The paper, ‘Mapping EU citizens in the UK: A changing profile?’, published today by the University of Birmingham’s Institute for Research into Superdiversity (IRiS), finds that at the time of the Brexit referendum, EU-born UK residents, who overall accounted for 5% of the UK population, comprised between 0.7% and 25.8% of the resident population in local areas, with geographical distribution concentrated around London, the South East, and the East.

Over forty years of EU membership, Britain has seen the population of resident EU nationals rising from 1.8% in 1981 to roughly 5% at the time of the EU referendum in 2016, an analysis based on forty years of UK data reveals.

The Eurochildren report uses official statistics to provide a historical overview of EU nationals in the UK since the early 1980s until the period around the EU Referendum in June 2016, focussing on the national picture as well as lower geographical areas.

The report shows that, from 1981 to 2001, the share of EC/EU nationals within the population and their geographical location remained relatively stable, with about a third living in/around London.

The major change to the magnitude and distribution of EU nationals in the UK came after the 2004 Accession of New Member States (e.g. Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Slovakia, Cyprus, and Malta). The report reveals this change was unevenly distributed among local areas.

At the time of the Brexit referendum, the geographical distribution of EU nationals in the UK mirrored that of 2011, with most EU nationals living close to big urban centres. The report however also shows marked differences in the patterns of settlement between EU14 (old EU member states) and EU10 (EU8 plus Romania and Bulgaria).

Dr Laurence Lessard-Phillips, main author of the report and Research Fellow at IRiS, said:

‘EU nationals have lived in the UK for a long time. We wanted to explore how British membership to the EU has transformed this presence, looking in more finite geographical detail and in a historical perspective, to start seeing where, and who, may be affected by Brexit’.

The report offers a historical perspective on the evolution of the population of EU nationals residing in the UK highlights which reveals the legacy of forty years of EU membership on the demographic makeup of the UK.

Dr Nando Sigona, Director of the Eurochildren study and Deputy Director of IRIS said:

‘Since joining the EU, the population of EU nationals in Britain, and British nationals on the continent, has increased substantially from 1.8% in 1981 to roughly 5% in 2016.

‘We now have second, third and even fourth generation UK-born descendants of EU citizens. This population is mostly absent in the public debate on Brexit. It is important that their voice is included in the public conversation on the consequences of Brexit on British families and society.’

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Copies of ‘Mapping EU citizens in the UK: A changing profile?’ available on request. High resolution maps of the EU nationals distribution in the UK can be provided on request.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked among the world's top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 5,000 international students from over 150 countries.
  • Eurochildren, full title EU families and “Eurochildren” in Brexiting Britain, is a study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of The UK in a Changing Europe initiative.
  • The study is led by Dr Nando Sigona at the University of Birmingham and carried out by a team at the Institute for Research into Superdiversity at the University of Birmingham in partnership with two civil society organisations, The 3 Million and Migrant Voice and barrister Colin Yeo, Garden Court Chambers. The study aims to: map the population of UK- and EU-born children of EU nationals in the UK from 1980s to date; investigate how families with at least one EU27 member experience and respond to the process of exiting from the European Union and identify factors that shape such responses; and examine the impact of the EU referendum and its aftermath on different age cohorts of UK-born Eurochildren, examining in particular how they articulate their sense of belonging and attitudes vis-á-vis the UK and the EU.
  • The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.