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Brexit has left enduring scars on EU citizens living in the UK - negatively affecting their feelings about Britain.

A new picture of EU migrants living in post-Brexit Britain reveals the enduring scars that leaving the EU has left on its citizens living in the UK.

In a study carried out by experts at the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University, two thirds of participants say Brexit has significantly and, for most, negatively affected their feelings about Britain.

“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."

Professor Nando Sigona, University of Birmingham

Brexit has prompted many to question who they are and reconsider their future in the UK. It also prompted a loss of trust towards British institutions and politicians.

Report main author Professor Nando Sigona, from the University of Birmingham, comments:

“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, with the latter prevailing in England, while more positive feelings are expressed by those living in Scotland and Wales. Rebuilding trust is challenging when the ramifications of Brexit still have such profound consequences of the lives of EU citizens in Britain.”

The ‘Migration and Citizenship after Brexit’ survey was completed this year by 364 EU/EEA citizens who currently live or have recently lived in the UK. The survey finds that Brexit has had a profound and lasting impact on the lives and sense of identity and belonging of EU citizens living in the UK.

A 64-year-old French-born naturalised British female respondent captures a widespread feeling among participants:

“I will forever remember that Thursday in 2016 when I woke up and saw the result. I cried. I had to go to work. I felt betrayed, unheard, uncared for, left to wonder about my life in the UK and what had been the point.”

Respondents express a strong sense of attachment to the EU, which for many was triggered by the EU referendum and the Brexit negotiations that followed.

A 55-year-old female respondent with dual citizenship says:

“I had a vague idea of how the EU worked and what it offered its citizens. I've learnt much more about the EU since 2016 and come to admire the project and its positive impact on EU citizens' lives.”

A 35-year-old Irish citizen explains:

“I identify the EU as my homeland now, I identify as a EU citizen before I identify with any nationality.”

The survey shows that this is a largely settled population reporting plans to stay put in the long-term, with evidence of multi-generational settlement and changes to legal status to support long-term settlement in the country of residence.

However, looking to the future, there is some divergence between those from older and newer EU member states in terms of migration plans and attitudes to mobility.

Among all respondents, despite the majority having settled status or British citizenship, legal status and right to residence are still primary concerns - affecting family relations and shaping thinking on future plans, particularly in mixed-status families.

Family and relationships are the main drivers for migration decision-making, both amongst those who have moved on from the UK since Brexit and those who stayed put. They are also the main consideration for those planning to move within the next five years.

COVID-19 impacted on people’s attitudes towards their country of residence, less so towards country of origin and the EU overall. Most EU/EEA citizens living in the UK report that COVID-19 created negative feelings towards the UK (with only a few taking the opposite view) and specifically the Government’s pandemic response. However, respondents praised responses by devolved authorities.

A 45-year-old respondent with dual citizenship explains:

“My feelings towards Scotland are unchanged, but my view of the UK is more negative due to the incompetence of the UK government in handling the pandemic.”

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. It 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.

For more information or an embargoed copy of the report, please contact Tony Moran, International Communications Manager, University of Birmingham, on +44 (0)782 783 2312 or t.moran@bham.ac.uk. For out-of-hours enquiries, please call +44 (0) 7789 921 165.

  • The University of Birmingham is ranked amongst the world’s top 100 institutions. Its work brings people from across the world to Birmingham, including researchers, teachers and more than 6,500 international students from over 150 countries.
  • The survey is part of a wider research project ‘Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit (MIGZEN)’, led by Professor Nando Sigona at the University of Birmingham and Professor Michaela Benson at Lancaster University. The project is funded by UKRI Economic and Social Research Council as part of the Governance After Brexit programme 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.