Brits in Brussels put jobs on hold and rent Airbnbs as despair grows over Theresa May's Brexit delay plans

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  • British Members of the European Parliament in Brussels are in a growing state of limbo amid uncertainty over whether the United Kingdom will participate in the upcoming European elections next month.
  • Theresa May is determined to avoid the elections and is willing to cancel the UK’s involvement the day before they get underway if necessary.
  • However, her strategy is forcing hundreds of Brits in Brussels to put future plans on hold.
  • Some have turned down new jobs and others are living in Air BnBs.
  • UK Members of European Parliament described the chaos to Business Insider.
  • “One moment we are facing enforced retirement, the next it’s prepare for elections – or not.”

LONDON – British Members of the European Parliament and their staff are in a state of growing despair about their future after Theresa May on Friday announced her plans for another Brexit delay.

The prime minister has asked the European Union to delay Brexit until June 30. However, any Brexit delay that goes beyond May 22 will oblige the UK to participate in European Parliament elections next month.

As a result, the UK government has reluctantly started to prepare the country for European elections, with political parties beginning the process of picking candidates including current MEPs who live and work in Brussels.

However, May could pull out of those elections as late as May 22, just one day before they get underway, leaving the future of hundreds of British people working in Brussels in doubt.

“The uncertainty is pretty tough and there’s nothing we can do about it.”

May’s plan to potentially cancel the UK’s participation at the eleventh hour has created huge amounts of uncertainty for British MEPs and the hundreds of staff they employ, who do not know when their jobs will come to an end.

Many have had to put their potential relocation plans on hold as the Brexit impasse continues. Some have had to turn down job offers, while others are even living in Air BnBs after their housing contracts expired.

“Uncertainty at the end of a Parliament is expected for every politician, but this is different. One moment we are facing enforced retirement, the next it’s prepare for elections – or not,” Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder told Business Insider.

“I feel like my brain has been attached to piece of elastic which is being bobbed up and down!”

She added: “But it’s the staff who I’m really concerned about. They are looking for new jobs, thinking it’s all over. Then suddenly they’re having to reconsider everything as we potentially go into a European election.”

“It’s dreadfully disturbing and bringing huge stress on them in particular.”

“It’s dreadfully disturbing and bringing huge stress [on staff]”

Lewis North, who works for Bearder in Brussels, said that it had “been a really tough time for everyone,” with hundreds of parliamentary staff, largely young people, “wondering each day when the axe will finally drop.”

Seb Dance, a Labour MEP for London, told Business Insider: “lots of people are living in complete limbo” as politicians in Westminster continue to fumble the UK’s exit from the EU.

“I don’t for a second expect Brits in Brussels, MEPs in particular, to be factored in to any decisions. But of course we are among those at the sharpest end of this uncertainty,” he said.

“Obviously not just MEPs and staff but there are thousands of Brits in Brussels working in EU institutions – many of whom have been denied promotion because of their nationality.”

Brussels European Union marchRomy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Dance’s Labour colleague in Brussels, MEP Wajid Khan, said that one of his members of staff had to request an emergency extension to their contract after the first Brexit delay, and will be forced to do so again.

“Presumably the Parliament will accept my request to extend it again, but the uncertainty is pretty tough and there’s nothing we can do about it

The uncertainty is pretty tough and there’s nothing we can do about it

,” the MEP for northwest England said.

“Of course the 73 British MEPs are living in limbo, but on top of that you’ve got over 350 directly employed staff who don’t know when they will be without a job. It could be next week, it could be another month – who knows?”

Conservative MEP Sajjad Karim told Business Insider that he was making “no firm plans” amid the unpredictability.

He said that some of his colleagues in Brussels had “contingencies in place and are now having to rework them… at some considerable embarrassment and expense.”

Karim added that the uncertainty was “demoralising” for staff, “especially for those with young families.”

“As constructively engaged MEPs we are stuck with this mess, but most staff really aren’t and their loyalty is to be admired,” he said.

May will travel to Brussels this week to meet other EU leaders to discuss her latest request to delay Brexit.

EU leaders are believed to favour a longer extension, with European Council President Donald Tusk backing a 12-month delay which could ultimately leave Britain, and the hundreds of its citizens working in EU institutions, remaining there indefinitely.

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