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Brexit will cost Britons these rights and protections

From the right to work in 27 other countries to roaming free cellphone service across the bloc, there are plenty ways Brexit will change life in the U.K.
Image: Brexit
Anti-Brexit protesters shout slogans outside Downing Street in London, Britain, on Feb. 27, 2019.Henry Nicholls / Reuters file

LONDON — From the outside, Brexit can seem like a never-ending saga. Almost three years after 52 percent of the United Kingdom's voters backed leaving the European Union, the country is still trying to figure out how that will happen.

The twists and turns in Parliament, the negotiations with the E.U., the 599-page divorce deal — keeping up with it all has even the most seasoned scholars scratching their heads.

But behind the documents and legal wording lie the foundations of daily life for British citizens, from cellphone contracts to how they will go on vacations.

For many Brexit supporters, the expected economic losses and changes to the rights that were enshrined by E.U. membership will be worth it come departure day, which is scheduled for March 29.

“Brexit is not driven by economics. It’s a political project driven by an ideological idea of what the U.K. is and what it could be,” Sam Lowe, a senior researcher at the Centre for European Reform, said.

While politicians in Parliament are now trying to agree on the final details of the divorce, they’ve not even started negotiating on what the future relationship might look like.

Here are some of the ways that the E.U. impacts life for Britons, and what they stand to lose as the U.K. pulls away from its closest trading partner.


Citizens of E.U. member states are allowed to work in any of the 27 other countries in the bloc. So if you’re British, you can move to Madrid, Paris or Berlin, get a job and set up your life with little hassle.

Known as the free movement of people, this became one of the most controversial aspects of E.U. membership for many in the U.K., and a rallying point for some pro-Brexit politicians.

With an influx of migrants from other E.U. countries, particularly from Eastern Europe, some Britons worried that the new arrivals were impeding their own access to jobs and social services.

Once the U.K. leaves the bloc, this sweeping right will likely be abolished.

Around 1 million Britons currently live in other E.U. countries.


No one likes to stay at the office longer than necessary and thanks to a European law known as the Working Time Directive, Britons can’t toil for more than 48 hours a week on average.

There are exceptions to this, of course, and workers are allowed to opt out.

The directive also entitles workers to at least four weeks of paid leave per year, though U.K. law goes beyond this and currently mandates 5.6 weeks of leave a year.

Professional qualifications and training are also largely recognized across the E.U. The U.K. health system for example, is particularly reliant on doctors, nurses and other staff from E.U. countries.

However, many Britons who work in E.U. countries are unsure of what their status will be after March 29 and whether their qualifications will continue to be deemed acceptable.


E.U. members trade goods almost seamlessly among each another. There are no duties or import fees, no customs documents to fill out or even alternative licenses to get. For example, if someone in the U.K. wants to purchase bathroom tiles from a manufacturer in Sweden, the products arrive with no extra charges. That could change.

When it comes to services, the U.K. is the world’s second largest exporter of services by value and is a world leader in financial services. E.U. membership enables British companies to sell their services across the E.U. from their base in the U.K. Until the referendum, the U.K. government promoted Britain as the gateway to the E.U.

The financial services sector, for example, contributed $156.8 billion to the U.K. economy, or 6.5 percent of the total economic output.

However, many financial services companies have now opened subsidiaries in Europe so they can continue working with European clients after Brexit.


Passengers traveling in the E.U. are entitled to a host of rights that apply even if you’re not a citizen of an E.U. country.

One particularly popular right is to compensation in the event of a cancellation or delay of more than three hours. Passengers are also entitled to meals and refreshments during their waiting time, and accommodation if they have to wait overnight.

Another popular right came into force last year, and saw cellphone roaming charges between E.U. member states abolished. So if you live in the U.K. and travel to Italy, you can use your phone in the same way you do at home and not face any additional fees.


E.U. programs provide significant funding to U.K. universities for research and innovation, while researchers freely travel and work at universities across Europe.

Leaders in higher education have said that leaving the E.U. without a deal would be “an academic, cultural and scientific setback from which it would take decades to recover.”

What’s more, E.U. citizens are entitled to study at universities across the bloc on the same terms as locals. For example, Britons who wish to attend an university in the Netherlands — where tuition costs around €2,000 per year ($2,226) compared to £9,250 ($12,200) in the U.K. — are able to do so.Tuition fees for people from non-E.U. nations are significantly higher.At Leiden University in the Netherlands, fees for non-E.U. students range between €10,000 ($11,300) and €17,000 ($19,000).

British students are also able to complete part of their university studies at other universities in the E.U., thanks to the Erasmus program that may end after Brexit.