Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 21 May 2019

UAE Britons watch nervously as Brexit threatens their retirement plans

Property prices and visa rights are causing a headache for thousands in UAE

Latest: Theresa May wins confidence vote after Brexit defeat

Brexit is persuading more Britons to move to the UAE and has thrown existing residents’ retirement plans into chaos.

The UK’s departure from the EU, mandated in the 2016 referendum, is in turmoil after MPs rejected the government’s proposed withdrawal deal in what was the largest defeat for an administration in British political history.

The uncertainty is causing high anxiety among many of the estimated 120,000 British people in the UAE, although many have also gained from the pound weakening against the dirham.

Denzil Coulson, originally from South Africa, moved to the UK in the late 1990s and became a British citizen a decade ago. His wife, Amanda, received her UK passport a few years later.

They have two children and believed UK citizenship would allow them to retire to Spain or France when they retired. But ending free movement from EU states is one of the UK’s main demands.

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JANUARY 16, 2019. Denzil Coulson with his daughters Aliza & Ilana. (Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National) Reporter: Section: NA
Denzil Coulson with his daughters Aliza and Ilana. Reem Mohammed / The National

“The main reason I became a naturalised British citizen was principally the benefits of being part of the EU,” said Mr Coulson, 46, a father of two.

He said one of his reasons for leaving the UK for Abu Dhabi in 2015 had been a rise in anti-immigrant feeling in Britain.

“I was in the UK in 1998. At that time it was very welcoming,” Mr Coulson said. “But over the years it changed, particularly over the past five years.

“After we’d spent some time in the UAE, we wanted to go back and settle in Europe somewhere, like Spain or France.

“Of course, that’s in jeopardy now until the deal is sorted and we know what rights UK citizens will have in Europe. I am still proud to be a British citizen but the wrong people are in charge.”

Mr Coulson, a teacher, voted by proxy to remain in the EU referendum and tried to sign up British friends and colleagues to also register.

He is now hoping that the situation is resolved by moving to a ‘softer’ Brexit, meaning the UK would keep closer ties with the EU than is currently proposed.

Justin Crowley, managing director of Real Fix, working at his office in Rasis Business Centre in Al Barsha in Dubai, is one of the Britons grappling with Brexit.
Justin Crowley said British expats have benefitted from the weak pound but are worried about the economy and house prices

It has been estimated that house prices would plummet if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, a scenario that is worrying expats with property interests.

“I’ve got a place in London. The value of that is obviously dropping and while it’s not a problem in terms of long-term investment, it’s still concerning,” said Ian Jenkins, head of Middle East and Africa for Dubai-based recruitment company Carter Murray.

“Brexit has also pushed back any plans I had to move back to the UK. My fear is that if I leave the UAE to return home it might be difficult to find a job in a struggling economy.”

The 33-year-old also revealed that Brexit is having a direct impact on his business.

“Part of our remit is helping candidates relocate and at the moment we are seeing increased interest in moving to Dubai from candidates in the UK. It is seen as the more stable option when you have economic concerns back home,” said Mr Jenkins, from Sheffield.

“On the other hand, we have also seen a tightening of belts from UK companies that have offices here.

"They are veering against adding additional headcount costs because their core market, the UK, is in such economic turmoil and they don’t know what’s going to happen in six months."

Mr Jenkins was not alone in his fear of the uncertainty caused by the current Brexit situation.

“Like many in the UAE, I have property back in the UK,” said Justin Crowley, 46, from Port Talbot in Wales.

“The uncertainty caused by Brexit has left many of us wondering how to manage the financing of our properties there.”

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Mr Crowley said a number of his fellow British nationals in the UAE believed the value of the pound could drop as low as Dh3.

“I don’t think it will go that low, but we have to be realistic and accept this is an unprecedented event and it is having a real effect,” he said.

Mr Crowley, who owns a real estate maintenance company in Dubai, said that many British nationals enjoyed the low value of the pound, but that could change in the event of a second referendum.

“A lot of people have been enjoying the exchange rate — I know I have,” he said.

“It’s been good for business. We need to make the most of it now though — you can forget about this good exchange rate the minute another referendum is announced. It will shoot back up in a flash.”

Glaswegian David Allan, 40, was another British national living in Dubai who had real concerns about the latest developments with Brexit.

“We don’t know what level of damage this is going to cause,” said the general manager of the Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Waterfront.

“It is an absolute shambles right now. I am extremely worried about the impact this is going to have on my investments back home.”

Updated: January 17, 2019 01:39 PM

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