THE TRANSATLANTIC MAGAZINE
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Brexit for Americans
What will happen to overseas Americans when (if?) Britain leaves the EU? Some of our experts and contributors share their thoughts – practical, serious, funny, poignant
Digby, Lord Jones, International businessman and former Minister of State for Trade and Investment:
Currently the UK is the USA’s biggest inward investor and the USA’s the UK’s. America is the UK’s biggest trading partner. We are very important to each other, in trade for sure but also in security, NATO and intelligence sharing. It is in all our interests that we use whatever sort of Brexit to build on these foundations to become even better partners to mutual advantage. A Hard Brexit will mean the UK can do their own trade deal with US. We are free traders and dislike protectionism. Tariffs are for yesterday. It will mean we get to choose who enters our Country; and Americans are our best friends. A soft Brexit has us still in thrall to a Franco-German dominated Brussels. We’re still your best friends and will fight your corner when and where we can (unless Corbyn is PM; his views of the USA are well known!) but a lot of opportunities will pass by.
Alison Holmes, academic, former BritishAmerican Business supremo and Ambassadorial speechwriter, and The American’s political columnist:
Most Americans watch Brexit with bemusement and confusion. One minute the Prime Minister may topple over the precipice and the next she finds the strength (or colleagues lose their nerve) to fight another day. Unfortunately for both the UK and the US most Americans take their British friends for granted and assume they will always be a bridge to the even more ‘foreign’ Europeans and act as a base for both business and political initiatives in the UK and around the world. A hard Brexit - or heaven forfend a no deal exit - will all but end that Brit ability to ‘translate’ at least in the short term. More seriously in the medium to long term it is likely that the UK will no longer be a middle power able to punch above its weight and be just another small island in the cold North Sea. It has been said that the UK is Greece to the American Rome. A classically subtle British insult, but often true in that the Brits have the network and the credibility to smooth the path of a global progressive liberal democratic agenda. The UK often acts in concert with - and frankly often does a better job at - the broad frame of a traditional US agenda. Sadly, the fall out of Brexit will consume the time and attention of their skilled diplomats and civil servants for years and create instability in all the spheres in which the Brits, as often as not, were quietly working behind the scenes to the global good.
Barb Caswell, from Surrey, UK, and previously a lot of US addresses, columnist for The American:
Our landlady shares her typical British views: she voted for Brexit, saying in exasperation, “We were FINE without the EU, and we’ll be fine without them again.” Two years later, she said in exasperation, “And this BREXIT business! What a mess!” Mostly, our British colleagues and friends are ready to face their uncertain fates. Maybe they’re stalwartly queueing to take financial bullets for their country, or maybe they’re so weary of the topic they’re ready for euthanisation in Switzerland, except…isn’t that international trading? A hard Brexit will be a clean break, like Anne Boleyn’s beheading. A soft Brexit will be more like getting sentenced to the rack. Both are English solutions that have stood the test of time. We Americans can swear allegiance to the Queen for a second passport with perfect sincerity, but have colonists ever been 100% trustworthy? We can always return to the US if London Bridge is falling down. Not for nothing did we come here to learn what ‘belt and braces’ means!
Olivia M. McLaren, native North Carolinian, former New Yorker, now US immigration law firm based in Edinburgh and our Caledonian correspondent:
Looking through the lens of an American immigration lawyer based in Scotland, I’m ambivalent about Brexit. On the one hand, it will create a barrier to the freedom of movement of individuals between the UK and Europe, which I don’t like in principle. On the other hand, the rising cost of doing business in Europe is likely to make America a more attractive destination for UK businesses. If the US could exploit the “special relationship” it has with the UK to develop more generous reciprocal agreements for trade and immigration, the long-term impact could be positive for businesses, and in turn, the individuals who own, operate and are employed by them. In the short term, I don’t expect the US immigration regime to see an immediate impact.
Irina Shumovitch, Senior Consultant, Independent Education Consultants:
Politically, Brexit may destabilise Europe, which will indirectly affect the US. For travel, entry and exit requirements and travel safety will not change. However, with a weaker pound, American travellers’ bills will be lower. However, queues at airports could get longer because British passport holders may have to queue with the rest of the non-EU citizens. As for education, there will be no change for American students in the UK – same great schools with great facilities and liberal educational ethos, same academic excellence of higher education, but because of the favourable exchange rate, UK tuition fees will be lower.
Emanuel Adam, Executive Director, BritishAmerican Business, the transatlantic business networking group:
For Americans living in the UK, the UK’s planned departure from the EU is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, a ‘hard Brexit’, capping immigration from the EU among other measures, could make it easier for Americans to come and live in the UK.
This is fuelled by both the UK’s and the US’ ambition to have both economies move closer together, particularly on trade and investment. On the other hand, Americans living in the UK share the same questions and concerns as other UK residents over Brexit. For example in terms of access to Europe if you were to apply for British citizenship and wanted to have the benefits of being an EU citizen, the general economic outlook, and political stability (or lack thereof!), much of which remains yet to be seen.
Jay B Webster, sports correspondent for The American:
In the world of sports, there are runs, scores, baskets, touchdowns, points, statistics and other clear and precise metrics and measures to determine winners and losers. Brexit is much more of a muddle, an incomprehensible Gordian knot entwined with unfathomable tendrils of complexity and consequence, both intended and unforeseen. I root for the politicians to get it right, while doubting that they’ll actually manage to come through in the clutch. As an American who has put down roots in Ireland, and who cherishes the capacity of sports to bridge divides and unite people from across the spectrum of human experience, I fear that bringing those people together around the playing field – both literally and figuratively – will only be more complicated in a post Brexit world.
Janathan L. Allen, Allen Barron, San Diego tax attorneys with UK based clients:
In the midst of Brexit’s uncertain economic storms it is generally best for US expats to stay the course, avoid speculation.
Joss Croft, CEO of UKinbound, the UK trade association for inbound tourism:
When the UK leaves the European Union, I don’t believe that life for Americans living in or visiting the UK will change that much in terms of tourism. Americans will still be able to fly between the UK and the EU (even in the event of a no deal) and there will be no new border arrangements or restrictions for US visitors – in fact they can now use our e-passport gates if they have a biometric passport. The UK has always been a really popular destination for American expats and visitors and we know that more American visitors are coming than ever before (whilst the number of Europeans booking to come to the UK has declined in recent months). This can be attributed to the amazing experiences you can have all year round in both London and the rest of the UK and the fact that our visitor attractions, hotels and shops are offering great value right now.
Carol Gould, broadcaster and author, columnist with The American:
I have tried to stay out of ‘Brexit and ‘Remainer’ arguments; the invective is unlike anything I have witnessed in 43 years in this ‘green and pleasant land.’ Michael Portillo’s superb documentary about Britain in WW1 revealed that tons of ordnance were produced by hundreds of British women across the nation: this gritty country can see its way through Brexit hardships. ‘Project Fear’ - no food, no medicines etc. in a nation that saw its way through two world wars started by Europe, epidemics, the Great Depression, Rationing and postwar hardship is absurd. How does Brexit affect Americans? After furious EU expatriates objected to a £65 fee to stay here (Americans have to pay MUCH more!) MP Ellie Reeves (The American Magazine February 5) has suggested US expats can now approach the ‘Windrush Scheme’ taskforce to challenge the Home Office when they are suddenly told they can’t stay here after years of paying tax, VAT and council tax.
Greg Dewald, CEO at Bright!Tax US Expat Tax Services:
From a US tax perspective, expats are affected more by the devaluation of the pound following the Brexit vote, and any possible further devaluation after Brexit, than by Brexit itself. As all Americans living in the UK have to file a US tax return, if they earn in pounds a devalued pound means their income is worth less dollars. In turn, expats claiming the Foreign Tax Credit with a lowered dollar value income will benefit from having more excess US tax credits each year. Expats paid in US dollars meanwhile may find that their UK tax bill increases. The devaluation of the pound also has tax implications for profits and losses from investments.
Charles Bruce, Legal Counsel, American Citizens Abroad:
There appears to be an uptick in use of State Department Federal Credit Union accounts by Americans in London and elsewhere in the UK. Since Brexit outcomes are impossible to predict and corporate comptrollers are repositioning assets, individuals may be doing a bit of the same. Membership in American Citizens Abroad brings access to SDFCU. ACA members can open, operate and oversee an account entirely online. Shockingly easy. No need for a US residence or other US presence. It’s a small measure of caution in strange times. And, the account can be used to pay US taxes, receive tax refunds, and receive Social Security payments, all electronically. Deal with Brexit and the IRS – two bugaboos – at the same time.
Gary Jordan, author and sports correspondent for The American:
Brexit for all its black and white, a simple yes or no vote, has led to more grey areas than a long harsh winter. This is exactly why sports in the USA have a positive outcome. No tied games unless necessary. With the future uncertain what does it mean for the major US sports over here? Well the fluctuating Pound Sterling means that teams and fans visiting here will get as close to like for like than possibly ever before. This ensures the NFL, NBA and MLB will feel more change in their pockets when they visit. The long-term effects may well have another say in when the NFL decides to place a franchise here. If the logistics regarding players salaries and overall costs weren’t tricky enough, they could well be a puzzle that could be harder to solve. In the most part though it’s playing the waiting game.
Andrea Solana of wealth management firm Maseco, an American and a long term resident of London:
As we creep ever closer to Brexit, many of the musings about how life will change remain speculative. It is entirely possible that overseas Americans will be an unintended benefactor of Brexit, with individuals being viewed more equally compared to European Nationals for employment opportunities. Focusing specifically on American expats and the impact of Brexit on their financial lives, the main area of uncertainty has been currency fluctuation and volatility. Many Americans in the UK have a foot in both countries and financially need to do their best to align their goals and objectives with an appropriate and tax-efficient strategy and structure for their wealth. With wide swings in the relative strength of the US Dollar to Sterling, managing that strategy alongside spending needs becomes a bit trickier to do.
Michael M Sandwick, NewYorker, expat in Copenhagen and London, and The American’s restaurant critic:
My concerns over Brexit are largely ideological. Yes, the UK can leave the EU and manage on its own. Why it would want to is a mystery. It is only through open borders that we have become the largest trading block on the planet and achieved the longest period of peace in our history. These are things to be cherished, not squandered. I am twice an immigrant. When Theresa May infamously said, “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere”, it cut me like a knife. This is the kind of rhetoric that trickles down through society, spreading anti-immigrant sentiment like a cancer. Immigration forms an important pillar of society. Without it, we could not function. Hospitality is just one area where we are absolutely reliant on immigrants. Just try to eat out without the aid of a foreigner. I cannot think of a single restaurant that is staffed solely with Brits. Should the Home Office stem the flow of low-skilled workers, this industry will implode on itself and take our lucrative tourist trade with it. That is a mistake of such magnitude, I fear we will never recover. In such a scenario, I will surely become an immigrant for a third time.
Richard Wendorf, Director of the American Museum & Gardens in Bath:
Although we often hear that people take consolation by visiting museums and attending plays, lectures and concerts during difficult times, the reality is that the cultural sector is always negatively affected by an economic downturn - and also by economic and political uncertainty. Many museums and historical societies have been badly damaged by the period of austerity imposed following 2008. Surely a ‘good’ Brexit deal, whatever that may turn out to be, would be better than crashing out in late March.
James Carroll Jordan, American actor living in the UK, and writer of our Actor’s Corner column:
When I first moved to England in 1969 to attend drama school, there was no EU. Britain was Britain and stood on it’s own feet, sink or swim. We had easy access to Europe as tourists and vice versa. Trade went smoothly. And Britain was a powerhouse of the business world. Then later we joined the EU. I didn’t clearly understand the reasons why, and still don’t. I gather it was to present a unified financial group of countries to compete globally with the United States and China. Being an actor I paid little attention to all this. Now, 40 some years later, came a vote to get out of the EU and back to how it was before. For a while I didn’t mind England being a part of the EU, though I was disturbed by how the EU courts often overruled British court decisions fairly regularly. But around four or five years ago it seemed to me that the EU was becoming very controlling and dictatorial towards England and our national interests. When the immigration crisis hit, we were directed to take however many refugees that the EU in Brussels decided we should accept. And we weren’t given any choice as far as I could see. I’m not a national front supporter or anything like it, but in a fairly short time I saw many English town centres becoming full of refugees, and like my favorite town Chatham in Kent, I found that when I walked along the high street there, I rarely heard English spoken. The traditional English shopkeepers had gone elsewhere and the whole tenor and mood of the town had changed. As I toured England doing various musicals staying at various towns, I observed the same circumstances. England to me was being lost. Or at least becoming very different. All because of the influx of hordes of immigrants forced upon us by the EU. So I voted in 2016 for leaving the EU. To my surprise, the majority of voters voted to leave. Thus ensued the debacle we have endured for the past three years and is still going strong. I don’t know what the end of it all will be, but I do hope we leave the EU and become the old Britain I knew and loved. We did fine before the EU, and I feel we will do fine after. We shall hopefully see in a few months.
Virginia E Schultz, writer, The American columnist, and former Republicans Abroad organizer:
In World War II my uncle was a young man of nineteen with a year and a half of college at Gettysburg. When he heard the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, he went, as many young men his age did, and joined the Army, and then called my Grandparents to tell them he was leaving for military training. Because of his college education he was made a Second Lieutenant and ended up in the UK. At the same time a cousin of my mother’s ended up with Patton and her other cousin with the Marines in the South Pacific. Now, what does this have to do with Brexit? When they returned, all three couldn’t praise the English enough. Their bravery, their lack of complaining, their dry sense of humor which took them time to get used to, but learned to love. My uncle especially, kept in touch with his English comrades and several came to see him and ended up sitting around our dining room table while my Dad served coffee and eggs and all talked war stories. I sat on the steps in the hall and would listen. I have my opinion on Brexit but I keep my thoughts to myself. It’s their decision and it was Democracy. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who said if we don’t hang together, we hang separately. The English during WWII hung together and never lost their sense of humor or their love for their country. And I think that’s what bothers me the most. I hear too often from English friends and on TV, “it’s my way or the highway”. I just wish they’d do what they did for centuries and why they weren’t conquered during WWI or WWII. Accept the decision, be sympathetic to those who feel it couldn’t have been a worse decision, but get on with it. And if the past proves anything, they will have the country who stood by their principles now as they have had in the past, and go back to complaining about the weather.