New Study Reveals Impact Of Brexit On British Expats In The EU

The Guardian has recently published details of a new study analysing the impact of Brexit on British expats in the EU. The transition period ended 18 months ago, and now that the dust has settled, analysts are seeking a more in-depth understanding of both the long- and short-term repercussions.

Brexit causes ‘deep transformations’ to expat lives

The survey was conducted by the universities of Lancaster and Birmingham between December 2021 and January 2022, and canvassed 1,328 British nationals in the bloc. 54% were female, 78% were white, and the majority were professional and highly educated. The report covered a range of issues, including:

  • British expats’ migration trajectories
  • Residential and nationality statuses
  • Impacts of Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic on future migration plans
  • Family life
  • Political participation in the UK and within the EU
  • Citizenship, identity and belonging

The study’s co-lead, Michaela Benson, said that the survey showed that if:

“…the public narrative suggests Brexit is done and dusted, it has brought deep transformations to the lives of British citizens in the EU and EEA … The long tail of Brexit is evident in its continuing impacts…”

Many expats ‘economically active and socially integrated’

The report counters the view that Brits in the EU are somehow transient. It describes the respondents as a largely settled population with plans to stay put in their adopted nation. 59% of respondents had been resident in their host country for five years or more, and expressed the intention of staying. The report states that the:

“…survey paints a very different picture of the British citizen population living in the EU than is prominent in public and political imaginings, which tend to cast them as a population that has moved to the EU upon retirement and lives in predominantly British communities. This overlooks the extent to which British citizens currently living in the EU are not only of working age and below, but are also economically active and socially integrated in their countries of residence.”

Travel plans impacted a ‘great deal’

29% said that Brexit had affected their travel and movement plans a ‘great deal.’ Many expressed anger at the new restrictions imposed upon them. Some stated that they had moved to their host countries to protect their residency rights and that their emigration was ‘100%’ a consequence of Brexit. It is clear from respondents’ replies that Brexit has caused a substantial amount of inter-familial chaos – half of respondents did not have the same residency status as another family member.

Respondents talked of not being able to return to the UK permanently. For example, some who were married to EU nationals expressed fears of running foul of UK immigration regulations. Family was a top priority for respondents, and a factor for emigration that was deemed more important than work or retirement. The survey showed evidence of multi-generational settlement.

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Respondents feel ‘unambiguously negative’ towards the UK

Many also expressed regret over their loss of EU voting rights. 75% said that they had a strong attachment to the EU, 59% expressed the same attachment for their host country, and 30% reported having similar feelings for the UK.

Dr Benson describes the feelings of respondents to the UK post-Brexit and post-pandemic as ‘unambiguously negative.’ She says that “deep shame”, “disappointment”, “embarrassed to be British”, “shambolic”, “I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarized” and “like watching a house on fire” were typical responses to both Brexit and to the UK government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The survey shows a “sense of disappointment, shame and anguish over Brexit and the pandemic – and a really quite pronounced expression of European identity.”

Migzen project examines ‘rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit’

The survey is part of a wider project: the Migzen project, subtitled “Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit.” The project explores the long-term impacts of Brexit and Britain’s shifting position on the world stage on migration to and from the UK. Co-led by Michaela Benson and Professor Nando Sigona, it involves academics, policy makers, civil society and migrant-led organisations to increase understanding of the changing legal and political relationship between the UK and the EU post Brexit. It brings together emigration with immigration, and will consider British citizens, EU citizens and third country nationals alongside one another.

It will be looking at the following questions:

  • How, and in what ways, have volume, geography and direction of migration flows between the UK and EU changed since the Brexit Referendum? And how does this relate to global migrations to and from the UK?
  • In what ways do settled populations – British citizens resident in EU member states before Brexit and EU citizens living in the UK – assess their mobile and residential futures in light of their changing legal status, personal circumstances, political and economic crises, and the COVID-19 pandemic? How does this then inform, for example, decisions to stay put, to move on or repatriate?
  • How do transformations to migration governance regimes intervene in decisions to migrate and repatriate and subsequent experiences of settlement for those newly migrating between the UK and the EU following Brexit – British migrants, EU migrants and non-EU migrants?

The project advisory board includes Debbie Williams, from Citizens’ Rights campaigning and support group Brexpats Hear our Voice, which campaigns for the preservation of the rights of UK nationals in the EU, and supports EU citizens in the UK.


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