Brexit: Welsh expats 'still in limbo' after transition deal

Media caption,

Debbie Williams: "This is about people - not politics"

Welsh expats have said they remain "in limbo" about their rights after Brexit, despite claims progress has been made on the issue.

Brexit negotiators have said the rights of EU citizens arriving in the UK and UK expats on the continent would remain in place until the end of 2020.

But expats want to know if they will retain those rights after that.

The UK Government said the deal delivered on its "commitment to provide certainty to citizens".

The announcement on citizens' rights was made in Brussels on Monday, when the EU's Michel Barnier and UK Brexit Secretary David Davis said they had reached a transition agreement which will last from Brexit day on 29 March 2019 to 31 December 2020.

But Debbie Williams, who is originally from Llanelli, Carmarthenshire and lives in the Netherlands, said she was "disappointed".

She and her husband Chris and daughter Molly have lived in The Hague for just over a year but on the continent 12 years.

The 55-year-old, who founded the campaign group Brexpats - Hear Our Voice, said: "What we'd like and what we've always wanted is that citizens' rights were taken out of the negotiations... ring-fenced.

"This is about people not politics - we're in limbo."

Image caption,
The Williams family from Wales have lived in Netherlands for 12 years

Her husband, a freelance software engineer originally from Swansea, has used the EU's freedom of movement rights to work in several European countries and is looking for work in Belgium.

But he said not knowing if UK nationals would continue to have that freedom after Brexit meant his opportunities for work and to "keep the family going" were "severely limited".

The family are three of five claimants seeking to retain their EU citizenship rights after Brexit through The European Court of Justice (ECJ) .

In February, a Dutch court agreed to refer their case but the Dutch state appealed with a hearing scheduled for 19 April.

A group of MEPs, including Welsh Labour MEP Derek Vaughan and Plaid Cymru MEP Jill Evans, has written to David Davis asking for clarification on freedom of movement post Brexit.

A UK Government spokesman said the issue had not been forgotten and the UK would continue to pursue the issue in the Brexit negotiations.

On 7 March, a Plaid Cymru call for UK nationals to retain EU citizenship post-Brexit was passed by MPs without a vote - although it was not binding on the UK Government.

'Bargaining chip'

Wiard Sterk, a Dutch national, has lived in Cardiff for 35 years.

He said: "My children have British passports, my wife has got a British passport, I've got a lot of family here - there's suddenly a difference between us that was never there before."

Media caption,

Wiard Sterk expects to face more "hassle" than his wife and children after Brexit

As Wales spokesperson for campaign group the3million, he is not convinced about the latest UK-EU deal on citizens' rights: "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

"So, yes we're still bargaining chips, we're still limbo," he said.

"I can sit here quietly and say nothing has changed yet, but it could all of a sudden all change if indeed no deal is reached."

A spokesman for the Department for Exiting the European Union said: "Securing the rights of citizens has always been our priority in these negotiations.

"We've delivered on this commitment, reaching a reciprocal agreement with the EU on the rights of citizens resident both before our exit and during the implementation period.

"This will give certainty to individuals and businesses."