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Cambridge University start Brexit database for British expats

By Ben Comber


The database aims to provide reliable information to help expats make decisions abount their futures post-Brexit.

Researchers say there is urgent requirement for channels of timely and reliable information to be developed targeting UK-born people living on the continent before life-changing decisions get made rashly in a milieu of rumour and speculation.

University of Cambridge researchers have set out to compile a database of communication routes that will allow UK expats residing in EU nations to receive reliable, up-to-the-minute advice throughout the negotiation process once Article 50 is triggered.

The work is part of an effort to mitigate rash Brexit-induced decisions fuelled by an information vacuum that could see thousands of over-65s in particular arriving back in the UK without necessarily having property or pensions on return.

“UK citizens abroad need to be empowered to make sound, informed decisions during Brexit negotiations on whether to remain in their adopted homelands or return to the UK,” says lead researcher Dr Brendan Burchell from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology.

“However, at the moment there is a missing link: there is no database of the conduits through which high quality information can be communicated that targets specific countries or sub-groups of UK migrants. This is what we aim to build over the coming weeks.”

Sudden reverse migration could increase pressures on already overstretched health and social care services in the UK, at a time when significant numbers of key workers in these sectors may themselves be returning to EU homelands as a result of Brexit-related insecurities.

Researchers say that fears over future rights held by UK citizens who have settled on the continent – about everything from possible legal status and rights to work, as well as access to welfare, healthcare and pensions – could be exacerbated by misinformation resulting from rumour, speculation and tabloid bombast.

They say there is an urgent need to create a ‘one stop shop’ for trustworthy information channels that cover the various types of UK migrants currently within the remaining EU: from students and young families in the cities to retirees on Mediterranean coastlines.

The research, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), will take place over the next six weeks. Researchers say the final product will be shared widely with trusted parties such as government agencies, legal charities and citizen advice bureaux, but will not be released fully into the public domain for fear of exploitation by commercial and lobby organisations.

The team of researchers will be scouring the internet and interrogating local charities and expat organisations to compile the most comprehensive list of information channels used by UK citizens in each of the other EU27 countries. These will include legal, health, financial and property advice services, English language local newspapers, Facebook pages, blogs, chat rooms and so on.

Last year, the BBC’s ‘Reality Check’ website reported that there are around 1.2 million UK-born people living in EU nations. Over 300,000 of those live in Spain, of which one-third receive a UK state pension.

Burchell says that talk of migratory influxes into the UK has been almost entirely limited to EU nationals during the heated Brexit debates before and since the referendum. Little consideration has been given to returning UK nationals from EU countries such as France and Spain – many of whom are increasingly elderly baby-boomer retirees that may not have lived in the UK for a decade or more.

“Without access to well-grounded information that updates throughout the Brexit process, the current void will be increasingly filled with dangerous speculation and even so-called ‘fake news’ from partisan groups or those that would seek to prey upon the anxiety of UK over-65s to make quick money through lowball property sales or investment scams,” says Dr Burchell.


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