EU blues: What becomes of the Brits departed?

Worst-case scenario could see UK citizens face the same visa requirements as other non-EU residents, although those with permanent permits are unlikely to be affected

Ahead of yet another expected by election win for British anti-EU party UKIP this week, an expert on union law has described expats as “the eggs that have to be broken” to make the omelettes of British politicians who feel uncomfortable living next to Romanians.

Following its success in May’s European elections, in which it topped the polls, and a number of by-elections, nobody can deny that Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party is now a mainstream party with the potential to radically change the British political spectrum. 

And even if UKIP fails to take hold of the reins of power, the UK’s current prime minister, David Cameron, has promised the British public a referendum on staying in the EU by the end of 2017.

The possibility of it happening is sounding less far-fetched every day, but what impact will it have on the brits living in Denmark?

11,000 could be affected
Steve Peers, a professor at the University of Essex and writer for blog, has examined the consequences for expats should UKIP fulfil its goal of the UK leaving the EU, and the future does not look bright.

Expats living in Copenhagen may be negatively affected if the UK leaves the EU, as this would put an end to the right to free movement within Europe for British citizens.

Geoff Juby, the Liberal Democrat candidate in the Rochester and Strood by-election – the voting boxes opened in Kent, 50km southeast of London, as this issue hit the streets – highlighted the issue in a recent TV debate, asking: “There’s nearly two million [UK citizens] living in Spain so if you stop the Spanish coming here, will they chuck those people out?”

According to government statistics, around 1.8 million Brits live in Europe (no more than 1 million in Spain, Mr Juby!), with roughly 11,000 of those residing in Denmark.

Breaking eggs
“The EU would be free to impose visa requirements on UK citizens in the event of a withdrawal,” Peers explained, which means Brits wanting to move to Denmark may be subject to their strict visa laws.

Not only that, but European universities would not be obligated under union law to charge British students the same low tuition fees as their home students, and British citizens who no longer meet the criteria for staying in Denmark could feasibly be deported. 

“Longer stays by Danish citizens in the UK would also likely become more difficult,” Peers added.

Get out of Britain free cards
However, Jakob Naesager, the head of the EU department at the public administration Statsforvatningen, said that it was very hard to say how a UK withdrawal would affect British emigration to Copenhagen.

“It depends on the conditions of a UK exit,” he said. “If they agree to the same rules as Iceland, Switzerland and Norway, there will be no difference.”

If the UK left the EU but remained part of the European Economic Area (EEA) alongside these countries, the emigration process for Brits would remain largely unchanged, as capping immigration to EU countries is only allowed under extreme circumstances. 

Nevertheless, UKIP is an extreme party. Staying in the EEA would not address its concerns:  economic concerns and immigration control.

Farage is increasingly attracting the support of voters who avoid the polls, but can he convert MEP votes into ones that count in the general election?

Tit for tat
“The negative consequences of a UK withdrawal from the EU could be avoided,” said Peers. “But this would depend on the UK government at the time being willing to treat EU citizens (either living here or wanting to come here) generously.”

In short, contends Peers, as long as an independent UK allowed a large degree of immigration, British citizens could expect to easily emigrate elsewhere.

However, this might depend on bilateral agreements between individual countries –good news if you would like to live in a society like Denmark where the citizens are seen as well-educated and unthreatening, bad news if you want to move to Romania.

Whilst an ad hoc solution could be made between the UK and the EU as a whole, this is impossible to predict as the UK’s withdrawal would be the first of its kind in EU history.

Danglophiles the lucky ones
“As Denmark has also opted out of some of the EU laws regarding migration, this makes the possibility of an independent agreement between the UK and Denmark more likely,” said Peers. 

“Denmark would not be bound by the EU’s external competence over the immigration of third country nationals, except for the issues covered by the Schengen rules, which Denmark does apply.”

However, if no agreement is reached, it is likely that British citizens would need to apply for Working Holiday Visas to enter Denmark, like citizens of other wealthy nations such as the United States and Australia.

Those who already have permanent residence permits or Danish citizenship need not worry, but leaving the EU does pose a problem (even if it is a mostly bureaucratic one) for those wishing to emigrate in the future.

But if all else fails, they can always marry a Dane – once they are over 24, have lived together for 18 months, can post over 50,000 kroner as collateral and can pass a language test.