A new picture of Britons living in the EU post-Brexit flags the ‘deep transformation’ that has come with the removal of freedom of movement.
This first major insight, by Lancaster University and the University of Birmingham, into British citizens living in the EU after Brexit, reports on responses to the ‘Migration and Citizenship after Brexit’ survey completed this year by 1328 British citizens who currently live in a European Union/European Economic Area member state.
The research says: “The stories that come across from those taking part is how the removal of free movement is experienced as becoming more immobile, stuck in place in ways that they were not previously and deep transformations as to how they had been living their lives.”
Professor Michaela Benson, lead author of the report, says: “The report shows that, while the public narrative suggests that Brexit is done and dusted, it has brought the deep transformations to the lives of British citizens living in the EU and EEA. The long tail of Brexit is evident in its continuing impacts on the way they live their lives and its lasting significance for their sense of identity and belonging.”
The survey shows Britons resident in the EU/EEA are a largely settled population who plan to stay in their country of residence long-term; many had put down roots and built families in the European Union, with evidence of multi-generational settlement and British-European family formations.
Family, work and retirement were the most prominent reasons given for change country of residence since 2016—moving from the UK to an EU/EEA member state, or within the EU/EEA.
When considering plans for future migration, family outweighed both work and retirement as an explanation and Brexit has had a significant impact on any future plans given the reduced opportunities for mobility from the UK-EU and within the EU following Brexit.
Among those in British-European families, where in consequence of Brexit people had different statuses, and rights to migration and settlement, a pronounced concern was about what this would mean for about future migration plans and in particular returning to the UK with non-British family members.
The research also found Brexit and the pandemic had significantly impacted on their feelings towards the UK, in mostly negative ways. Feelings towards the UK, EU and country of residence reveal a strong sense of a population who identify as both British and European.
However, political disenfranchisement in the UK and abroad was the prominent story about political participation for those taking part in the survey.
Many of those taking part highlighted how Brexit had changed their rights, as well as what this meant for the way they had been leading their lives or had hoped to live their lives in the future.
The loss of EU citizenship means they have lost their rights to vote in the European Parliament and, in most cases, local elections within member states as well as their loss of rights to vote in the UK after living abroad for 15 years. And a significant proportion of Britons living in post-Brexit EU countries are currently ineligible for the right to vote anywhere.
Overall, the survey flagged a strong sense of the impacts of the removal of freedom of movement, including those unable to move within the EU for work, those seeking to retire to an EU country in the future as well as those who previously had been able to live part-time in an EU member state and now found they were limited to 90 days.
One respondent, when asked about how Brexit affected his migration plans past and present, said: “Where does one start! Loss of rights like freedom of movement around the EU and to the UK. With a wife who is an EU citizen, had to decide whether to move to the relevant EU country of stay in the UK. Family cannot now move back to Britain. Loss of ability to use UK based banks. Uncertainty.”
The extensive survey, which included 96 questions, took place between December 2021 and January 2022, a year after the end of the Brexit transition period.
The research offers insight into a range of issues including migration patterns, residential and nationality status in the country of residence, impacts of Brexit and the pandemic on future plans, family life, political participation in the UK and EU and understanding of identity and belonging.
Jane Golding OBE, former Co-Chair, British in Europe, Chair, British in Germany says of the report: “If politicians and the media want some insights into who the British diaspora in the EU are in the 21st century, they should read this report, instead of relying on hackneyed stereotypes.
“They live in all EU countries, from Estonia to Greece, family ties are significant to emigration, and Brexit has strongly affected their relationship to the UK. They are also highly politically engaged but mostly disenfranchised, some completely.”
The survey is part of a wider research project ‘Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit (MIGZEN)’ (www.migzen.net), jointly led by Professor Michaela Benson at Lancaster University and Professor Nando Sigona at the University of Birmingham. The project is funded by UKRI Economic and Social Research Council and explores the long-term impacts of Brexit and Britain’s shifting position on the world stage on migration to and from the UK.
The research team also includes Dr Elena Zambelli, Senior Research Associate at Lancaster University, and Dr Catherine Craven, Research Fellow in the Institute for Research into Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham.
Method of Research
Subject of Research
Migration and Citizenship after Brexit
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