As British Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to find common ground to reach an agreement both domestically and in Brussels before the United Kingdom leaves the European Union on March 29, 2019, the tens of thousands of Greeks and Cypriots who live in the UK worry about the future of their rights in the country.
In a referendum held in June 23, 2016, the British people decided that the country should leave the European Union, 43 years after it originally joined the European Economic Community, as it was then called.
The fragile majority of the ‘Leave’ campaign (51.9 per cent with 48.1 per cent opposing the prospect of the country’s withdrawal from the Union) along with the almost-insuperable problems which cropped up during the tough negotiations on the terms under which the country will leave the EU have sparked concerns. Not only Greeks and Cypriots but all of the EU citizens who live, work or study in the UK, believed to be between 3 and 3.6 million people, are restive and apprehensive about their future.
Both the British government and the EU authorities have said from the very beginning of the Brexit process that citizens’ rights need to be and will be protected, but without an official agreement signed by both sides, nothing can be guaranteed.
This week the British government reached a preliminary agreement based on a draft proposal which specifies the terms under which the UK will leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
In this 585-page document, the rights of EU citizens in the UK (including Greek and Cypriot citizens) as well as the rights of the more than one million British nationals who currently live in the EU, are guaranteed. This means that there will be no change in their rights, and they will be able to continue to live, work or study with no disruption.
However, what will change is that every EU citizen, including Greeks and Cypriots, will need to fill in an online application and most likely pay a fee between £50 and £90 in order to be registered. This will give them the right to continue living and enjoying full rights as they did before; and after the completion of five years of consecutive residence in the UK, they will be able to apply for ”permanent residence status”. This stipulates that they will have an indefinite right to live, work and study in the UK unless they leave the country for more than five consecutive years.
Although the country will officially leave the EU on March 29, 2019, a transition period has already been agreed to which will last until December 31, 2020, with an option of a further extension. Until then, the rules currently governing the relationship between the UK and the EU will remain the same, meaning that despite the UK’s withdrawal, everything will be as if the country was still a member of the EU.
Still, the current political situation in the UK does not give much hope that this agreement could be voted on by the UK Parliament anytime soon. So called ”hard-Brexiteers”, along with those who do not want to see the UK leave the EU at all, have placed enormous pressure on the PM Theresa May to change the terms of the agreement, with three main scenarios being on the table at the moment:
The first suggests that the UK could leave the EU on March 29, 2019 with no deal. This would be deeply problematic, leaving the country without any official agreement. The EU citizens’ rights would be at immediate risk and the UK’s economy could be badly damaged due to the immediate enforcement of trade barriers between the UK and the rest of Europe.
The second scenario suggests that the country will head to a second Referendum, due to political deadlock, with possibly even an annulment of Brexit being on the table, as polls suggest that more than 54 per cent of the British public now oppose the country’s withdrawal from the EU.
The third and less likely scenario is that Theresa May passes the draft agreement through Parliament and the country leaves the EU in an orderly manner, with EU citizens’ rights being guaranteed.
Whatever the outcome, Greeks, Cypriots and the rest of the EU nationals currently living in the UK have already begun to worry, because without a deal, nothing guarantees that their rights will be secured for the foreseeable future.