The Brexit referendum is now only days away and this has certainly caused a lot of anxiety among British expats in the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta. Both Cyprus and Malta enjoy a special relationship with Britain and the expats hope that these ties remain unaffected, even if Britain was to leave the European Union.
There are 24,000 British expats in Cyprus and 4,500 in Malta. There is a fear that there could be an exodus of expats from both Cyprus and Malta if Britain chooses to leave the EU. Indeed, most opinion polls suggest that the Leave campaign is significantly ahead of Remain, going into the last week of the June 23 referendum.
In nearby Spain, a hundred British expats leave their adopted home every day, scared about the uncertainty over Brexit and what it would mean for them. The worry among expats in Malta and Cyprus is that the healthcare benefits, which are so important to them, could well be at risk.
A vast majority of British expats in these countries are retirees who depend on a pension. They worry about what Brexit would mean for them. Many are concerned about the decline in the value of the pound, which could mean a consequent drop in their buying power.
Many expats who own properties in Malta and Cyprus worry about what it would mean for their property rights, which have been so far protected under the EU law.
James Ker-Lindsay, a research fellow at the London School of Economics tells the Cyprus-based daily Sunday Mail that “The main problem with assessing what the situation might look like if the UK exits the EU is that we just don’t know – it’s uncharted territory.”
“We don’t know what the terms of the exit will be, and we don’t know how long completing it might take,” he adds.
Mr. Ker-Lindsay says that special relationship between the UK and Cyprus would remain, regardless of what happens on June 23. But he is not quite sure about what would happen with other countries. This should have have an effect on those looking tobuy or sell their overseas property this year.
“But what about the UK and Poland? Will we send the Poles back, and then will Poland send Brits back? We just don’t know how it’s going to end up working.” Mr. Ker-Lindsay said.
For older British expats living in Cyprus such as Brian Lait, who are in favour of the Brexit referendum, such arguments make no sense. Mr. Lait says that a lot of fear is being created over Brexit, which is misplaced and exaggerated.
Mr. Lait says, “I have absolutely no concerns about Brexit, and believe that those who do are either scaremongering or haven’t studied the EU very much and are suddenly waking up to what it’s all about.”
“Has any member of the EU, or the so-called EU leaders, actually stated that Brits must leave the EU if the UK leaves? No. Similarly, the UK has not in any way, shape, or form threatened other EU nationals living in the UK with expulsion,” Mr. Lait adds. He says that expats have nothing to fear and things would continue the way they always have. He concludes that he doesn’t mind re-applying for a residency permit if it came to it.
Penelope Hearns, a business development manager at cyprusexpat.co.uk, agrees with the view that there is no reason for British property owners in Cyprus and Malta to worry about Brexit.
She says, “Property ownership should not become more difficult, as the Cyprus government will not turn away potential buyers for property on the island. They are desperate to revive the devastated property market, so will not place barriers there.”
Well, June 23 promises to be quite a day, indeed.