The 2015 General Election resulted in 12-seat majority for the Conservative Party. Led by David Cameron, the party won on a manifesto that included a commitment to holding an in/out referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.
As promised in their manifesto, the Conservative Government under the leadership of David Cameron, held a referendum on the United Kingdom's membership of the European Union.
The question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?
With the choice of one of two responses: Remain a member of the European Union or Leave the European Union.
The turn out for the referendum was high, with 72.21% of the eligible population turning out to vote. The outcome of the vote was a narrow victory for Leave campaigners 51.9% supporting the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, while 48.1% supported Remain. On 24th June, David Cameron announced that he would be resigning as Prime Minister.
The disenfranchisement after living abroad for 15 years or more, meant that many British citizens living in the EU27—whose right to live and work was underpinned by EU Freedom of Movement legislation—were unable to participate in the referendum. And as the Brexit testimonies collected through the research document, waking up to Brexit was experienced in a variety of ways by these citizens.
Theresa May succeeded David Cameron as Leader of the Conservative Party and started her first term of office as Prime Minister. In a significant Cabinet reshuffle, she appointed several prominent advocates for Brexit, notably Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, David Davis as Brexit Secretary, and Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary.
In recognition of the United Kingdom's intention to Leave the European Union, the European Commission nominates French politician Michel Barnier as European Chief Negotiator.
On 29 March 2017, the United Kingdom (UK) invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This initiated the formal process of departure from the European Union and the commencement of withdrawal negotiations outlining the terms on which the UK would depart from the EU. As per the procedures laid out in Article 50, at this early stage the negotiation period was expected to be no longer than 2 years, with the result that the UK's withdrawal from the EU was set to take place on 29 March 2019.
These guidelines set the framework for the negotiations. Importantly, they laid out a phased approach to the negotiations, the first phase designed to facilitate an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU, the second phase intended to consider the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU. On 22 May 2017, the European Council authorised its negotiators to start the negotiations.
For UK citizens living and working in the EU27, the first phase of the negotiations had particularly significant. Along with EU citizens living in the UK, the future legal terms of their residence were within the scope of the Withdrawal Agreement as part of the citizens' rights negotiations.
The BrExpats [aka Brexit Brits Abroad] project, was one of 25 research projects funded through the ESRC's UK in a Changing Europe Brexit Priority scheme to study Brexit. Launched on 1st May 2017, its focus was to examine the impact of Brexit on the lives of the estimated 1.2 million British citizens living in other European Union member states.
The snap election resulted in a Hung Parliament, the Conservative majority in the House of Commons lost. In order to stay in power, the Conservative party brokered a deal with Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party. Theresa May took up her second term as Prime Minister.
Following the Referendum, the numbers of overseas voters registered had reached 285,000. However, the 15-year limit meant that many UK nationals living overseas were disenfranchised at the time of GE2017.
David Davis and Michel Barnier meet, commencing the Brexit negotiations. Davis agrees to the terms which outline that citizens' rights must take priority in the negotiations.
The Conservative Manifesto included a commitment to extending the enfranchisement of UK citizens living overseas from its 15-year limit to a vote for life.
Brought forward by Glyn Davis MP as a Private Members' Bill, the Overseas Electors Bill 2017-19 replaced the Overseas Voters Bill 2015-16. This bill was formally introduced to the House of Commons on 19 July 2017.
Its second reading, which provided the first opportunity to debate the bill, took place on 23 February 2018.
In this first research report from the project published in September 2017, Dr Michaela Benson draws out the initial themes from her conversations with Britons living in the Lot, France.
Key findings from this stage of the research include:
You can also hear her talking about this research on the Brexit Podcast.
In this interim research report Professor Karen O’Reilly draws out the initial themes from her conversations with Britons living in Spain about what Brexit means for the British living in the EU27.
Key findings from this stage of the research include:
You can also hear her discussing these findings on the Brexit podcast.
This step in the negotiations marked the terms agreed by the UK and European Commission in Phase One. It included important guarantees protecting the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27. The framework for assessing the situation of Northern Ireland and the financial settlement relating to the UK's withdrawal from the EU were also included in this agreement. On 15 December 2017 the European Council judged and sufficient progress had been made and negotiations could progress to Phase Two.
Following this joint agreement, PM Theresa May wrote a letter to UK nationals living in the EU27 reporting on this milestone and stressing, "This agreement guarantees that your rights as residents in the EU will be protected in the Withdrawal Agreement, so you can have certainty that you will be able to receive healthcare rights, pension and other benefits provisions as you do today. You can also benefit from existing rules for past and future social security contributions."
This draft agreement was drawn up to reflect the progress made in the negotiations between the UK and EU. This included the dates for a transitional period after Brexit day, the post-Brexit status of EU citizens in the UK and UK nationals in the EU, pegging this to the lawful exercise of Freedom of Movement.
Talking citizens' rights with UK citizens living in the EU27, reports on how those taking part in the research responded to the agreements about citizens' rights reached in March 2018 in the first phase of the Brexit negotiations. We asked those participating in our research to register their thoughts on this progress through a short survey, asking them to rate the extent to which they felt that this agreement left them reassured.
Our headline findings were:
This report, co-authored with colleagues at Migration Policy Institute reflects on the progress of the Withdrawal Agreement and the next steps that need to be taken in order to implement the deal for UK nationals living in the EU27. It draws on interviews with member state and EP officials, while also providing a finger on the pulse of how Britons living across the EU respond to the Withdrawal Agreement.
Its key findings include:
Take a listen to Michaela talking about this report with one of the co-authors, Aliyyah Ahad (MPI) for our podcast.
In this report, Karen reflects on her recent fieldwork in Spain and how those taking part in her research have responded to the citizens' rights agreements.
The key findings include:
This report co-authored by Professor Karen O'Reilly and Mike Danby is based on in-depth interviews with 18-35 year old British citizens living in Granada and Seville. It reflects on how these younger Britons understand Brexit within the context of what brought them to Spain, their employment and economic circumstances, and relationships. In this way it considers Brexit and its potential impact on their lives, highlighting what this reveals about their sense of identity and belonging, while also reflecting on what these interviews reveal about their capacity to navigate broader structural shifts in the labour market.
Key findings include:
Take a listen to Michaela talking with Mike Danby about the research at the heart of this report on our podcast.
This stage in the passage of a bill through parliament has to be agreed by the House of Commons if a Bill proposes spending public money not previously authorised by an Act of Parliament.
The proceedings in this stage of the bill included a proposed amendment to the bill, limiting the annual spend to £10,000 per year. In the words of Chloe Smith MP, then Minister for the Constitution, this amendment "would simply starve the Bill of the money that it needs to do its job".
This report, co-authored by Professor Karen O'Reilly and Dr Katherine Collines looks at what freedom of movement means in terms of European Union regulations on the one hand; and how the notion of freedom of movement, as a right and an ideal, has been interpreted and enacted by British people living abroad, on the other.
Its key findings include:
Take a listen to Karen and Katherine talk about this report on our podcast.
The private members bill which would extend a lifetime vote to overseas voters was subjected to detailed examination by members of the House of Commons in a series of sittings taking place on 17, 24 31 October and 14 November 2018.
585-page draft withdrawal treaty and a 26-page political declaration outlining the future UK-EU relationship is approved by the European Council.
This included the recognition "that it is necessary to provide reciprocal protection for Union citizens and for United Kingdom nationals, as well as their respective family members, where they have exercised free movement rights before a date set in this Agreement, and to ensure that their rights under this Agreement are enforceable and based on the principle of non-discrimination; recognising also that rights deriving from periods of social security insurance should be protected".
December 2018 saw the publication of HM Government's Policy Paper introducing a new single immigration system to come into effect once the UK had let the EU, and Freedom of Movement ended. Crucially, the proposals focussed overwhelmingly on skill and talent.
The terms of Section 13 of the United Kingdom's European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, mean that before the Withdrawal Agreement can be ratified, an act of Parliament providing for its implementation must be passed. On 15th January 2019, PM Theresa May called the first parliamentary vote on Brexit. HM Government was defeated with a vote 432 to 202.
Following this outcome several EU member states stated to draft legislation with a view to protecting resident UK citizens in the case of No Deal.
The amendment proposed by Alberto Costa MP sought to protect citizens' rights—for EU citizens in the UK, and UK nationals in the EU—even in the event of No Deal:
“This House considers the Prime Minister’s statement of 26th February and requires the Prime Minister to seek at the earliest opportunity a joint UK-EU commitment to adopt part two of the Withdrawal Agreement on Citizens Rights and ensure its implementation prior to the UK’s exiting the European Union, whatever the outcome of negotiations on other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement”
It passed unanimously in the House of Commons. However, the response for the European Commission on receiving a letter from the UK's Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay, was to reiterate that they would not negotiate mini-deals.
This was the first in a week of votes within the House of Commons. As with the first meaningful vote, this sought the act of Parliament required to provide for the implementation of the Withdrawal Bill. 391 MPs voted against , while only 242 MPs voted for the ballot, with the result that HM Government was defeated for a second time.
The next two days saw a series of votes within the House of Commons relating to Brexit. Of particular note were the vote about leaving the Union with No Deal on 13 March—which resulted in a majority rejecting No Deal—and the 14 March vote in favour of extending Article 50, which meant that, provided that the EU permitted an extension, Britain would not be leaving the EU as planned on 29 March 2019.
In consequence of this series of votes, on 21 March the UK and EU agreed to extend Article to 22 May subject to MPs approving the Withdrawal Agreement, or failing that, 12 April 2019.
Following four sittings at Committee Stage, the Overseas Electors Bill entered Report Stage. This is the point in the passage of a Bill where the whole House (Commons) can discuss and amend the Bill. Consideration was adjourned to a date to be announced.
Originally the date for the UK to leave the EU, the lack of approval for the Withdrawal Agreement from MPs paired with the other ballots they had passed earlier in the month had led to an agreed extension to Article 50. Instead, 29 March 2019 became the date for the third rejection of the Withdrawal Agreement within the House of Commons.
On 5 April, PM Theresa May wrote to the President of the European Council to request a further extension—until 30 June 2019. His response was to offer a longer extension, with the UK leaving the EU on 31 October, on the condition that the UK participated in the European Parliament Elections scheduled for May. Were they not to meet this conditional requirement, that date would be brought forward to 1 June 2019.
As per the conditions laid out by the European Council when they agreed to the latest extension to Article 50, the United Kingdom took part in the European Parliament Elections in 2019. The elections resulted in 29 MEPs for the Brexit Party—a new political party which had only been formed in January 2019—16 MEPs for the Liberal Democrats, 10 MEPs for the Labour Party, 4 and 3 respectively for the Conservative Party and Scottish National Party respectively, and one seat each for Plaid Cymru, Sinn Féin, Democratic Unionist Party and Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. Notably UKIP and the newly formed Change UK won no seats.
Following a leadership election within the Conservative Party running from 2 June until 22 July, Boris Johnson was declared leader 23 July 2019. He was appointed as Prime Minister on 24 July 2019.
On 28 August 2019, Queen Elizabeth II ordered the prorogation of the Parliament of the United Kingdom on the advice of PM Boris Johnson. This would have seen Parliament suspended for a total of five weeks, reconvening 14 October 2019.
Parliament was officially prorogued from 10 September despite the concerns raised by many opposition politicians and political commentators that this was a political move that had been intended to avoid parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's Brexit plans in the final weeks leading up to the UK's withdrawal from the EU.
Following three days of hearings, on 24 September, the Supreme Court ruled on the landmark joint constitutional law cases—R (Miller) v The Prime Minister and Cherry v Advocate General for Scotland —on the limits of the royal prerogative power to prorogue the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The eleven justices ruled unanimously that the prorogation was both justiciable and unlawful. What this meant is that it was null and void, and therefore of no effect. This ruling was important because it meant that the Bills stopped by the prorogation of Parliament would be able to continue their progress through UK parliament, rather than having to go back to the drawing board.
In consequence of this ruling, MPs were recalled to Parliament which reconvened 25 September 2019.
Over the period of the prorogation and during the case, British citizens living in the EU27 had staged anti-prorogation protests outside British Embassies across Europe.
With just three days to before the UK was supposed to leave the EU, the UK and EU agreed a a new date for Brexit: 31 January 2020.
On 29 October 2019, MPs voted in favour of a snap election after the revised Withdrawal Bill failed to pass in the House of Commons.
GE2019 returned a Conservative majority, as they won 365/650 seats.
Between the election being called and the cut off date for voter registration, 26 November 2019, 128,501 British citizens abroad registered to vote. This number does not include those who had registered within the previous 12 months, whose registration would still be active. It should also be understood within the context of growing overseas registration since 2016, and points to the possibility that GE2019 might set a new record in terms of overseas registration.
Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties promised lifetime voting rights for Britons living overseas within their manifestos, with the latter offering to deliver dedicated political representation to British citizens living abroad. Notably, the Conservatives promised this in their 2015 and 2017 manifestos but this was only ever pursued through Private Members' Bills which failed to pass.
MPs vote in favour of the Withdrawal Agreement. The bill was supported by 358 MPs, while 234 opposed it.