A number of worried British nationals in the Netherlands who fear losing pensions and residency rights if Britain votes to leave the European Union have told DutchNews.nl they are considering taking Dutch nationality.
‘We do not have Dutch nationality but are considering doing so, since the outcome of the forthcoming EU referendum in Britain is up in the air,’ David Hall, who has lived in the Netherlands for 46 years, told DutchNews.nl. ‘Our status in the Netherlands could become an issue.’
On Tuesday prime minister Mark Rutte said in an interview with the BBC that the Netherlands, and other European countries, would have to bring in restrictions for British nationals if Britain brought in immigration controls for EU citizens.
‘It would be unavoidable, inevitable, for us,’ Rutte said.
Independent training consultant and coach Abi Daruvalla has lived in the Netherlands for 37 years and says she has been planning to go Dutch for around a year.
‘I don’t want to live with the doubt,’ she said. ‘I don’t want to wake up at some point in the future to find out that I need a work permit to freelance or that I am kicked off the boards I am on because I am not Dutch. I don’t see the point to being British anymore.’
In addition, says Daruvalla, there is so much nonsense being talked about the EU in Britain, that she sometimes feels embarrassed to be British. ‘There is such an us and them, almost a colonial, mentality,’ she said. ‘Everyone is voting with their hearts not their heads.’
‘I just can’t face the idea of all that paperwork like we used to have to deal with,’ another long term British resident told DutchNews.nl. ‘Becoming Dutch would be the easiest thing to do.’ A retired British national who now lives in the Netherlands but has worked all over the EU told DutchNews.nl he is even preparing a case for Irish citizenship, if Britain opts to pull out.
The British embassy in The Hague estimates there are 45,000 British nationals in the Netherlands, many of whom have lived here for decades. It does not know how many are allowed to vote or have signed up.
‘No one really knows what will happen if there is a no vote but the clock will start ticking for us expats,’ says Nick Nugent, a software salesman and chairman of Amsterdam’s British society Britsoc, which has over 1,200 members.
‘The British government will have two years to work out trade deals and visas but a lot will depend on how well the UK government negotiates with Europe.’
Stephen Huyton is group finance director at Thermopatch International and has lived in the Netherlands for 22 years. ‘There is a lot of scaremongering and there is no way the Dutch government is going to say on June 24, “ok Brits, you have to leave”,’ Huyton says. ‘But it could be a problem, for example, for people who have not been here that long and might need a work permit.’
‘My children, who were born in Britain, have said they will apply for a Dutch passport if there is a Brexit,’ he said. ‘Young people have a more international way of thinking – they have more affinity with the young Bulgarian or Italian. You can see that in the age split in the UK. Some 75% of the under-30s want to stay.’
The referendum is even more frustrating for the likes of Huyton and Hall because they have no vote in the referendum anyway. Only British residents who have been registered to vote within the past 15 years are eligible.
Worldwide, an estimated two million British nationals living abroad do not have the right to vote on June 23 – although there are no official figures.
London law firm Leigh Day attempted to force a rethink on the 15-year rule through the courts on behalf of a 94-year-old World War II veteran who lives in Italy and a lawyer who lives in Belgium but lost last week in Britain’s Supreme Court.
Despite the uncertainty, legal experts say British residents currently in the Netherlands will have nothing to worry about if Britain votes to leave the European Union.
‘Whether or not there will still be freedom of movement for citizens depends to what extent Britain makes a new agreement or a new treaty,’ European constitutional law expert and immigration lawyer Jeremy Bierbach said.
‘But it is important to remember that even if no new agreement is concluded, the Netherlands will still be a member of the EU and by EU law, it is still bound to guarantee the “legal certainty”, as it’s called, of everyone who enjoyed the rights guaranteed them by their EU citizenship at the time they moved here,’ he said.
Under EU law, ‘you can’t suddenly tell someone who is already here and has always been working or self-supporting, “no, now the deal is different”,’ he said. Nevertheless, as non-EU citizens, British nationals would lose the right to vote in the European and local Dutch elections, and there could be implications for the right to family reunifications, Bierbach says.
Britsoc chairman Nick Nugent has lived in the Netherlands for 8.5 years and will be voting ‘remain’ in the referendum. ‘Much as I dislike a lot of things that happen in the EU, and I really don’t understand why we are still paying for a second parliament in Strasburg, it is a lesser of two evils,’ he said.
Nugent’s parents, however, both of whom live in England, plan to vote ‘leave’. ‘Even though it could change my life around, they are convinced we have to pull out.’
British nationals abroad have until June 7 to sign up to vote.
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