Member state leaders in Brussels have agreed on both how the U.K. will leave the EU and what relations will look like in the future. It now depends on London’s approval, and the EU warns that the current agreement is the “only deal possible.” But what will Brexit mean for Hungary and Hungarians living in the U.K.?
On June 23, 2016, Britain voted to leave the EU in a referendum delivered by the ruling Conservative Party. Then-Prime Minister David Cameron resigned the morning after the vote, and Theresa May won Conservative leadership to begin implementing the withdrawal.
Though the Fidesz-government has been critical of the European Union many times over the last eight years, PM Viktor Orbán has also expressed how important it is to keep Britain in the Union. Prior to the vote, the Hungarian government even spent around 20 million HUF (65 000 EUR) promoting pro-European messages in The Daily Mail.
On Sunday following the EU talk, The Prime Minister expressed his regret regarding the loss of one of the community’s members. Orbán disagreed with the endorsement of EU leaders in Brussels on Sunday, calling the day “a real Black Sunday” and “a sad day for the European Union.”
Speaking in Brussels, Orbán told public television news channel M1 that Hungary had tried to convince the UK to remain in the EU, even intervening in the Brits’ campaign, but to no avail. “Now we have no other choice but to acknowledge the decision that has been taken,” he said, calling the UK’s divorce a “great loss.”
In addition to the EU’s political and economic losses, the U.K., a rich country, will also take a significant amount of money with it, the PM said. He added that Hungary would have received more money from the EU in the future had the U.K. stayed.
He also criticized the EU’s current leadership for bearing responsibility for Brexit, electing a European Commission president to whom Brits were opposed and letting in migrants while failing to keep the U.K. in the bloc.
What does Brexit mean for Hungarians?
Approximately 250 thousand Hungarians currently work and live in Britain. It is difficult to acquire accurate data which reflects where they work and what their occupations are. According to a study conducted by one of the research institutions of the London School of Economics, the 44 percent of migrants from new EU member states (joined in 2004) have a higher level of education than the native population (23 percent). Also, the employment rate is higher among those citizens than among Brits. However, another study suggests workers from the new member states earn less (around 8,5 £) than average British workers (11,3£). This could indicate that Eastern European workers typically hold low-skill jobs primarily in tourism, hospitality, manufacturing and construction.
As a result, the quality of a typical Eastern European worker’s job doesn’t match the level of education they’ve completed. Leaked Cabinet papers suggest that the Home Office is drawing up plans to issue low-skilled migrants with 11-month visas “with restricted entitlements and rights” while they live in the U.K. According to newspaper reports, the British government is also considering alternative plans to allow EU migrants between 18 and 30 to live and work in the U.K. for two years, providing numbers are capped.
Those who can demonstrate five years residence by the end of 2020 will be able to apply for “Settled Status,” meaning they are free to live and work in the U.K. indefinitely. Those who arrive by December 31, 2020, but do not have five years residence, can seek to stay until they have, at which point they can seek Settled Status. The scheme also includes citizens of Switzerland, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.
Brexit also interferes in the distribution of EU funds
Commenting on developments in connection with Brexit, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás said the EU would lose a net contributor to its budget with Britain’s departure. Britain’s contribution has accounted for 12-13 percent, Gulyás said, adding that all remaining member states should proportionately increase their contributions or accept a similar rate of decrease in available EU funding during the next cycle. Several of the Eastern and Central Europan Member States have raised concerns about Brexit. These countries could be impacted the most as it is unsure whether other net contributors will be able to fill the U.K.-sized gap left in the EU’s structural funds.