in local on local issues if you have not lived in that
area or lived in Britain for that long. So when the Labour Party were in
government they made a change through the political parties, elections and
referendums Act of 2000 which reduced the time length on the right to vote
once people had moved outside the UK. Now this has been interpreted as a ploy to
kind of, made on the grounds that UK citizens who lived abroad were more
likely to be Conservative supporters and Conservative donors and so this was seen
as a way of closing that down a little bit. And I think that’s quite a
widespread belief. But from what you’re saying the way that you framed it it
sounds a little more like their concern was to do with the shape of electoral
politics in the UK and how that’s organized and it is organized around
local areas there is no overseas representation there’s no dedicated
representation of British citizens who live overseas. Do you want to talk us
through a little bit more that’s that opposition. Yeah so I mean one of their
key notions about changing the vote from 20 years to 15 years was around this
word ‘excessive’. They saw the fact that you could remain part of our
parliamentary system without living here for such a long time as excessive. But I
also described the fact that we haven’t got enough representation, voting
representation in Britain and so why should we focus on those that have left
Britain? We need to have more voter turnout in the UK as a whole so
resources should go into the UK. The opposition also says that if we’re
going to be looking at the right to vote for British people that have not lived
in the country for such a long time, we should also be looking at the right to
vote for non-EU migrants that have lived in Britain for a very long time that
haven’t got the right to vote that pay taxes. I think this is a really
interesting way of relocating the discussion about the rights of UK
citizens who’ve made their and lives outside of the UK to continue
to vote, within those broader questions about who the UK Democratic system
actually represents and who it should represent. So these are questions about
suffrage and enfranchisement that are being raised in opposition to the
extension of the vote to the vote for life. And you know questions about
resources—how are these things going to be paid for and where is the money
best spent—if we really want a truly democratic system. Definitely and it’s
almost like the opposition uses reasons like practicalities whereas though the
collection of people that are for British people having a vote for life
regardless of whether they live in Britain or not they’re more interested
in this symbolic and everlasting position of being British and the voting
rights for British people. So lots of conversations about how being a tax
payer having served in the Armed Forces having been a proponent of Britishness
for such a long time should automatically guarantee you will vote
for life regardless of whether you live in the country or not. So the opposition
is more focused on the practicalities I would say whereas the people that are
dedicated to giving British people a vote for life there is a lot of
symbolism there about what it means to be British. It certainly goes back to some
of those themes that we’ve been talking through in the podcast recently about
who is considered as British and it is interesting within that context that UK
citizens who live overseas seem to be being argued for on the grounds that
they are British that that is without question by the people who are in favor
of this vote for life. The way that we set up this discussion might incline
some of you to think that we’re talking about party politics but it is a little
bit complex than that as we’ve outlined in
in our blog post as well on this issue. It really does seem to go to the heart
of those questions precisely about who UK politicians should be representing at
this point in time and why. And certainly some of the Opposition is framed as well
in relation to other suggestions about who might be disenfranchised by
precisely the same people who were supporting a vote for life of these UK
citizens overseas so it’s really really complex. It really isn’t about petty
party politics. Another standout theme I’d say post brexit is the implications
of healthcare for British people living within the EU after Brexit.
Overwhelmingly these representations have been focused on the older
generation or pensioners people that have retired. What we’ve shown in this
research is that the populations of Britons living in the EU is diverse but
when we look at the representations in Parliament of British populations and
with a particular focus on healthcare it would seem that they represent the
populations mainly as the elderly. Now we discussed that perhaps this is rightly
so like the healthcare is possibly gonna impact the older generation the most
after Brexit. If there is a No Deal they are perhaps going to be the people that
are most reliant on government intervention. Just to be clear what we
intend when we say that healthcare is going to be the issue that impacts on
those elderly populations living abroad the most isn’t actually just a reflection
on their use of the healthcare system but how they access healthcare living
abroad through their S1 entitlements. So simply and it’s a little bit more
complex than this if you have retired abroad—so if you
reach retirement age in the UK and then chosen to live elsewhere in the EU-27—at
the moment what happens is that your health care is, you are entitled to use
health care in the state that you live on the same terms as people who’ve been
nationals there and in theory what then happens is that that is reimbursed or at
least the part that is a state contribution is reimbursed by the
British government. Now in the case of British populations who work in the EU-27
who are paying into Social Security systems in those countries they are
eligible to those health care services on the grounds they plan to pay into
Social Security. So the contribution of the UK government is insignificant there
is it’s not it isn’t the same terms essentially. So that’s why we say that
these older populations are rightly the focus of those discussions about what
happens to health care after Brexit. And just a little reminder as we said in one
of our myth-busting podcasts between Christmas and New Year, only 21% of the
UK citizen population currently living in the EU-27 are actually of pensionable
age and above. So I think what is interesting though is disregarding that
discussion that we’ve just had about the focus on those elderly populations in
relation to health care what’s fascinating is that when you look across
those transcripts from Parliament through those Hansard reports you do see
this curious slippage this evoking of the idea of this kind of vulnerable
elderly person who has chosen to live elsewhere in the EU so really the
mobilisation of this stereotype. In a way that’s quite surprising in some respects
because it isn’t just in along with the grounds of those issues around health
care that this comes to mind. It’s almost like in
the discussions about citizen’s rights there is this figure of the British
pensioner living abroad that kind of haunts all of those discussions.
Definitely and I think what it also brings into play is this idea that who should be protected and just looking at how particularly in the
subcommittee’s and the reciprocal health care subcommittee looking at how the
members of parliament act and how they are surprised at the uncertainty that
might be faced by these elderly populations after Brexit should there
be for example a No Deal. So it’s almost like they are positioned obviously as
vulnerable but as someone that we should be looking after. It’s interesting to see
how that particular stereotype of British populations living abroad has
travelled and found its way into those discussions. It might be a little
intangible to you listening in today to really understand the extent to which
that’s happening. It’s much more subtle than an explicit acknowledgment that
they’re talking about UK pensioners. It’s in the way that they describe the
particular issues and I think in the prominence of those issues around
healthcare around pensions around exportable benefits particularly things
like the winter fuel allowance that we start to see the extent to which this
vulnerable UK population abroad is represented in Parliament. There’s one
instance however where they perhaps aren’t viewed as vulnerable and aren’t as
protected and that’s when they look at or when there’s discussions in the
subcommittees—the House of Lords and House of Commons—on the possible impact on the NHS if these people were to return to Britain. So it’s almost like the tone
changes like oh well with the NHS cope with that would we be able to handle that?
I don’t think these people these people can’t really come
can they it’s almost those sort of conversations all those sort of themes
which emerge so when it looks like there might be a and this is a direct quote ‘a
strain on the NHS’ if there was not to be a healthcare arrangement after Brexit
that would benefit the elderly how would they cope but how the NHS cope with that?
Certainly this image of 1.2 million British people returning to the UK and
needing to access the NHS is one that has come back time and time again
through media reporting and through those parliamentary records as well. What
that really points to is the way in which the tone shifts when suddenly it
looks as though the British government would have to take full responsibility
for those populations who they can currently who they currently have very
limited responsibility for. I think that’s really significant within the
context of those discussions about citizens’ rights and Brexit. And it really
does on the project it’s really caused us to question who really has
responsibility for these populations? And that is a question not about ethics or
morals, it really is a question about on which level British people feel they’re
being represented and on which level people are supposed to be responsible
for these populations. I think that’s coming up time and time again. Yeah and I
think in addition to that what is also coming up in these parliamentary
proceedings is how little even politicians know about the detail of
what it would mean for British people living within the EU if there wasn’t
to be a deal on Brexit or if Brexit wasn’t to go in a way that maintains the
status quo. So this is particularly evident in the different population
sizes that they refer to so there’s a real there’s real differences in how many
British people different MPs think are living
within the EU-27. There’s also as you mentioned before this representation of
the EHIC cards when they use it in a way which isn’t actually correct and
it’s just quite a fascinating how these people are our representatives in
government and they don’t actually know that much. These are our government
representatives and it’s interesting what they do know and how reliant they
possibly are on the stereotypical depictions of the British living within
the EU. Yeah so we find people referring to the EHIC card and the agreements
that have been made about the he hit card which is a European health
insurance card which allows emergency treatment of EU Nationals travelling
within the EU should they need it. This is actually a very limited significance
to British populations who live abroad who have to have alternate arrangements
for their health care because the EHIC is only a temporary measure. It’s really
designed for people traveling within the rather than people who’ve decided to
make their homes and lives in those places. I also think that this discussion
of representation of these British populations comes to light at a time
when for whatever reason the Brexit negotiations have been organized along
this idea of bilateral agreements and so to a certain degree the British
government has said okay well we’re going to talk about the case of EU
nationals living in the UK and we expect the European Union to reciprocate in
respect to how they treat UK nationals living within their borders. So actually
the discussion about citizens rights that’s been brought to the UK Parliament
represents a little bit of a flashpoint for talking about UK citizens living in
the EU-27. And it is quite concerning that there seems to be very limited
understanding of this population it’s perhaps not surprising given some of
the issues that we raised before you’re talking about overseas voting and the
fact that there is no dedicated member of parliament responsible for the case
of UK citizens who live overseas. That is something that some of the UK citizens
living abroad would like to see some active campaigning for a little along
the lines of the French electoral system. Whether that will ever see the light of
day is questionable I think for various reasons. But I think that what it shows
is that this question about citizens’ rights in respect to Brexit really
has brought some attention to the case of these UK citizens who live abroad
even if the way that that is framed is quite limited. Definitely and it’s really
interesting how surprised and shocked and almost interested at times some
members of parliament are when they’re either hearing evidence or debating
these issues within the Houses of Lords and House of Commons like even that
response of oh really so that’s how that works?
Understanding the detail that’s involved in this is it’s interesting but it’s
slightly disconcerning because these are their elected representatives. I mean for
British people not living in Britain what must that feel like that actually
oh you don’t understand how my healthcare works or you don’t understand
how important insurance is to me? Disconcerting is a really really good
word for that Chantelle. I think it shows more broadly a kind of lack of
understanding about how freedom of movement functioned within the European
Union which is central of course to those discussions about Brexit. And it’s
only in light of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union that
politicians as much as the general public are actually finding out how
these things worked. I think that’s quite a sad indictment really in lots of ways.
But I do you think and going back to what we open the podcast
with that really this question about the representation of UK citizens living in
the EU-27 could also be a question about other populations and other and and how
they’re understood by UK parliamentary officials and by people who may be
responsible for their lives even if there is a no limited capacity. And how
that knowledge is better communicated and better understood I think is central
to that as much as the question of who UK democracy really represents? So thank
you very much Chantelle. Thank You [email protected] thank you for listening to the brexit
Brits abroad podcast if you’ve enjoyed what we’ve been talking about today and
want to find out more check out our website www.brexitbritsabroad.com or you can
follow us on social media via twitter @BrexpatsEU and on Facebook and
don’t forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and I’ll speak to you again

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