Disappointed and Betrayed, but Home
How Europeans in the UK feel, 6 years after the Brexit vote
Back in 2016, I thought I would ‘miss’ the Brexit story. I was 7 months pregnant at the time of the referendum and I had to take it very easy.
I mainly reported on the upcoming vote from the studio, like this videowall segment which aired the day before the referendum. In it I explain the size and nature of European communities in the UK while doing my best impression of a baby Orca (why did I think skin-tight dresses were the way to go at that late stage of pregnancy? WHY??).
Then, after the shock of the ‘LEAVE’ result, I worried that I’d miss the fall-out from such a big decision due to being on maternity leave.
I needn’t have worried. I could have had 2 more children and I still wouldn’t have ‘missed’ Brexit. My son is now in primary school, but I suspect that at his University graduation all the parents will still be discussing the more obscure aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol, and by this point we will all have gained considerable legal knowledge about how nations can best go about breaking international obligations.
The truth is that six years on from the vote, Brexit is far from done. Many of us in Britain AND in Europe are still feeling its impact. Perhaps no one more so than the millions of Europeans who call the UK home.
An open wound.
New research on EU citizens in UK after Brexit by the Universities of Birmingham and Lancaster shows that the process of the UK leaving the EU has left enduring scars on the UK’s European population.
Take a look at the word cloud below that came out of the research (ah, I do love a word cloud):
Sad, disappointed and betrayed certainly sum up the feelings of many fellow Europeans in the UK I’ve spoken to in recent years though, it has to be said, not all.
After six years the initial shock has presumably worn off, so what’s behind the continued negativity?
A sense of insecurity and lack of trust in British institutions play a big part. Despite millions having applied to the Settlement Scheme (by which they retained their right to live here post-Brexit) most EU citizens in the UK continue to have at least some concerns about their legal status.
Of the EU citizens who have left the UK since 2016, only 17% said they did it primarily because of Brexit. Most Europeans resident in the UK are choosing to stay put, although increasing numbers are obtaining British Citizenship to feel more secure about their status in the UK.
How many are planning to leave? A third of respondents (36%) say they are either extremely or somewhat likely to move.
WHY would those planning to leave do so? It turns out that for 19% (the largest share) ‘work’ is the primary reason. After all, many Europeans came here for work and they claim Brexit has damaged the UK economy and created fewer employment opportunities. In addition (and worryingly), EU citizens from Eastern and Central Europe report instances of discrimination in the labour market and a sense of being not sufficiently protected from discrimination.
The main author of the report Professor Nando Sigona, from the University of Birmingham ( a great follow on Twitter btw for all things related to migration) sums it up here:
“While the public narrative suggests that Brexit is done and dusted, for EU citizens Brexit is still an open scar.
Strong feelings of insecurity, unsettlement and sadness coexist with feelings of home and opportunity….. Rebuilding trust is challenging when the ramifications of Brexit still have such profound consequences on the lives of EU citizens in Britain.”
Although millions of Europeans have succesfully applied to the Settlement Scheme, there continue to be stories of people falling through the cracks. Confusion also persists at the border, with recent examples of European citizens being asked to show supplementary ID before being allowed to board a plane for the UK. The fact that there is no PHYSICAL proof of settled status like an ID card (it is currently in digital format only) often creates confusion.
It is undeniable that life has been more complicated for Europeans in the UK since the Brexit result. But I found this testimony from a 43-year-old Dutch-born man really telling:
Up to the 2016 Referendum, I was at home here. When hearing my accent, people would ask me where I came from.
I told them, and that was that. After the referendum, I am less eager to speak in public, as my accent will give me away.
People still ask me where I come from and when I go home, but now those questions have lost their innocence.
The phrase ‘those questions have lost their innocence’ is interesting. Because it could be his perception as a European migrant, reacting to what was nothing more than a question born of curiority rather than intolerance. Brexit has highlighted issues around our national identity that many of us didn’t worry about before, and it may sometimes (understandably) cloud our judgement.
On the subject of clouds, let’s go back to the word cloud (because word clouds are great), as it’s worth pointing out that the terms HOME and LOVE also feature prominently in it.
Speaking for myself, those are the ones that mean the most. As an EU migrant, I came to this country by choice. I thought I’d love it when I was 19 years old and, as it turns out, I did and still do nearly 30 years later. The UK is unquestionably home, as it is for millions of EU citizens.
Brexit didn’t change that.