A study of EU citizens living in the UK revealed the ‘open wound’ left by Brexit, with respondents saying the decision to leave the bloc left them feeling betrayed, insecure and distrustful of the country who, nevertheless, mostly stays at home.
The survey of EU nationals from 22 countries, most of whom had been in Britain for more than five years and remained there since Brexit, showed ‘a deep and lasting impact on life and feeling of identity and belonging of EU citizens in the United Kingdom”. the authors said.
“The public narrative may suggest that Brexit is over and dusted off, and everyone has moved on,” said the report’s lead author, Professor Nando Sigona of the University of Birmingham. “But for EU citizens, Brexit remains an open wound.”
The study, EU Citizens in the UK after Brexit, showed it would be difficult to rebuild trust in UK institutions and politicians while ‘the ramifications of Brexit still have such far-reaching consequences’ on life of EU citizens, said Sigona.
Respondents said Brexit had significantly affected their view of Britain. While 72% still felt some emotional attachment to the UK, 89% said their opinion of the country had changed – 68.6% by ‘a lot’ or ‘a lot’ – since the 2016 referendum.
Asked for three words summarizing what Britain means to them, many nevertheless offered terms such as ‘home’ and ‘love’, reflecting the residual strength of EU nationals’ ties to the country they live in. had taken up residence, according to the report.
However, positive responses were offset by words such as “disappointment”, “betrayed”, “sadness”, “frustration”, “anger”, “unwelcome” and “disgusted”. Free text responses to the survey echoed the overwhelmingly negative sentiment.
“I felt at home here,” said a 43-year-old Dutchman. “Since the referendum… people still ask me where I’m from and when I’m going home, but these questions have lost their innocence.” Another Dutchman, 40, said: “I moved here under the same philosophy; I now feel that this common idea has disappeared and I feel like an immigrant.
Others said Brexit had changed their view of their home country: “I feel more German and more attached to Germany since 2016,” said a 45-year-old German woman in the UK.
Many of the 364 people interviewed pitted their view of their home country against their perception of post-Brexit Britain. “I hope my home country never becomes as unjust and xenophobic as the UK is now,” said a 62-year-old Frenchwoman.
Strikingly, Brexit also appears to have proven to be “a real trigger for pro-EU sentiment”, Sigona said, with more than 90% of respondents saying that since Brexit they felt at least moderately attached to the bloc. . Words offered in support of this sentiment included ‘belonging’, ‘peace’, ‘freedom’, ‘unity’ and ‘movement’.
A 52-year-old Frenchwoman who had returned to France said she “took the EU for granted before Brexit” but was “now aware of its value, even if it is not perfect”. A 44-year-old Italian said she ‘never paid much attention to what the EU stood for or did’ but now ‘defends it from the lies peddled in the press’ .
Unsurprisingly, the 96-question survey – conducted between December 2021 and January 2022, a year after the end of the transition period – found that most EU citizens settled in the UK, often part of multi-generational households, planned to stay. More than half had permanent legal status and more than 30% had dual nationality.
Of the roughly 30% who had changed countries since the referendum, the main reasons given were family or partner (25%), Brexit (17%), work (16%) and studies (14%) – the “Brexit” covering a multitude of emotional, political and practical considerations.
Among respondents in the UK, however, although a majority had established status or British citizenship, immigration status and residency were a primary concern, with the differing status of different family members – including parents or grandparents in the EU – affecting family relationships and shaping future plans.
There were also concerns that the established status would be digital only, with no paper proof. “Given the lack of trust in the UK immigration authorities, many people still do not feel safe,” Sigona said. “They also fear that they will not be able to, for example, look after relatives outside the UK.”
A 64-year-old French-born woman in the UK for over 40 years said: “I can barely express how hurt I am. I came to the UK in 1979 and worked in the NHS. I felt betrayed, ignored, ignored. I started to suffer from anxiety. I decided to apply for British citizenship, not because I wanted to be British, but so I could sleep at night again. When I got my UK passport, I spat on it.