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BREXIT

ANALYSIS: Britons in Europe still gripped by fear and loathing over Brexit

It's been four years since the polemic Brexit referendum and now the inevitable moment is upon us. So how have Brits living in Europe come to terms with leaving the EU? Graham Keeley finds out.

ANALYSIS: Britons in Europe still gripped by fear and loathing over Brexit
Photo: AFP

Matthew Tinker moved to France when Margaret Thatcher came to power in 1979.

He left the Iron Lady behind and forged a career in his adopted home as a set designer working in film, television and in theatre.

At one point he worked with David Lean, director of Dr Zhivago among other great films.

“I am sad my grandson Riley will not have the same opportunities as me because of Brexit,” he told me. 

“The Olympics will be on in a few years and I had hoped he could come over from Britain and work here in Paris. But I am not sure that will be possible. It will not be so easy to do that kind of thing in the future.”

He reflected on what he had gained from living in France. 

“Living in France has taught me things about my own culture and the way of thinking. I am sad that for my own son or grandson, these opportunities are going to be more difficult to enjoy.”

His words were typical of the mixture of sadness and anger which came across when I spoke to Brits across Europe this week about their feelings as the UK was about to sail out of the EU next week.

From Finland, to Malta and Austria or Spain there was a sense of fear and loathing.

A few who backed Brexit became disillusioned with the whole idea after witnessing how the negotiations have become mired in dispute.

I had put out an appeal through the campaign group British in Europe to speak to Brits across the continent before the Brexit drawbridge comes down on December 31.

I had half expected that by now many Britons would be resigned to the situation and more worried about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, my phone rang off the hook.

Apart from their immediate worries about residency permissions before Brexit happens,  many were looking ahead – with dread.

What was striking was how many parents were concerned about their futures of their children and how leaving the EU would affect their ability to work abroad or study back in Britain.

Take Sally Urwin. Her son's dreams of studying in Britain are at risk because they were suddenly told they might have to pay international fees of upwards of €30,000 per year.

For Ms Urwin, a teacher, and her husband, a communications officer for a nursing organisation, this would be impossible.

“It makes me wild with anger,” she told me.

Ms Urwin, who lives in Thonon Les Bains near Evian, sent me some responses from UK universities which were confusing to say the least. 

Liverpool University, for example, could not give her a straight answer about whether her son qualified for 'home status' i.e. paying the same fees as a British resident or a foreign resident.

Juliette Couzens, who works as a coach in Austria, was worried about what Brexit might mean for her daughter when she grows up.

Madeleine is only six but obviously parents think ahead.

“What if when my daughter marries a non Austrian and they have a child. Will that child be able to register as an Austrian citizen or what will their status be? It is all so unclear,” she said.

For many of the 1.3 million Britons living in Europe, it will never be quite the same dream as it once was.

Facebook messages abound asking supporters of the EU to write a few words about what living in Europe meant to them. There seems a real sense of melancholy in the air.

Zoe Adams Green, (pictured below) a translator who lives in Rome, feared for the future of her two-year-old son Leo and his cousins in the UK.

“My main concern is the fact my son Leo won't have the opportunity to go to university in the UK, despite being a British citizen,” she said.

“Conversely, his cousins in the UK will not have the opportunities that I had and that Leo will have to live and easily work across Europe.”

Yet, I did not just speak to one side of the Brexit argument. There are, after all, always two sides to every story.

Mark Sampson, who ran the aptly named Euro Bar, in Benalmádena in Spain's Costa del Sol, was a strong supporter of Brexit.

Four years after the referendum, however, he was not so sure it was a good idea.

“It has been such an awful mess on both sides. The fate of millions has been left until New Year's Eve. What kind of a way is this to conduct business?” he said.

I wonder how the next generation will view this moment in history?

Those thoughts from people across Europe written on Facebook or elsewhere might be worth preserving.

They could provide a kind of time capsule for us to reflect on years from now.

 

 

Graham Keeley is a Spain-based freelance journalist who covered the country for The Times from 2008 to 2019. Follow him on Twitter @grahamkeeley .

 

 

 

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Member comments

  1. ‘Fear and loathing’ put together as they are in this headline overplay what surely is a bureaucratically difficult time for the ‘English abroad’. For the UK to wish a return to its own sovereignty is surely understandable although maybe not wated by those who decided to leave the UK and live in the EU. People who did this did so with the knowledge that if all went wrong they could return. They, of course assuming the retention of a UK-within-EU passport, can still do so after January 1st. The process is straight forward. It will also be possible for Brits to move to live in the EU but the process is then more difficult but as politics and times change it is likely that entry into the EU will become more fluid. The Brits have been visiting and living in Italy for hundreds of years. I managed to live quite happily and legally in Italy for five years before and after the UK officially joined the EU. To worry in fear at this stage is understandable but is best relegated to ‘deal with tomorrow’as all is in flux and once calmer waters are reached there may well be changes.

    The UK has never really accepted the EU and as we know many millions of EU citizens don’t either. The UK’s desire to become a sovereign state again and to trade openly and vigorously with the world is a sure sign of a freedom-loving people. Allow us that and give the country time and you will soon see that matters are not so fearful and most certainly not warranting to be loathed.

  2. Well said F Hugh Eveleigh! The article was too emotional and didn’t offer anything to the understanding of the position of Brits in the EU. Your pragmatic solution to deal with the situation tomorrow when all possibilities are clear is to be commended.

  3. And who’d have thought Jacob and Michael would take time out to read and comment on this humble organ – an honour indeed.

  4. Hear hear, F Hugh Eveleigh. As with C Mason Smith, I agree with you. All UK and EU citizens have a right to make their own decisions about where they want to live and. as someone who resides in Sweden, I knew what could happen if the UK left the EU.

    The negotiations showed the chasm between the UK and EU and the attitude of the EU negotiators in thinking that a country would actually want to leave the club was clear for all to see. It was their noses were put out of joint. I am sure that there are politicians from other countries in the EU who will watch what happens over the next couple of years and decide for themselves whether they want to stay in the EU. The fact that the EU might welcome Turkey, a country which the vast majority of its land is in Asia, into the fold is eye-watering and I, for one, am glad that we will not be part of the ridiculous freedom of movement. To see terrorists cause havoc and turmoil in Paris and slip away to Brussels or Amsterdam without noticing they have crossed a national border is indefensible. To see migrants from Africa, most of them economic, stampede across Europe, forcing borders to be closed was dreadful. Yes, I know I chose a couple of extreme examples, but if the article can be so one-sided, so can I.

    Having always been in favour of the UK leaving the EU, I, for one, am glad it is now happening. Sure, there will be rocky times for all Brits, wherever we live, but we’ll get over it and survive.

  5. Remainers could argue all kinds of objections to Brexit- but the elephant in the room is that it was carried out through lies and deceit- to achieve a mythical sovereignty- which actually means very rich people avoiding higher tax, having off shore investment freedom and low EU regulation. Brexit voters were sold a “pup”! The price of this deceit is personal suffering for millions of Brits living in mainland Europe, EU citizens living in the UK, agony for most small and middle sized UK business people, a crisis for the UK’s health and social care staffing and farming and more!! The irony is that the equivalent standards part of the current deal means that there will be debates about our so called mythical sovereignty for years. Get over it and survive- talk about shooting your foot off with a shotgun!!! Happy limping!!
    Adam Carter

  6. Davide – there are many Eurosceptics across Europe, how many countries regularly poll 20, 30 or even over 40% supporting this view? Have these people all been lied to or fit any of the other silly generalisations? Rather than continually agonize over the democratic will of the UK voters, supporters of the EU might find it more profitable to question why there’s so much dissent. The mess the EU have made of the Covid vaccine roll-out would be a topical starting point.

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BREXIT

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

As UK driving licence holders in Italy still wait for answers regarding another extension or a long-awaited deal for the mutual exchange of British and Italian licences post-Brexit, we look at how the situation compares to that of their counterparts across Europe.

Driving licences: How does situation for Brits in Italy compare to rest of Europe?

When Britain left the EU at the end of 2020, the British and Italian authorities hadn’t reached a reciprocal agreement on driving licences.

However, UK licence holders living in Italy were granted a 12-month grace period in which they could continue to drive on their British licences in Italy.

READ ALSO: Q&A: Your questions answered about driving in Italy on a British licence

This was then further extended for another 12 months until the end of 2022.

The UK government announced on December 24th, 2021 that British residents of Italy who didn’t convert their UK licence to an Italian one could continue to use it until December 31st, 2022.

That’s the latest official directive from the authorities, with no decision made on what will happen from January 1st, 2023.

The question on a UK-Italy driving licence agreement rolls on. (Photo by FABIO MUZZI / AFP)

The latest extension – while providing more time – hasn’t ruled out the need to take the Italian theory and practical driving tests and the clock is ticking again with just over six months left of this grace period.

READ ALSO: How do you take your driving test in Italy?

In fact, the authorities recommend sitting the Italian driving exams whatever the outcome, just in case. The process is known to take months, so UK licence holders find themselves once again taking a gamble on waiting for an accord to be reached or taking the plunge by starting preparations for the tests.

As things stand, the latest update to the driving guidance on the British government’s ‘Living in Italy’ webpage in January states:

“If you were resident in Italy before 1 January 2022 you can use your valid UK licence until 31 December 2022,” however, “you must exchange your licence for an Italian one by 31 December 2022. You will need to take a driving test (in Italian).”

The guidance then states: “The British and Italian governments continue to negotiate long-term arrangements for exchanging driving licences without needing to take a test.”

The Local contacted the British Embassy in Rome to ask for an update on the situation, to which they responded:

“Rest assured the Embassy continues to prioritise the issue of UK driving licence validity in Italy and we continue to engage with the Italian government on this issue.”

Presently, the UK’s new ambassador to Italy, Edward Llewellyn, is touring all 20 regions of Italy and no updates on the driving licence have been given in the meantime.

Could there be a deal which sees all UK licence holders in Italy – those who registered their intent to exchange, those who didn’t, those who did register intent but haven’t been able to finalise the process, and future UK licence holders who move to Italy – able to continue using their UK licences in Italy or easily exchange them for Italian ones without having to sit a driving test?

READ ALSO: ‘Anyone can do it’: Why passing your Italian driving test isn’t as difficult as it sounds

It’s still hard to say, as the authorities continue to advise UK licence holders to sit their Italian driving test, while stating that the two governments are still working on an agreement.

The embassy’s most recent announcement was a Facebook post in April acknowledging that “many of you are concerned” about the issue.

“We continue to work at pace to reach a long-term agreement with Italy, so that residents can exchange their UK driving licences without taking a test, as Italian licence holders can in the UK,” the embassy stated.

British residents of Italy can use their driving licenses until the end of this year, the government has confirmed.

British residents of Italy can presently use their driving licences until the end of this year. Photo by PACO SERINELLI / AFP

The embassy reiterated the need for UK licence holders to consider the possibility of obtaining an Italian driving licence via a test, stating: “It is important that you currently consider all your options, which may include looking into taking a driving test now.”

READ ALSO: Getting your Italian driving licence: the language you need to pass your test

So is it true that most European nations have reached successful agreements with the UK over reciprocal driving licence recognition and exchange and the Italian deal is lagging behind?

The evidence suggests so.

UK licence exchange agreements across Europe

As things stand, Italy and Spain are the only European countries where licence exchange negotiations are ongoing.

British drivers living in Spain are becoming increasingly disgruntled at the lack of solutions, as authorities have still made no decision on exchanging driving licences or reaching a deal.

UK licence holders in Spain are currently in limbo, unable to drive until they either get a Spanish driving licence or a deal is finally reached between Spanish and UK authorities for the mutual exchange of licences post-Brexit.

Since May 1st 2022, drivers who’ve been residents in Spain for more than six months and who weren’t able to exchange their UK licences for Spanish ones cannot drive in Spain.

French and British authorities reached a licence exchange agreement in June 2021, considered a generous one for UK licence holders residing in France as those with licences issued before January 1st 2021 can continue using their UK licences in France until either the licence or the photocard nears expiry.

Sweden and the UK reached a deal even earlier in March 2021. British people resident in Sweden can exchange their UK driving licences for an equivalent Swedish one, without needing to take a test, just as they could when the country was a member of the European Union. 

In Portugal, resident UK licence holders can continue to use their valid UK licences until December 31st 2022 but they must exchange their licences for Portuguese ones before that date.

Other EU nations which have decided to allow UK licence holders residing in their countries to swap their driving licences without having to take a driving test include Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Switzerland.   

There are slight variations in the conditions between countries, and some say you “can exchange”, others that you “must exchange” and most encourage UK licence holders to swap “as soon as possible”. In Greece, UK licences continue to be valid without any restrictions or deadlines for exchange.

That leaves Italy and Spain as the two EU/EEA countries where a deal on a straightforward exchange or long-term recognition of UK licences among residents is still hanging in the balance.  

The only question that’s left is why. 

Why are the driving rights of all Britons who resided in Italy before December 31st 2020 not part of the other protected rights they enjoy under the Withdrawal agreement? 

And why is it taking so long to reach an exchange deal?

So far, Italian and British officials have not provided answers to these questions.

The Local will continue to ask for updates regarding the use of British driving licences in Italy.

Are you a British resident in Italy affected by this issue? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Please leave a comment below this article or email the Italian news team here.

Find more information on the UK government website’s Living in Italy section.

See The Local’s latest Brexit-related news updates for UK nationals in Italy here.

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