The British ambassador to Greece, Kate Smith CMG, met with British residents in Apokoronas town hall on Thursday, to discuss their concerns about Brexit and answer questions, following an earlier meeting with the mayor of Apokoronas Mr Koukianakis and other council officers.
The meeting attended by over 120 people, was introduced by Mayor Koukianakis who said that people who made a conscious choice to live in Apokoronas and have become a part of the community, have an important role to play in the life of Apokoronas and that he would like them to continue to live and contribute to the life of their community and maintain their rights regardless of Brexit.
Ms Smith also commented on the size of the British community in Apokoronas, numbering about 5000 residents, almost a third of the local population, which is the highest concentration of British nationals in Greece.
The Ambassador accompanied by the British vice concul in Heraklion, Aristea Chourdaki and members of the British embassy team, updated the meeting on the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement between the UK and the EU, as endorsed by the EU summit meeting on 25 November. Should the agreement get parliamentary approval, as it hoped and expected by the British government, then there will be no significant change in the life of British nationals who have established residency rights in their host country, and they will continue to enjoy the broadly same rights under the Brexit agreement as before.
The British government has made every effort in their negotiations with the EU to safeguard the rights of British nationals in Greece and the EU with the Withdrawal Agreement, which secures the rights of UK nationals living in Greece after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019.
The Agreement also sets out the terms for a transition period that will start on 30 March 2019 and last until 31 December 2020. This means that all UK nationals lawfully residing in another EU Member State on 31 December 2020 will be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement.
During the transition UK nationals will be able to visit, live and work in the EU broadly as they do now and will be able to move to a different EU Member State.
The withdrawal agreement also ensures that UK nationals and their families can continue to have broadly the same access to healthcare, pensions and other benefits as they currently do.
They will be able to leave their EU country of residence for up to 5 years without losing their right to return, if they have acquired the relevant residency status
However, EU countries may require UK nationals and their family members covered by the agreement, to apply for a residency document or status conferring the right of residence.
In the questions and discussion that followed, a number of British residents asked questions about a number of issues and concerns, such as travelling with pets, pension rights and increases, maintaining UK bank accounts, health and travel arrangements, property ownership, Greek citizenship, driving licences, the fluctuation of the exchange rate and its effects on the living standards, and the implications of a no-agreement Brexit, while the recent BoE report (EU withdrawal scenarios and monetary and financial stability) was also briefly mentioned.
The Ambassador reassured the residents that every effort to protect the interests of British nationals will be made by the government in any event and that there will be regular updates and other meetings in the future, to update the British nationals on any developments.
On the matter of having a say in the local council and the continuation of the existing right to vote and participate in in local elections the Ambassador said that there is no clear position, and that, as with many other issues it is a matter for negotiation bilateral agreements between the governments of Greece and the UK after Brexit. The concerns of British nationals will, however, be passed on to the British government.
Answering supplementary questions on this matter after the press briefing that followed the meeting with the residents, Ms Smith said that it may be a good idea for residents to register to vote anyway – if they havent already done so – so that they will be able to exercise their voting rights if an agreement is reached before the elections in May.
The Ambassador also confirmed that agreements with Europe that limit budget deficit to 3% of GDP will also no longer apply to the UK after Brexit – something that may have implications for the exchange rate, and may leave room for the British government to alleviate some of the adverse economic effects of Brexit as outlined in the BoE report.
The meeting with the British residents of Apokoronas was one of a series of scheduled meetings in Crete to inform British nationals of the latest developments following the agreement between the British government and the EU on the terms of Brexit. Meetings were held in Rethymnon, Agios Nikolaos and Heraklion.
General information about the progress of Brexit negotiations is available at gov.uk
Residents can also sign-up for email alerts to receive updates to Brexit pages from gov.uk .