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Quo vadis, Brexpats?

With a majority of just about 52 percent, the voters of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland decided in favour of leaving the European Union. However, “Brexpats” in the Basel will have to wait a few years before they are affected by the consequences.

By Martin Pütter

A majority of the British people seems to have shown the EU the middle finger (or rather two fingers, as is the custom in the British Isles). However, the “Brexpats” (it is astonishing how quickly new terms come up after such an event) living in the Basel area were either shocked or ashamed about the outcome of the referendum at home on whether the UK should stay in or leave the EU. But a Brit living in Basel proved he still had his sense of humour. “In light of recent events”, he posted on social media, Alex Craker offered himself as husband for a Swiss wife. Quite tongue-in-cheek, he listed his numerous qualities, even admitted that he already has a “house-trained” daughter. The two only things he did ask for in return: a certificate of marriage and support during the application for a Swiss passport. And the Scottish comedian Frankie Boyle commented on Twitter: “It’s important to just accept the result and move on, possibly to another country.”


Quite a number of Brits are already living abroad, and have been doing so for several years, even decades, already. According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 4‘200 UK citizens live in the cantons of Basel-Stadt and Baselland alone. Add to that the Brits that live in the cantons of Aargau (Fricktal) and Solothurn (Dorneck-Thierstein), as well as all those just across the border but are working in the Basel area. What they have in common with their compatriots at home: they have no clue what is coming to them. As The Basel Journal already reported in early February this year, the consequences of a Brexit are wide open.

Only one thing seems certain: The United Kingdom will remain a member of the EU until London officially announces its intention to withdraw from the Union, according to article 50 paragraph 2 of the treaty on European Union: A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”

It can almost be taken for granted that the British Prime Minister David Cameron will leave it to his successor to officially hand over the intention to withdraw. What comes after that: there will be negotiations about the access to the markets of the EU and about economic and political relationships. That can go on for years – and if the divorce ends in a “war of roses” (and the Brits, thanks to history lessons at school, are familiar with a war of the roses) it might even take decades.

However, consequences could already be felt before that. Despite having signed bilateral agreements with the EU, Switzerland has already experienced such consequences. Just one example: When, two years ago, a majority of the Swiss voters were in favour of a referendum to curb immigration, the EU kicked the Swiss universities out of European exchange and research programmes. A similar fate could be in store for the United Kingdom.

One thing is for certain: there is no certainty how things will continue. The economy does not like that at all and showed it with slumps in the markets once the result of the referendum became clear. What would help Brexpats: if the Swiss government introduced a helpline for them. For Swiss at home and abroad such a helpline has already been introduced – and if the government knows what to tell its own people, it will have a fairly good idea of what the Brexpats here can expect.

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