Brits Abroad

Renew's European Co-ordinator Terry Knott on the reality of Brits living in the EU27.

It’s not generally known that there are some 1.3 million (upper estimate 2.1 million) British passport holders in the other (currently) 27 countries, of the EU. The majority are based, inevitably, in the four big nations: Germany, France, Spain and Italy, but there are still lots elsewhere.

These Brits are often referred to as 'ex-pats', abbreviated from the Latin, ex-patria or out-of-country. This term is technically correct, but misleading, as it conjures up a mental picture of our slightly chubby, slightly balding chaps with hankies on heads, sitting in deckchairs, with a six-pack of beers nearby! Or even worse, the tattooed, frequently drunk, topless and/or mini-dress clad louts and loutesses, on the beaches and bars of Europe. 

The reality of Brits abroad is very different. The UK Dept for Work & Pensions records that some 80% are in fact working, studying, researching and exploring other countries and their respective cultures, while enjoying differing climates and scenery. The rest (around 20%) are mainly retired. In doing so, a very large percentage are paying U.K. tax, either on salaries, or pensions, as well as tax in their country of domicile. Those working are often at the sharp end of British marketing and sales, usually earning revenue for the U.K.

As Brexit looms (there, I’ve mentioned the B word), it’s worth pointing out that there are tax reciprocal agreements between most EU nations and the U.K. One must hope this will hold true, after Brexit; but don’t bank on it.

Apart from the ‘hard’ aspects of living in the EU, the Brits abroad are also ambassadors among locals, with most taking a part in local communities and learning local languages, although ironically it’s usually those who voted Remain; while Leavers often insist on speaking English, speaking slowly, in loud voices, as if still running a British empire. 

Talking of Empire, Brits abroad do in fact have the advantage of history. In spite of a slightly sniffy attitude in Paris*, to spoken English, I have found a touching regard for our language in many EU countries, (including, speaking personally, Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Scandinavia and Italy). English is still the most widely used second language across the world. Allied to this, there is also a sneaking admiration for our military and economic history, while (thanks to Brexit throwing the issue into relief) there is increasingly incredulous regard for the appalling mess that the current Tory Government is making of Brexit: derision and sympathy, in each parts, but still a long term affection. 

To integrate in France, I spend about four hours a week learning French and using it in shops, garages and soon helping my daughter to refurbish a local house. Recently I organised 140 French & Brits in a local Boules competition - good fun! I also speak some Spanish and, since I’m married to a Norwegian, I also speak other Scandi languages. I do my best to portray the ‘Best of British’ to my local neighbours, in inverse proportion to the bad manners of our U.K. politicians and the vituperation of most of our U.K. press.

Finally, a word on the rights of Brits abroad to vote in U.K. elections. In spite of three successive Tory Manifestos, promising to rescind the so-called 15 year rule, the Tories have failed to do so; and in fact ‘talked it out’, after the relevant Bill’s Second Reading, in the House of Commons. This legal device prevents U.K. passport holders, who have lived more than 15 years outside the U.K. from voting in U.K. elections; this in spite of continuing to pay taxes in the U.K. Post-Brexit, Brits abroad will also lose their local election vote in their host country; although there is an ECJ legal challenge to allow Brits to retain European Citizenship (status to be clarified).

It is alleged the 15 Year Bill was blocked, by the Tories, who believed (with some justification), that Brits abroad would vote lock, stock and barrel, to block Brexit and its ensuing chaos and reduction in Freedom of Movement. But let us recall, that the English lost the American Colonies, under the battle cry of 'No Taxation, without Representation'!

The new, energetic U.K. Renew Party ( is a leader in the UK-wide European movement, which includes helping represent Brits abroad and also reversing the adverse, downstream effects of Brexit, such efforts to be stepped up, as the U.K. moves towards another government election, in 4 years time; but also upcoming elections in Scotland & London. The Renew Party seeks to pursue a fair, honest set of policies, to counter the more extreme swing in politics, that we have seen from both Hard Right and Hard Left, in recent years.

Summary. A considerable number of Brits live and work abroad, estimated at 1.3 to 2.1 million, on the U.K. government’s own figures. Most of these pay some taxes in the U.K. Some 80% of Brits in the EU are working, studying or researching, with an appreciable income stream, to the U.K. Yet those having lived in the EU, for more than 15 years are currently barred from voting in U.K. elections and referenda. There are ongoing efforts to overturn this unfair & unjust situation, including support from the U.K. Renew Party.


Terence Knott

European Coordinator, U.K. Renew Party


 * For Parisiennes, secure in their superiority, it must be said that most French, outside Paris, regard Parisiennes as étrangers (foreigners)!

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