The world is still reeling from Britain’s vote to leave the EU. Many UK citizens living across the EU and in countries with EU agreements on free movement of people, like Switzerland, have questions about what this means for them. At the moment there seem to be more questions than answers. Here is what we know so far.
David Cameron’s statement
While announcing his resignation, British prime minister David Cameron said “I would also reassure Brits living in European countries, and European citizens living here, that there will be no immediate changes in your circumstances.” The full speach can be heard here.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affair’s statement
Philip Hammond, the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, appears to have made no statement on the subject other than tweeting: “The UK will continue to be an influential & outward looking power on the world stage, working with partners for security & prosperity.”
The UK will continue to be an influential & outward looking power on the world stage, working with partners for security & prosperity
— Philip Hammond (@PHammondMP) 24 juin 2016
Speaking to a British consulate advisor, Le News was told, the only certainty is that there will be no change until the UK formally leaves the EU.
This will only happen after negotiations between the British government and Brussels are complete. The first step towards formal EU exit is triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The article says that the Treaty no longer applies once a withdrawal agreement is in place, or two years have passed since the article was triggered. If all member states agree, the two year period can be extended. David Cameron has said he won’t trigger Article 50, so a new leader must be found before the process even starts. In essence, almost anything is possible in terms of timing.
The relevant text from Article 50 is: “The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”
The Vienna Convention
In an article entitled “Pity the Brexpats” the Economist talks about misconceptions surrounding the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, under which “vested” (acquired) rights are deemed to outlive the treaty conferring them. Some Brexiters claim this convention will protect expat Britons’ right to stay where they are. Some lawyers however, say the convention confers rights on states, not individuals. In addition, the Economist points out that the article is not mentioned in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, and France never even signed it. So it’s hard to draw any comfort from this, particularly if you are living in France.
The Swiss government says “For the time being, nothing will change for you from a legal perspective. The British people have voted in favour of leaving the EU. The British government must now decide how it intends to proceed on the basis of the referendum result. A withdrawal will have to be negotiated by the UK and the EU. Until these negotiations are complete, there will be no change in the current situation.”
In 2014, there were 44,165 UK citizens residing in Switzerland according to the Swiss Statistics Office. 90% of this total were on either B-permits (18,089) or C-permits (21,578). The remainder were on short-term L-permits (2,836), diplomatic permits (95), international official permits (1,360) or other types of permits (207).
Le News called a number of people at the Directorate for European Affairs (DEA), and came away with no more than several comments affirming that nothing would change until Britain formally leaves the EU.
In addition, Le News spoke to the resident registration offices of several communes. They said they had received no information from the canton or Bern regarding the the British vote. One however, was fairly certain that any B-permits already issued, or issued before any formal rule changes, would be valid until the permit’s expiry date. What happens to a British citizen who applies for a C-permit at the expiration of their 5-year B-permit, once the UK has formally left the EU, is unclear. When asked about British citizens renewing C-permits, the same commune person was fairly confident that this would present no problems, even after the UK quits the EU.
For the time being nothing appears certain. The majority of those we spoke to either knew nothing, or avoided making any statement.
As soon as we know more we will post further information.
Brexit FAQ DEA (in English)
British embassy Bern (in English)
The Lisbon Treaty – article 50 (in English)
Renewing permits – Ville de Morges (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now