Demonstrators hold anti-Brexit and anti-US President Donald Trump placards as they protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London on February 1, 2017. British MPs have approved the first stage of a bill empowering Prime Minister Theresa May to start pulling Britain out of the European Union. Ahead of the vote MPs were debating the legislation which would allow the government to trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, formally beginning two years of exit negotiations.

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Most British expatriates living in the European Union are concerned that Brexit will limit their automatic right to live in their country of residence, according to a new survey.

Almost 83% of respondents said that they were “very concerned” about the impact Brexit could have on their rights and benefits as an EU citizen. Less than 4% claimed to be “not at all” concerned.

More than 5000 Brits living in the EU, Norway, Switzerland and Iceland participated in the survey, which was carried out by the European branch of the British Liberal Democrat party.

The most common worry among participants was the possibility of losing their right to reside without permission. Other concerns were the automatic right to work, freedom of movement and continued access to healthcare and pension benefits. Over 58% of respondents also said they didn’t plan to return to the UK.

The UK government has consistently said it will not act unilaterally to guarantee the right of 3 million EU citizens to remain in the UK until the EU 27 will agree to do the same for the estimated 1.3 million UK nationals living in the EU.

In response to this situation, Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder accused the Conservative government of “playing fast and loose with the lives and families of Brits living elsewhere in the EU.” She goes on to say the government is using expatriates as “bargaining chips”.

The survey’s publication follows last week’s UK House of Commons vote, which authorized the British government to begin the formal Brexit process by triggering Article 50. There was a further blow to Brits in the EU after Lib Dem and Labour amendments, which would have required the government to act proactively, (e.g. by guaranteeing state pension increases and S1 healthcare contributions) were either defeated or not called. The bill has now passed to the House of Lords, where opposition peers will re-table the amendments on UK nationals in the EU 27 and EU citizens in the UK.

Dan Anderson

Helsinki Times

Photo Lehtikuva / AFP

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