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 most still call it from home.
The survey of EU citizens from 22 countries, who had been in Britain for more than five years and remained since Brexit, showed “a profound and lasting impact on the lives and sense of identity and belonging of EU citizens in the UK.” ”. authors said.
“The public narrative may suggest that Brexit is over and that 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 that rebuilding trust in British institutions and politicians would be a challenge when “the ramifications of Brexit still have such profound consequences” on the lives of EU citizens, Sigona said.
Respondents said that Brexit significantly affected their view of Britain. While 72% still felt some emotional connection 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 to provide three words that summarized what Britain means to them, many nevertheless offered terms such as “home” and “love”, reflecting the residual strength of EU citizens’ ties to the country they have become. home, according to the report.
However, positive responses were outweighed by words like “disappointment”, “betrayed”, “sadness”, “frustration”, “anger”, “undesirable” and “disgust”. The free-text survey responses echoed the overwhelmingly negative sentiment.
“I was at home here,” said a 43-year-old Dutchman. “Since the referendum… people still ask me where I come from and when I return home, but those questions have lost their innocence.” Another 40-year-old Dutchman said: “I moved here following the same philosophy; now I feel like that common idea is gone and I feel like an immigrant.”
Others said Brexit had changed their view of their country of origin: “I feel more German and more connected to Germany since 2016,” said a 45-year-old German in the UK.
Many of the 364 respondents contrasted their view of their home country with their perception of post-Brexit Britain. “I hope my home country never becomes as unfair and xenophobic as the UK is now,” said a 62-year-old Frenchwoman.
Surprisingly, Brexit also appears to have proved “a real trigger for pro-EU sentiment”, said Sigona, with more than 90% of respondents saying that since Brexit they felt at least moderately connected to the bloc. Words offered in support of this sentiment included ‘belonging’, ‘peace’, ‘freedom’, ‘unity’ and ‘movement’.
A 52-year-old Frenchwoman who returned to France said she “taken the EU for granted before Brexit” but “was now aware of how precious it is, even if it’s not perfect”. A 44-year-old Italian woman said that “she never paid much attention to what the EU stood for or did” but now “defenders it from the lies spread in the press”.
Unsurprisingly, the 96-question survey – carried out between December 2021 and January 2022, a year after the end of the transition period – found that the majority of EU citizens based in the UK, often from multigenerational families, planned to stay. More than half had permanent legal status and more than 30% had dual nationality.
Of the roughly 30% who have moved since the referendum, the main reasons cited were family or partner (25%), Brexit (17%), work (16%) and study (14%) – with “Brexit” covering a plethora of emotional, political, and practical considerations.
Among UK respondents, however, even if the majority had established status or UK citizenship, immigration and residency status was a primary concern, with the different status of various family members – including parents or grandparents in the EU. – affecting family relationships and shaping future plans.
There was also widespread concern that the established status is digital only, with no paper proof. “Given the lack of trust in the UK immigration authorities, many people still do not feel safe,” said Sigona. “They are also worried about not being able, for example, to care for relatives outside the UK.”
A 64-year-old French woman, born in the UK more than 40 years ago, said: “I can hardly express how hurt I am. I came to the UK in 1979 and worked on 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 British passport, I spat on it.”