What Brexit means for Denmark and for the expats

As the Brits leave the EU, what will happen to the British expats?

Not long after the UK decided to end its current relationship with continental Europe on Friday, the Danish media were awash with stories of the repercussions that Brexit will cause for Denmark.

For instance, the dramatic result is expected to have an impact on Danish exports to the UK, according to the agriculture advocacy organisation Landbrug og Fødevarer (L&F).

“Danish exports to the UK will be immediately affected due to the significant fall in the value of the pound,” said Frank Øland, the chief economist at L&F.

“In the coming months we risk being hit by a great uncertainty that could impact growth negatively. The greatest worry, however, is the risk of administrative burdens and a toll wall that could negatively influence Danish exports to the UK in the long run.”

Mere seconds after the result was announced on Friday, the British pound fell and hit its lowest level since 1985.

There are enormous sums at play here. The UK is Denmark’s fifth largest trade partner and Danish exports to the UK are worth 70 billion kroner annually – around 7 percent of its total national exports.

What’s in it for the expats?
But while most institutions seem certain that the Brexit vote will spell bad news for the Danish economy, at this point it is much harder to say how the vote will affect British expats living in Denmark.

“We don’t know. We’ll know a lot more in six months,” Derek Beach, a professor at the Department of Political Science at Aarhus University, told the Copenhagen Post.

Around 8,800 Brits live and work in Denmark (other estimates suggest the total number is close to 14,000), and it is still hard to say exactly how the Brexit decision will affect the daily lives of the expats living here – at least until the next government has landed a trade deal, which could take take several years.

British media have made gloomy predictions of an ‘expat exodus’ in the case of a Brexit, as healthcare and pension concerns drive Brits back to the UK.

Do like the Norwegians or Canadians?
According to Beach, depending on who will become Britain’s next prime minister in November, the next government will most likely try and negotiate a deal similar to the agreement that either Norway or Canada has with the EU.

“I think the most likely scenario is that the UK will get something like they have in Norway, where they are in, but not formally. Brits would become citizens of the European Economic Area (EEA) and would still be able to move freely within the EU. The Norway deal would be the closest to the status quo.”

Besides Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein are also members of the EEA, allowing them to be part of the EU single market. They are not part of the EU and cannot vote on EU matters, but EEA citizens may still live and work in another EU country.

“A Norway type deal is the more likely scenario. It will mean that the UK can’t vote on European law, but will still adopt laws that other countries voted for.”

If a more anti-EU politician replaced David Cameron as prime minster, there’s a possibility of another scenario similar to the Canada trade deal with the EU, according to Beach.

“Obviously, the issue of free movement within the EU has been a big issue. A deal like the one Canada has with the EU will give the UK access to the free market and limit immigration, but it will exclude a lot of financial services.”

For British expats living in Denmark, it is unlikely that Denmark will strip them of any social services they acquired prior to the referendum.

The law isn’t clear, but some lawyers believe that the Vienna Convention of 1969 would protect rights exercised by expats before Brexit. The question is whether the same rights will apply to newcomers in the future.

However, if a EU country decides to limit social rights from British expats, the UK may respond by limiting access to social services for the 3 million EU nationals living in the UK.

“Besides, most Brits in Denmark have stayed long enough to become Danish citizens. I already know a few who will apply for citizenship, but I think they will wait at least six months,” Beach said.