A Guide to the "Brexit" British Embassy Town Hall

Last Friday, the British Embassy in Rīga held a "town hall" style meeting in which issues regarding the UK's exit from the European Union were discussed. The embassy was so kind as to allow our correspondant Kristen Carlson to attend and cover the event, and she has written about the meeting here. For continuing coverage of Brexit and its effect on Latvia, make sure to follow our podcast as we will be devoting a portion of each episode to the topic.
Kristen M. Carlson

It is no secret that Brexit has British expats in the EU in a perpetual state of uncertainty. Without the British Parliament agreeing to the negotiated deal, Britain risks an abrupt exit without a deal just over a month from now on March 29, 2019. To soothe worries, British Embassies around the EU have hosted informational meetings and outreach events in advance of the UK’s departure. As an attendee at the Latvian Town Hall meeting that the British Embassy Riga hosted on Friday, February 15th, 2019, I was able to observe the ongoing dialogue that is underway between British officials and their citizens in Latvia regarding Brexit.

After a short cocktail hour and meet-and-greet, Mr. Keith Shannon, the British Ambassador to Latvia, commenced the meeting. He welcomed the 50-person audience and addressed them saying, “We are in quite a dynamic stage of where we are in Brexit.” 

British Ambassador to Latvia Keith Shannon
Photo Credit: Ernests Dinks, via Wikimedia Commons

The Ambassador was clear that throughout the evening he would not speculate about other parts of the Brexit process. Instead, the Embassy’s diplomatic role is to assure British citizens and inform them of their rights going forward, as “overall the Brexit situation is complicated but [we] as an Embassy and public servants are working on your behalf.”

To address four critical areas of residency, social security, health, and education, the Ambassador was joined by Parliamentary Secretary from the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica; The Parliamentary Secretary from the Latvian Ministry of Welfare, Mr Roberts Spručs; and officials from the Latvian Ministry of Interior, the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science, and the Latvian National Health Service.

First, the Ambassador and the Parliamentary Secretary from the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica, addressed the ongoing work occurring between British officials and the Latvian government to ensure continued residency and employment for British citizens who are legal residents of Latvia on the date of the United Kingdom’s exit. Additionally, the Ambassador and Parliamentary Secretary both talked about the event of the United Kingdom exiting without a withdrawal agreement, though the Ambassador stressed that is not the aim of the British Parliament. However, even so, he stressed that “like any responsible government, [The U.K.] needs to prepare for that not happening.” The British Parliament are investigating other arrangements right now and will discuss the situation again on February 27th, 2019.

Parliamentary Secretary, Mrs. Zanda Kalnina-Lukasevica, also highlighted what is happening within the Latvian Government to provide reassurance to British citizens currently living in Latvia. She addressed the current draft legislation being discussed in Saeima about other issues regarding Brexit, saying the Latvian Parliament is dedicated to providing outcomes that are as favorable as possible for British citizens, because “Latvia and the U.K. are like-minded in security, defense, and foreign affairs.” Up to this point, Saeima has given public commitment to this surety, but still has to work for it to become legal certainty. According to Kalnina-Lukasevica, this will likely happen closer to the March 29th deadline.

The British Embassy in Rīga
Photo Credit: David Holt, via Wikimedia Commons

In regards to the residency status of British citizens in Latvia, an official from the Ministry of the Interior spoke on how largest potential change occurring in this category will be the process of switching residency cards for legal British residents. Right now, the determination has been made that the EU citizen classification currently given to British residents will be replaced with another designation. However, the process of changing over the cards will just need to take place before December 31st, 2020, giving time for systems to update per the Brexit transition period. British citizens will also receive a personalized letter from the Latvian Government informing them exactly what they need to do per their situation. This process will start later this spring when more details are given and decisions are made between the British and Latvian Governments. The official from the Ministry of the Interior told the audience that “[they] will be granted the same rights as [they] are right now as E.U. citizens,” which brought forth loud applause from the room.

Other changes that will occur to social security are undetermined at this time, including pensions, residency, education, and healthcare. The Parliamentary Secretary from the Latvian Ministry of Welfare, Mr Roberts Spručs, and officials from the Latvian Ministry of Education and Science and the Latvian National Health Service spoke about these potential changes saying that right now they are working for the best situation. Other likely changes will deal with postal service and duty-free flying between Latvia and the United Kingdom.

After the officials gave their statements on these critical areas, the floor opened up for questions which mainly regarded individual inquiries about residence cards. The Ambassador recommended British citizens that reside in Latvia should make sure they renew their passports, ensure they are legally residing in Latvia, and exchange their UK license for a Latvian one before the March 29th Brexit deadline. Further details including new procedures, will be found at https://www.gov.uk/guidance/living-in-latvia and continually updated after Saeima passes further legislation.

The Ambassador concluded the meeting saying “It is in both in the interest of the UK and the EU to be sensible about all of this.” 

Kristen Carlson is a 2018 Fulbright Scholar from America who is living in Latvia and teaching at the Jāzeps Vītols Latvian Academy of Music for one year, and is Latvia Weekly's Rīga correspondent and a co-author of the "weekly update" posts.