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All things Brexit for UK Expats in Greece: Interview with top British diplomat on Island FM

With the Brexit negotiations ongoing, UK’s expats have thousands of questions concerning their future in the countries they have chosen to live. Whether it is visas, studies, pensions, health care or travel and passports, British expats in Greece have hardly a chance to get first hand information. Bobby Gee from 88.6 Island FM, the English speaking radio station on Zakynthos (Zante) took advantage of the visit of  Deputy Ambassador at the British Embassy in Athens, James Bryce, to Zakynthos,and interviewed him on all things UK expats in Greece need to know.


Bobby Gee: What is Brexit and does Brexit actually mean? It means we’ve left Europe, yes?

James Bryce: No, it doesn’t that, it means we’ve left the European Union, but the Government has made it clear that we want to stay engaged in Europe but out of the European Union. If you ask me where we’ll be in five years I actually find that much easier to answer than where we’ll be in one year as the mutual interests, the mutual regard Greece and the UK have, it’s massive and that’s not going to change. You’ve got a significant British population settled in Greece, we are one of the top handful of providers of tourists, tourist flows to Greece. Lots and lots of Greeks have connections in the UK, work there, visit there, study there and we have a massive interest in that continuing. In business, yes tourism is how Greece benefits a lot from the UK, the UK sells a lot of services to Greece, we’re the fourth biggest market for Greece – Greek agri-food exports, massive mutual interests – so that’s going to be okay. Those interests are not going to change, we saw it in the Royal visit I was talking about, we want to have a close relationship. What is going to change is frankly the bureaucracy of that, the hardwiring of that and we’re trying both realise that reality whilst at the same time the Prime Minister leading a Political negotiation to get the best possible terms. So a certain amount of that is starting to become clear in the draft implementation agreement, but of course a political negotiation just like a business negotiation you make quite clear that not any of it’s agreed until it’s all agreed. So it’s emerging, there are outlines on the table, but the detail still to be confirmed. In terms of the actual dates, well we know the period of Article 50, so, Spring next year, but then we’re pretty clear emerging from the negotiations the implementation period until probably until December the year after but in terms of what will affect the person the street in real life, all this work is going on so that frankly the mutual interests that Greece and the UK have, will continue all through that. So, in looking forward one year ahead, what forms will people have to fill in, what will the process be, what will the legal nomenclature be as it were, that’s quite hard to anticipate long five years out I’m actually pretty chilled.

Bobby Gee: So we don’t know yet. I’ve got questions in front of me, for example; flights for instance, how will it affect the flights, there’s rumours going around that some of the flights are going to stop and that some of the operators will move out of Britain and go somewhere else etc., the other question is Visa’s, are we going to have to get Visa’s to come to Greece?

James Bryce: Well, let’s go through those one by one. Flight’s, Greece has as much of an interest in air connectivity with the UK as we do with air connectivity with Greece, so there is an air services agreement as part of the EU, we’re very clear as part of negotiating the term of exit we basically want continuity now some of the legal structures of the companies might change, now we’re talking very internationalised companies, so the likes of the UK’s biggest airline EasyJet founded by a Greek, incorporated in the UK, floated in UK, has legal incorporation in all other places, has branches and subsidiaries across the continent, it’s typical, thinking of the others, BA well its ownership is tied in with Iberia in IAG, Ryan Air we think of it as British certainly if you fly through Stanstead a lot, it’s an Irish company. Some of the legal structures will change. Do I expect that connectivity to change? Not really. And clearly there’s a negotiation going on, will the air services agreement be exactly as it has been? We the UK are quite clear that we want absolute continuity, but we’ll see how the negotiation turns out, if people are booking their tickets, booking their plans I think they should assume that plans will continue. Now I know, there will be some people out there looking at their radio saying ‘assume’ is not the same as knowing, well it’s not quite, but it’s a negotiation going on and this is what the country voted for, so on we go and ultimately the interests of the UK and the interests of Greece and the interests of the other others EU Member States are in strong continuity.  Our economies, our peoples are strongly linked, and no matter what people vote for as a short term thing, no matter what politicians say in negotiating rooms in Brussels, that substantive people to people and economic linkage is not going to change.

Bobby Gee: Are flights going to get dearer because of it?

James Bryce: Now, because my wife works in London, I come and go between Greece and the UK a lot, so I know more than I should about aircraft pricing. There’s already an enormous range, what does a ticket to the UK cost? I think it would be very hard to evaluate that.

Bobby Gee: Do you think it will change because of Brexit?

James Bryce: It shouldn’t do. The Government’s objective in taking forward a negotiation is that there shouldn’t be any adverse costs, now clearly the EU are saying to us it’s a negotiation, and if we need to go through all the detail of all the terms of trade for all the different sectors there’s a package there but we’re very clear that we want no friction we want free ability to travel.

Bobby Gee: Once more question before we talk to Peter Lee in Kefalonia. Visa’s. Do you see us needing a Visa, to get in and out of Greece once we are out of the EU?

James Bryce: I think that’s most unlikely, equally you have to recognise that immigration was one of the underlying issues on the mine of the British public when it voted for Brexit, so some procedures might change. At the moment, all I know as someone who enters Greece all the time is I’m probably going to have to move form the ‘EU queue’ to the ‘rest of the world’ queue, but that to me is not a big change, do I expect to need a Visa? Not really. Our ambition is certainly not because it’s three and half hours flight away, it’s no distance at all in terms of the breadth of the world. I spent a lot of my life living in far away places. I was in Asia before, to come back to Greece it’s home, it’s Europe so back to your initial point, are we leaving Europe? No we’re not, we’re just changing the legalities, we’re just leaving the European Union but not Europe.

Bobby Gee: We are now going to go over to Kefalonia and talk to the lovely Peter Lee, Good morning Peter.

Peter Lee: Good morning Bobby and good morning James.

Bobby Gee: For those who don’t know him Peter works on another radio station besides Island FM, on a station called Cosmos.

Peter Lee: Yes, I work on Cosmos FM 96.5, we broadcast an English service to our expats and around the world on the internet on a Monday and Friday, between 2-4pm in the afternoon.

Bobby Gee: Peter, ask away

Peter Lee: Thank you, James good morning, many who live in Greece, we’re worried about the future of the medical services here in connection with the EHIC cards and our ability to be able obtain medical reciprocal arrangements as the Greek people do in the UK. Will this continue? And will we still be able to use an EHIC card and also be able to become part of the medical services in Greece to cover us over here?

James Bryce: That’s our expectation yes, we’ve agreed on reciprocal healthcare arrangements with all Member States within the withdrawal agreement that’s been negotiated between the British Government and the European Commission. So individuals who are are currently benefiting from the EHIC if that goes forward – if the implementation of the withdrawal agreement; the implication plan goes ahead as is being discussed – individuals should be protected. Now, as I was saying of course you see the speculation about is there a chance of no agreement, the Government wants there to be an agreement, so if what’s on the table gets agreed then basically not a problem. But it’s a negotiation so nothing’s agreed until everything’s agreed.

Peter Lee: So will there be another card for instance for us to carry when we leave the UK for Greece, on holiday?

James Bryce: I think at the level of the administration that’s not clear yet but that will all be settled. So, I’m sitting here myself with my EHIC in my pocket and I have faith in that system and my expectation is that will continue, but just as the E111 as it used to be, morphed into EHIC, our current expectation is that any change will be of that order of magnitude.

Peter Lee: And are there any other major differences which we would expect as expats living in Greece to come upon us once Brexit comes into operation next year?

James Bryce: Citizens rights, the discussion is mostly done now, the two big areas going on in the negotiation are the future security relationship and the future economic partnership. So under that broad heading of Future Economic Partnership people running businesses still have an interest in the discussion that’s going on, and this is what you see reflected in the UK news every day, about how close are we going to be, is there going to be a customs union, is there not going to be a customs union. So I think some of the issues around business, that discussion goes on. The UK Governments absolutely clear we want the best possible terms but we want the freedom to run our own trade agreements. Individuals rights as individuals so study, pensions ,healthcare etc., that’s covered in the withdrawal agreement that’s been negotiated.

Peter Lee: Okay, and have you had any idea of any other countries that are thinking of leaving the European Union?

James Bryce: Well, other countries must decide their own policy that’s not for the British Government. Europe is a world of politics with all the different member states and it fluxes, in my professional lifetime, we have at points, been trying to be very much central to Europe, we’re now on the path to Brexit, the mood of the nation has changed, this is something on which, we the Brits, are divided. But the country has voted for Brexit and I’m aware that’s very sensitive as many ex-pats don’t have a vote, but the country voted for it, and then just within a few months of that the country refused to give an overall majority to the party which had been the Government driving for that.

Bobby Gee: Can I just ask a question, why couldn’t we [ex-pats] vote?

James Bryce: It’s just the longstanding posture within the UK that expats don’t have a vote, it’s one of those things that if you move abroad that you lose. That’s clearly different for other countries. Minister look at this occasionally, but there hasn’t been a strong enough drive for it. Over time, frankly more Brits live abroad, we are better integrated so I think there’s a question there but Ministers have consistently taken the view that on most issues, ex-pats don’t get votes. Now that’s changing slightly, I know from my own personal experience having lived abroad for twenty years, it’s becoming less restrictive, but still the broad principle is no votes once you move abroad, with some limited exceptions. But it is an issue that constantly comes up.

Peter Lee: When are yourself [James Bryce] and Matt Delapp [Zakynthos Consulate] going to come over to Kefalonia to see us and maybe have a meeting with us? We always seem to get left out when there’s any political visits by people from the Embassies. We are a larger island than Zante (Zakynthos) although we haven’t got as many customers coming here, or in fact ex-pats living here, but we would be glad to see you any time you’d like to come over .

James Bryce: Call that a date, I’ll come and see you. I haven’t got my diary in front of me but I’ll come and see you.

Peter Lee: Thank you that’s very nice and thanks for answering the questions

James Bryce: Pleasure.

Bobby Gee: Thank you Peter, thanks a lot, and goodbye for now.

Peter Lee: Goodbye.

Bobby Gee: That was the lovely Peter Lee from Cosmos Radio on Kefalonia. I have a question here for you from Roy Palmer, Roy says “If I have to get a new passport. My existing passport has quite a few years left on it. Do I have to get a new one if I do is the cost on me?

James Bryce: Morning Roy. Good question and please just call me James. It will be just like a normal passport renewal. You current one will remain valid until the date on it but you’ll then need to send it in and apply for a replacement passport and then you’ll need to pay a fee for that, but your current one will go on until its expiry date, so it won’t be the case that however many tens of millions of Brits who currently held passports they all need to get a new one on a particular date in the next two or there years, it’ll be rolling replacement. Only the next time you get a passport it won’t be the burgundy little thing we’re currently familiar with, it’ll be more like the very dark blue things we had about twenty years ago. I remember the change then and you noticed because it looked different but in terms of the procedure to get it it was just a matter of well, you get your next passport and what comes through the post doesn’t look like the previous one.

Bobby Gee: Hope that’s helped Roy, now Peter from Kefalonia touched on some of the items, people who live here are worried, in regard to things like pensions for instance, will that still be the same, will there be any change there?

James Bryce: Under the agreement that’s in place so far for withdrawal and implementation of Brexit there should be no change, you should be able to carry on. That situation will not necessarily be the same for new arrivals, but as I was saying earlier on, the agreement for Citizens rights for people currently in place did not prove one of the most sticking points in the negotiation, so that basic agreement is done, but of course everything’s only agreed when everything’s agreed. So it’s all subject to the ongoing discussions on the future economic partnership and future security relationship but I’m not expecting that to be a problem for people already here.

Bobby Gee: I think we have answered all of our Brexit questions now. Just before you go James, I want to ask you about tourism, what can you tell us? All the report that I’ve seen, and there have been quite a lot, is that Greece is on the up, and that the percentage rise is visitors is high.

James Bryce: Well, if you read the newspapers you’d think there was nothing going on in UK politics apart from Brexit. Meanwhile, out there, real life, the big connection between the UK and Greece is people to people and in the direction from UK to Greece it means there are some settled communities, but it largely means tourism. 3.3million visitors a year to Greece, of whom only 800 need consular assistance, and that means frankly that most people are having a great time. This year the numbers are up 16% so it’s thriving, and when the Ambassador and me go and talk to Political types in Athens, the Greek nation hugely appreciates this, it’s a hugely significant contribution to their economy and society and we are welcome. So everyone out there who’s part of that, whether a visitor or it’s your business, you’re part of a big chunk of the UK / Greece relationship and good on you! I should give a little plug for Matt and the team here, and their Consular Services. Consular work actually deals with people who’ve had a bad experience, something quite bad has gone wrong if you need consular assistance, and the fact is that such a small proportion of the people out there, shows the business works and it matters to Greece. And the Brits coming here, 16% up, people like it so good on you!

Bobby Gee: Okay, I think Matt’s going to whisk you away now and you’re off to see the Mayor next and I think you have a timetable of visits in front of you?

James Bryce: I’m going to see Mr Kolokotsas, The Mayor, and then the Director of Zakynthos Police and then the Regional Vice-Governor. These are senior people in professional roles the fact that they are willing to meet a representative of the British Government and are positive about everything you are doing.

Bobby Gee: Very quickly, you’re going to meet the Mayor and talk about the island, and tourism etc.

James Bryce: Yes, we’ll talk about how we value their cooperation and how they value ours and how everyone out there, how we can at Governmental level how can we support people in continuing leading the happy lives they want to.

Bobby Gee: And the same with the police etc.

James Bryce: Absolutely, and the police we end up thankfully, only having to deal with very small numbers of cases; arrest cases or death cases – that’s the sort of thing Consular work means. The public authorities are extremely cooperative with that so people receive fair treatment, due process. The fact we get that level of cooperation, it reflects that Brits come here and lead decent lives, do decent businesses and it’s a great piece of cooperation between the two countries.

Bobby Gee: Thank you. I’m going to let you go and hopefully you’ll come back.

James Bryce: My pleasure. I’d be very happy to come back. I imagine we’ll be talking about Brexit for a while, but there will be life beyond Brexit  too.

Bobby Gee: Thank you very much Lovely to meet you.

James Bryce: Pleasure

End of Interview.

Transcript typed by Chrissie Parker, Freelance writer and blogger.

Special thanks to Bobby Gee and Chrissie Parker from zakynthosinformerblog.

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One comment

  1. costa sakellariou

    another delusional brit…embarrassing reading…just this morning the chief of airbus confirmed the corporation will be looking to relocate out of the uk. this james is doing a great disservice in parroting half truths to his very worried co-nationals…the rancor will become much greater as next march and the hard brexit approaches. foreign resident brits living abroad have had the best of all worlds, and not there is a very real chance of that all crashing down around their heads, thanks to the obduracy of their elected officials!