British nationals enjoy(ed) the right of free movement within the EU. They could live, work or retire in any one of the other 27 member-states and "enjoy equal treatment with nationals in access to employment, working conditions and all other social and tax advantages." They also benefited from specific EU agreements that covered healthcare and other social benefits. It was one hell of a deal. As an American (a "third-country national") I could only envy my British friends and be very grateful that my children are EU citizens.
Their fate is now in the hands of the government they left behind and the EU negotiators. A worst-case scenario would be where the British government makes all the EU citizens leave which might trigger a similar deportation of British citizens from the EU. That is a frightening prospect.
Almost as frightening is the prospect of having to apply for residency in the countries where they live. If they are no longer EU citizens then they are demoted to "third-country national" status which means that they get in line with everyone else at the immigration office. Getting a residency permit in places like France is not easy. There will be a cold hard eye cast on them by the government and the French public. Do they speak French? How integrated are they? Are they sick? Old? Do they use the French social welfare system? Do they work? Do they have skills? What exactly is their contribution to French society? I would hope that they would be treated kindly and allowances made for age and health and length of residency. Because among these British expatriates are a lot of retirees. Not rich folks, but people on budgets whose pensions went a lot farther in Spain than they did in the UK.
These "Brexpats" are organizing. In Spain there is an organization called Brexpats in Spain. In France there is RIFT (Remain in France Together). And there is a larger umbrella organization called British in Europe which brings together groups based in different EU member states. Recently, the British ambassador to France sent this message to the British in France clearly in the hope of calming people down (hat tip to Survive France for the link on Facebook). He assures them that their wellbeing is a "top priority."
Patrick Weil (a man whose opinions are always worth listening to) says that France should simply give the British in France the right to apply for French citizenship. I see his point and I like his argument but for me it probably doesn't pass the French mother-in-law test (my mother-in-law wouldn't like it and she votes.) In the comments section I already see the arguments against it: why should a British man or woman go to the head of the line when other immigrants from Africa or North and South America who have lived in France just as long have to wait.
It's impossible to know how this story will end. Brexit itself was never supposed to happen. As the British and EU negotiators prepare to