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UK expats count Brexit impact as banks shut accounts

Jean-Baptiste OUBRIER
·3-min read
British expats living in Europe are starting to feel the impact of Brexit as some banks are closing accounts
British expats living in Europe are starting to feel the impact of Brexit as some banks are closing accounts

For Roger Morton and his wife living in France -- and many other UK expats across the European Union -- Brexit is causing the closure of their British banking services.

Morton, a 78-year-old retired photographer, laments a letter from Barclaycard, informing him that their credit account will no longer be accessible, as Britain prepares for the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31.

"It was a surprise and something draconian," he told AFP of the letter, which he says comes on top of "an already stressful time" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Their current account with Barclays, where they have banked for about 40 years, is not affected.

One of the first direct consequences of Brexit, the move by UK lenders to shut expat services is said to affect tens of thousands of people across Europe.

From January 1 following the end of the transition period, UK banks will be deprived of their "passporting" rights that have allowed them to offer services across the European Union.

To continue exercising these rights, they must have a legal entity in the countries of operation.

"This will obviously incur additional costs so banks will need to make decisions about which markets are likely to be cost-effective and profitable for them," noted Sarah Hall, professor of economic geography at the University of Nottingham, central England.

"This would mean that they choose to operate in some EU countries but not others," she told AFP.

For major UK bank Lloyds, the choice has been made. It is closing 13,000 accounts belonging to British expats spread across six EU countries -- Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal and Slovakia.

- Alternative solutions -

Banks are advising customers on their next steps.

Coutts, the bank of British monarch Queen Elizabeth II, has set up a dedicated team after warning its expat clients in July.

Expat newspapers, such as The Connexion in France, informs readers of their options such as changing banks so for example they can continue to receive UK state pensions.

HSBC and Santander have decided against closing accounts.

"HSBC has a legal entity in France and is planning on using that to service UK expats in France," added professor Hall.

Concerned that other banks are not taking the same measures, British parliament's Treasury Committee made up of cross-party lawmakers has written to the UK's financial regulator for clarification.

"Many British expats in the EU are being told that their UK bank accounts will be terminated at the end of the year," said Mel Stride, an MP in the ruling Conservative party headed by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

"It's vital that they're given sufficient warning so that they have time to make alternative arrangements," added Stride, who chairs the committee.

The issue of passporting is meanwhile not part of the post-Brexit trade deal that the UK and EU are struggling to agree.

"I still think it likely that there will be a narrow trade deal but it is likely that this will not go far in easing services trade more generally," Hall said.

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