Researching the implications of Brexit

The UK's decision to exit the EU has created great uncertainty for a number of communities across the UK and Europe. Mixed nationality EU families in the UK, British pensioners living abroad, EU nationals working in the UK and others are facing a series of questions relating to their legal rights, many of which will take time to be resolved, impacting their economic, social and personal welfare.  In addition to these personal impacts, much larger structures such as businesses, healthcare and education are also subject to the consequences of Brexit over the short and long term.

In response to Brexit, IRiS is leading a series of research projects to explore a number of these key issues, helping to answer important questions through innovative research methods. These projects are highlighted below:

Rebordering Britain & Britons after Brexit (MIGZEN)

Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit is an innovative research project funded by ESRC, which explores the long-term impacts of Brexit on migration between the EU and UK to uncover what this reveals about Britain’s migration story and future.

A collaborative research project involving academics, policy makers, civil society and migrant-led organisations, this project aims to produce new and timely knowledge on how the changing legal and political relationship between the UK and EU in consequence of Brexit shapes migration and migrant experience - including settlement, questions of identity, citizenship and belonging. It adopts a unique approach to understanding Britain’s migration story, that brings together emigration with immigration, and that considers British citizens, EU citizens and Third Country Nationals alongside one another.

Co-led by Professor Nando Sigona and Dr Michaela Benson, the project examines 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 to the EU following Brexit—British migrants, EU migrants and non-EU migrants?

More information may be found on the Migzen website

EU families and Eurochildren in Brexiting Britain

Professor Nando Sigona, Dr Laurence Lessard- Phillips and Dr Marie Godin   

The UK has been a member of the European Union for 40 years. Throughout that time there has been intermingling of people and institutions which can be most clearly seen in the growing number of bi- and mixed-nationality EU families in the UK and their children,  many of whom born in the UK and holding a British passport. This is a growing, and yet understudied and underreported, segment of the British society. In a post-EU referendum context, where the rhetoric about curbing EU immigration has permeated political, media, and popular discourses, producing a stark ‘us and them’ narrative, the question left unasked and unanswered is what are the human and emotional costs of this abrupt geopolitical shift if ‘us and them’ are the same?

Through the study of Eurochildren and their families and their experience and responses to Brexit, this project  – funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of The UK in Changing Europe initiative – aims to portrait the emergence of a new politics of belonging which reconfigures discursively and legally who belong to a post-EU Britain and establish a baseline for future research on migration and settlement decision making in families with EU27 nationals following the formal exit of the European Union. In order to do so, we will:

  1. Profile and map the population of UK- and EU-born children of EU nationals in the UK and examine, at the aggregate level, different types of EU families and measure their socio-economic inclusion into British society.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

More information can be found in the Eurochildren information leaflet 

Portraits of EU Families in London

Portraits of EU families in London is a participatory photo project linked to the ESRC-funded EU families and ‘Eurochildren’ in Brexiting Britain project, part of the UK in a Changing Europe programme.  The project includes photographs, interviews and video stills conducted with EU families and their children living in London.











Launch of three new Eurochildren reports at the House of Commons

Research conducted from the Eurochildren study, led by IRiS Deputy Director, Professor Nando Sigona, resulted in the release of three new reports on 5 June 2019 covering the legal, statistical and sociological aspects of the impact of Brexit on EU families.  Access and download the 3 new reports plus other Eurochildren publications.

More information on the Eurochildren project, news, videos and photographs can be found on the Eurochildren blog site. 

Implications of Brexit for British pensioners living in Spain

Dr Kelly Hall

The EU referendum has created huge uncertainty for older British migrants living in Spain in relation to their rights to reside and access to support. It may also have a profound impact on their sense of belonging and identities as British, Spanish or EU citizens.

This project, led by Dr Kelly Hall, draws on qualitative interviews with British pensioners living in Spain to explore i) how the vote to leave the EU impacts on the identities and experiences of older British migrants living in Spain; ii) how the referendum impacts on their past, current and future migration trajectories; and iii) the impact of any changes to their rights to health care, social care and welfare support. The project will also explore whether Brexit has or is likely to trigger the return of elderly British people from Spain, which will have significant implications for health, care and other welfare services in the UK.

For further information on this project please read Dr Hall's article in The Conversation or view Kelly's presentation at the ESRC event 'Brexit: The Road Ahead' below:

Kelly's presentation at the ESRC event 'Brexit: The Road Ahead'

EU migrant family businesses in Birmingham: reactions and responses to Brexit

Dr Catherine Harris, Dr Aleksandra Kazlowska and Dr Natalia Vershinina

This project attempts to understand the ways in which EU citizens running businesses in the UK are coping with the uncertainty of Brexit. The team interviewed 15 Polish family businesses and 7 families running businesses originating from Baltic states (Latvia and Lithuania) in Birmingham. Since the Brexit vote, these migrant entrepreneurs have faced an uncertain future. They may not be allowed to continue to run their businesses or remain in the UK. The research explores how Brexit may impact on the businesses they run, their sense of belonging and the cohesiveness of the communities within which they are situated. Possible loss of EU run businesses could result in direct and indirect job-losses, as well as a reduction in tax, National Insurance and Business Rate contributions. The research will explore:

  • Lived experiences of life and work in Birmingham for the individuals and their children - feelings of attachment and welcome, responses to media and politicians' narrative.
  • The impact of lived experiences on identification with the UK, future aspirations and investment decisions and how these evolve across the Brexit process.
  • How respondents' translocal connections' attitudes to migration to, and potential investment in the UK changes in response to Brexit and the experiences of their connections living here.

The quest for home of European Somali families in Britain

Dr Chris Allen and Ozlem Young

Since 2000, a large number of Somali families have made Birmingham their home. The Brexit vote has brought great uncertainty for many, destabilising their notions of home and sense of belonging. Secondary migrant Somali families have settled in Birmingham having sought asylum in various EU countries. The perceptions of the UK as being tolerant to religious and cultural expressions of their identities was a key factor in their migration to the UK (van Liempt, 2011). In the aftermath of the Brexit vote, Dr Chris Allen and researcher Ozlem Young conducted a research project which examined the lived experiences of these families with a focus on identity and belonging. Through interviews, the research highlighted the multiple complexities many had faced in trying to construct their identities, acknowledging how attachments to multiple places, experiences and communities through the migration process had deeply impacted this process. 

The feeling of being rejected through Brexit (not for the first time for many refugees) undermined their emotional identification with Birmingham. For some it has led them to a desire to migrate to a new country, others were so unsettled they expressed a feeling of not being able to feel a sense of belonging to any place. The intimate feeling of home has been disrupted and indeed broken for many who are now left with a need to reconstruct their identities once again.

Find out more about the project

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