Interview with UK Ambassador on Brits in Slovenia after Brexit

By , 29 Jan 2020, 13:13 PM Lifestyle
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STA, 29 January 2020 - There are some 800 UK citizens living in Slovenia and their main concern about Brexit is whether they will be able to continue their lives as before, UK Ambassador to Slovenia Sophie Honey told the STA, stressing that their rights were protected under the December EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement.

The agreement protects the rights and status of British citizens in Slovenia but also Slovenians in the UK, the ambassador told the STA in an interview.

The ambassador explained that the embassy has been in regular contact with the British community in Slovenia, updating them on the latest developments, and explaining them what the Withdrawal Agreement means for them. It has also been working very closely with the Slovenian government.

"The Withdrawal Agreement protects the rights of all those who are legally resident in Slovenia by the end of December to continue to live and work in Slovenia as they do now. So it protects their residency status, but also their rights to access healthcare and social security, to access their pensions as previously."

To be eligible, UK nationals have to be legally resident in Slovenia, whether as temporary or permanent residents, by the end of 2020.

As for travelling, holiday, and business visits, the ambassador said everything would remain the same after the implementation period, in 2021. "It is already agreed that there will be visa free travel for short visits."

Arrangements for British people coming to live permanently in Slovenia after 2020 and vice-versa, are yet to be decided. But the ambassador believes "the UK will always want to welcome talented individuals, so there will still be significant flow of people. For instance this week the UK launched a new visa scheme specifically for people in science and research."

During the transition period, the UK and EU will negotiate the new relationship, including new arrangements that will apply in areas like trade.

"The transition period means that there would be limited impact for businesses and people who are travelling during 2020. That means that current EU rules apply. That gives us the opportunity to agree the new partnership between the UK and the EU that will start on 1 January next year.

"There we are looking for a really positive and constructive partnership given our shared interest, our shared history, and values. So we are looking for a broad free trade agreement covering goods and services, but our prime minister has also spoken of the need to work as partners in other areas, for instance to tackle climate change, and to build cooperation in education and science," Honey said.

David Limon, a retired professor from the Faculty of Arts, applied for Slovenian citizenship in March 2019 but it looks like his application may be rejected due to what he thinks is a technicality, relating to his income as a self-employed translator since leaving the faculty.

He has been living in Slovenia since 1998 but his connections with Slovenia go back to 1983 when he married a Slovenian. Both his wife and their daughter, who was born in the UK but educated in Slovenia, have dual citizenship.

"It is clear that the Interior Ministry applies very strict (even unfair) criteria for citizenship applications. I am very disappointed about this after contributing for over 20 years to Slovenian society (as an academic and a translator), learning the language and even climbing Triglav."

He expects travel within the EU to get more complicated for British passport holders after Brexit. "It is also possible that if the British government makes life more difficult for EU citizens, reducing their legal rights, then EU countries will understandably reciprocate," he told the STA.

Chris Wherry, English programme moderator at Radio Slovenia International, is a permanent resident and this will not change regardless of the relationship between the UK and the EU.

He came to Slovenia in 2002 and is married to a Slovenian. Both of their two children, 15 and 11, are registered British citizens so they will be able to choose where they wish to live after their education.

Asked about any concerns regarding Brexit, he said there were many. "I believe the UK has much to lose by operating alone. I further treasure the EU free movement of people as a way of allowing individuals to access the best education and personal opportunities.

"Cooperation between countries is vital to resolve many international issues and trading as a more powerful block makes real sense. Both the EU and the UK will be weaker unless they come to significant agreements over the next 11 months regarding these issues."

Paul Steed, editor and writer for Total Slovenia News, has been in Slovenia for five and a half years, moving here from Taiwan. He has permanent resident status, is married to a Slovenian, has a child and owns property here, so he plans to stay after Brexit. He would like to get dual nationality, to "further confirm my status in Slovenia, but this is complicated because of Brexit".

"My concerns regarding Brexit are wide and varied. But on a personal level I'm worried about dual nationality, and pensions and healthcare in the future," he told the STA.

With regard to Slovenia, he noted that the direct trade links with the UK were very small, and would get smaller in the future. "The increased barriers to trade, if only in terms of rules of origin paperwork in a tariff- and quota-free deal, will make things more difficult, especially for smaller firms."

On the positive side, Slovenia has strong automotive and pharmaceutical industries, two areas that will be hurt in the UK if London does not opt for close regulatory alignment with the EU, so the country could maybe benefit there, he said.

There are many partnerships between British and Slovene businesses, including in high-tech, the pharmaceutical industry and the automotive sector, and around 4500 Slovenian companies importing goods and services from the UK. According to Ambassador Honey, she is not aware of any British company thinking about leaving Slovenia because of Brexit.

"We have a really strong and growing bilateral partnership with Slovenia", the ambassador told the STA, highlighting growing trade and education ties, and the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day in 2019. "So I want to see all of those trends continue, as we continue to build a new and positive relationship between the UK and EU as a whole."

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