Thursday, February 23, 2017


"Come home, then", was a comment I received on twitter a few nights ago in response to a point I had made about the situation of expats in the era of Brexit and it has to be said that, although curt, this comment was nothing like as rude as others that we "remainers" have been subject to in recent months. When, I keep asking myself, did my tolerant and open country become intolerant and closed?  It is a heartbreaking change to watch.

"Come home":  I'm afraid that for many expats, including me, the situation is not as simple as that. It is a myth that we are all slugging gin on sun loungers in sunny British enclaves and it is equally a myth that we are all rich. It would not be financially possible for most of us to come home and I am not the only one who would have nowhere to go in my native country.

Therefore, when we raise concerns about the future of our pensions or access to healthcare in the countries where we now live, they are real concerns, for a freezing of our pensions would spell poverty in old age for thousands of us and the threat of cutting off our right to healthcare, at the time in our lives when we are likely to need it most, fills us with fear.

Now, before I am shot down by those who think that, having decided to no longer live in the "green and pleasant land",  I deserve everything that is, or more likely is not, coming to me, and before I am told that, for the same reason, I have no right to any British pension at all , I would like to point out the following: I believe I served Britain tolerably well in my role as a teacher and then as a lecturer. The schools I taught in were far from "élitist" and I worked hard for my pension. With regard to healthcare, the agreement in place at the time I moved to Italy was one of entitlement because there is a reciprocal agreement in place for Italians living and working in Britain. I have never sponged off either system in my life. When you move to another country, you do so under a certain set of circumstances and you do not expect retrospective legislation to pull the rug out from under your British feet.

Incidentally, if the value of people's pensions had been cut by up to 25% in the UK , there would be uproar, yet this is exactly what has already happened to expats since the Brexit referendum and we are all afraid to say so publicly because we will be branded "selfish, élitist remoaners." Well, it is about time someone said it and I do so here.

Another fear we have is that, even if a "right to stay" agreement is reached, it may be dependent upon some sort of property qualification. No, I am not restoring a castle or tending my vineyard - like many other expats, I pay my way but I do not own property in either country.  We do not figure in  the British Prime Minister's narrow vision of the "jams" [families who are "just about managing"] but that is often the reality for expats.  [Oh, and I'm not out here with family, either - I am truly dispossessed!]

Why, some of you may wonder, would anyone want to leave Britain in the first place?  My answer is because I am a modern languages graduate and I fell in love with Italy at an early age. Loving another country does not mean that you love your own any the less; in fact you can come to love it more, because you see it with new eyes from abroad. Moreover, having had the chance to teach in Italy, I believe I have contributed in my small way to the spreading of British culture here.

When the British State educated me and trained me as a teacher, it did not do so in order that I might live exclusively in one country or the other;  it did so in order that I would have a choice.  That's what education does. I was given the ability to make a choice and I made it, believing, like others, that I was protected in it by treaty. That our native land now wants to rip that treaty up is hardly our fault and we are appalled by our formerly gentle nation's abandonment of its own citizens in the EU.  This is not the Britain that I recognise and it is not the free and fair Britain that I have told so many Italian students about.

I am hurt, as I am sure other expats are hurt, by the name-calling we have had to endure: I am not a "remoaner"; I am merely someone who wishes to embrace more than one culture and my languages have enabled me to do that fully.  Where was I on the day that such a wish became a crime in Britain?

The general view in Britain seems to be that a million or so expats are just a few snail-eaters who do not matter and I have no information on how many of us still have voting rights there. But elections and referendums, as we have seen, can turn on very few votes.  Perhaps one day soon the British government will wake up to the fact that we matter. I hope it does not do so too late.


Woj said...

If you remember Depeche Mode, check out the interview on

I'm married to a German who we now find doesn't qualify for Permanent Residency, so our lives are also turned upside-down...


Unknown said...

Hi there,
What an excellent piece and so eloquently stated.
I am an early retiree on a Police Officers pension living with my wife in Southern Spain.
We own our modest Spanish property and like you, we embraced our right of free movement.
It is amazing how we are all placed in boxes and generally regarded as some sort of international booze soaked sponges.
(In reality we drink tea and coffee all day and night!)
Our drop in income as you say would be treated with fury back in Blighty. We are just expected to accept it in silence for the greater good.
I just hope people realise what is coming and what is required by way of sacrifice in order to rise one day from the ashes....
We wish them luck back there.....especially those who didn't vote for their own demise.

eamonn315 said...

Nicely written. Bravo.
You may want to consider sharing this with and/or the Committee for Exiting the EU.
They have taken my "pensions question" email and have requested permission to publish it online and in their reports. (It did take them 2 months to reply!)

Unknown said...

What if there was a referendum. All bars and restaurants close on Sundays? Yes or No. Those who work on Sundays, have hobbies, like walking, cycling or other sports they enjoy on Sundays or other's that don't eat out , say 52% vote Yes, close all bars and restaurants on Sunday's. Government take the go ahead and close them on Sunday's. The other 48% who voted NO can never go to a restaurant on a Sunday again. The restaurants would probably close due to lack of trade, staff would be unemployed, business nearby would also suffer due to lack of passing trade. Can you see the similarities?

Sarah said...

We know how you feel, we moved to Portugal to start a new life and a new business that we could not have afforded to set up in the UK. Now we both suffer from the kind of anxiety that we thought we had left behind.

Business Mouse said...

All the best, and my total sympathy. I'm waiting to see what happens from France. Good blog btw

Unknown said...

As a frequent visitor to Italy (and Sicily in particular) I, too, no longer recognise the country where I was born and am truly concerned that "my tolerant and open country has become intolerant and closed". There are many of us 'remoaners' trying to mitigate the impact of Brexit and hopefully the landing will not be too hard! One thing for sure, the majority of people in the UK want EU residents to be given the assurance that they are free to stay and are hopeful that 'expats' will also be given that assurance. I am sure things will pan out over the next few years and wish you continued happiness in the land where you have chosen to live.

Unknown said...

John, I fully agree! Currently our American daughter-in-law married to our son working in Scotland was refused "leave to remain" after applying for a Human rights visa.
UKBA ask her to get a one way ticket to USA yet she is married to an EU citizen who incidentaly is British by descent and has a good job.
Is this the clamp down on immigration people want?

Asian Wedding Horses said...

I hope that we will be able to rely on Article 39 of the Magna Carta to put an end to this Brexit nonsense once and for all.
I live on Crete and am also fluent in different Languages and not rich.

Unknown said...

I really feel for you. I was looking forward to retiring in Spain a few years from now. Although I have bought an apartment there - with a mortgage - it doesn't give me any particular residency rights that I see. It isn't worth the 500k€ plus for a golden visa.

Much like yourself i love Europe and I love languages. I worked mainly in Belgium and Germany and have small pensions there. I have no idea what will happen to those now.

Basically I have the choice now of packing in the job I love (I won't get a job in Spain) and going for retirement now on much reduced means - though I feel still too young to retire - or taking a huge risk that i can still go there and retire in say 5 years time.

Compared with many people I don't have an existential problem, but the dilemma is tearing me apart. So I stay and fight against Brexit while I still can, or jump ship and leave now for Spain. If it's not too late already.

Anyway, good luck, I hope we will get some clarity on the rights of Brits in the EU and EU citizens in Britain soon. It is morally repugnant to deliver so much worry and uncertainty to so many people.

Unknown said...

Well said.

Liz Hinds said...

The meanness demonstrated by and at so many is quite horrific.

Anthony LaMesa said...

Nice post! I also think many of the "go home (!!!)" Brits fail to account for how much cheaper it is to live in much of continental Europe than it is to live in the UK. Many Brits now living comfortably in spacious and affordable rented accommodation in Europe would be forced to return to expensive squalor in the UK.

In the United States, imagine New Yorkers telling teachers who moved to more affordable (and sunnier) Florida or Arizona for their retirement that they must now return to New York City. It would mean financial catastrophe.

As an American-Italian dual citizen, I'm happy to hear that you are enjoying your life in Italy, and hope that you will be able to comfortably remain in your new home.

Unknown said...

I concur with each and every word of your extremely thoughtful post. I worked long and hard in the UK and made choices because I love diversity and, to be frank, had felt myself out of tune with the narrowness of vision in the UK for many years. I have faced the same kind of abuse and given back in spades because the comments are often from the 'hard of thinking'. Here, we 'tick over' and life is very much a case of ups and downs and survival but we live amongst and work with Italians and feel far more at home than we would in the UK. Our one asset, a home (rebuilt from a ruin) is here and we worked for a dozen years on this ourselves...learning what skills we did not have. We have family in the UK but nothing in the way of assets that would let us survive. If forced back we would face abject poverty and are thus have to take steps to make our future here as secure as we can via applying for citizenship. Seeing views and feelings expressed so well by another was a lift to the day after the first espresso, that is.

Unknown said...

Please don't generalise about the change in the country; we are not all these aggressive, abusive wretches who want us out of Europe.
It seems that a rather loud and arrogant minority see this ridiculous vote to make all of us poorer, as some sort of excuse to vilify those of us who really didn't want the Country to metaphorically punch itself in the face.

It sickens me, hearing us all being judged as unkind and intolerant; it is simply not true and only plays into the hands of these xenophobic nitwits.

The Tory Headbangers who have risen to the 'top' on the back of this Vote, now the think no one else has a right to make comment or have a say on this decision and its consequences.

In my view, most of the People who voted to leave, are the least likely to be affected because of their age and wealth, together with a selection of the long term useless Chav's who don't contribute anything but litter, noise and obesity to the Country anyway.

Laruchka said...

I don't think that people who don't live with this situation hanging over them will ever really understand what it feels like. The big question they think is "Will Brits have the right to stay?" but that is actually many many questions... will our qualifications/driving licences still be recognised? Will we have to apply for work permits? Will we have access to healthcare? pensions? schools? The situation is much more complicated than people realise and literally no one knows the answers to any of these questions.

It's not like any of that stuff was easy to obtain in the first place. You can't just turn up and claim residency and sign up to a doctor(in Italy at least) EU citizen or not.

And yes, going home is a really risky option for those of us who are married to an EU citizen but aren't rich. I couldn't afford to sponsor my husband through the current visa system for non EU spouses. Many don't realise that not even having British children or dependents is enough to stop you getting deported in the UK if you are non-EU, never mind marriage.

It could be years before we find out what the new rules will be. I really hope this won't put Italian employers off offering me a job in the meantime.


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