All cards up in the air! A general election is happening but one thing is for sure, whoever gets to deal with Brexit, has a hard job on their hands (I’m just glad its not me!) As it currently stands, by not assuring the rights of EU citizens in the UK, Theresa May has squandered an opportunity to give peace of mind to our EU co-workers working and living in Letchworth (and the rest of the UK). No.10 Downing Street’s point of view is that in promising the rights of EU citizens in the UK, it will postpone the same guarantee to the 1.5 million UK citizens living in the other nations of the EU.
Putting aside the politics for one second, the simple fact is now Article 50 has been triggered, we have two years to make a deal with the EU; otherwise it will be a ‘hard Brexit’. Now you might not think a hard Brexit will affect you in your home in Letchworth, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Of the 125,817 people who are resident in the North Hertfordshire District Council area, 113,030 were born in the UK, 3,087 were born in EU countries from Western Europe and 1,110 were born in EU countries from the former Soviet States in Eastern Europe (the rest coming from other countries around the world).
The rights of these EU citizens living in the Letchworth area are not guaranteed and will now be part of the negotiation with Europe. It is true a lot of our EU next door neighbours in Letchworth will have acquired rights relating to the right to live, to work, to own a business, to possess a property, the right to access health and education services and the right to remain in a UK after retirement. Yet those acquired rights are up for negotiation in the next two years.
What would a hard Brexit do to the Letchworth property market?
A hard Brexit could mean the nuclear option when it came to the Letchworth housing market. It could mean that every EU citizen would have to leave the UK.
In the North Hertfordshire District area, 2,096 of the 3,087 Western European EU citizens own their own home and (so they would all need to be sold) and 597 of the 1,110 Eastern European EU citizens rent a property, so again all those rental properties would all come onto the market at the same time.
Hard Brexit and mass EU Migration would mean c. 1,300 properties being dumped onto the housing market in a short period of time, meaning there would be a massive drop in Letchworth property values and rents, causing negative equity for thousands of Letchworth homeowners and many buy-to-let landlords would be out of pocket.
While there is no certainty as to what the future will hold, both the rights of UK expats in the EU and EU citizens in the UK will no longer be guaranteed and will be subject to bilateral renegotiation.
All I ask is that the politicians are sensible with each other in the negotiations. A lot of the success of the Letchworth (and UK) property market has been built on high levels of homeownership and in the last 10/15 years, a growth of the rental sector with lots of demand from Eastern Europeans coming to Letchworth (and the surrounding area) to get work and provide for their families. Many Letchworth people have invested their life savings into buying a buy to let property.
Much will depend on what is politically realistic. Unilateral knee-jerk reactions and measures caused by a hard Brexit would not only be likely to cause major disruption or suffering to the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK, but also everyone who owns property in the UK. Politics aside, a hard Brexit is in no one’s interests.