A database of channels for reliable information is being assembled and will be kept up-to-date over the coming months and years by a specialist team at Cambridge University to help British expatriates cope with concerns about how Britain leaving the European Union may impact on their personal lives.
The researchers behind the project say one of their main aims is to insure that good information and advice “to prevent rash Brexit-induced decisions” by British students, families and retirees living on the continent reaches as many UK citizens abroad as possible.
They warn of a“milieu of rumour, speculation and tabloid bombast”, and also of “an information vacuum” surrounding Brexit that may be exacerbating expat insecurities, particularly among those aged over 65.
Lead researcher Dr Brendan Burchell from Cambridge’s Department of Sociology, said: “UK citizens abroad need to be empowered to make sound, informed decisions during Brexit negotiations on whether to remain in their adopted homelands or return to the UK.”
Dr Burchell added: “At the moment there is a missing link: there is no database of the conduits through which high quality information can be communicated that targets specific countries or sub-groups of UK migrants. This is what we aim to build over the coming weeks.”
The database will cover the legal status and rights of expats, including access to welfare, health and pensions, as Britain leaves the EU.
The research information will be shared with government agencies and select organisations in such a way to avoid “exploitation” by commercial and lobby organisations.
Dr Burchell notes that the interests of UK nationals potentially returning to the country from the EU have been given little consideration in Brexit debates since the June referendum.
“Without access to well-grounded information that updates throughout the Brexit process, the current void will be increasingly filled with dangerous speculation and even so-called ‘fake news’ from partisan groups or those that would seek to prey upon the anxiety of UK over-65s to make quick money through lowball property sales or investment scams.”
An economist working on the project, Professor Maura Sheehan, thinks that Brexit concerns could lead to a panic domino effect in certain expatriate communities.
“Housing markets in areas along the Mediterranean coast could collapse as retirees try to sell up, but with no new UK expats looking to buy. Life savings could get swept away in the confusion,” she warns.
“Meanwhile there is no slack in UK social infrastructure for ageing expats returning en masse with expectations of support. The NHS has yet to emerge from its current crisis, there is a desperate shortage of housing, and social care is badly underfunded.
“The idea that we could see socially isolated baby-boomer expats back in the UK with health conditions, financial woes and even ending in destitution as a result of bad decisions based on misinformation should not simply be written off as so-called ‘remoaner’ hysteria.”