A new study of EU migrants living in the UK has revealed the deep psychological impact of leaving the EU and the continuing rhetoric associated with Brexit.
In a study carried out by experts at the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University, two-thirds of participants stated Brexit had significantly and, for most, negatively affected their feelings about Britain.
Researchers also found that Brexit had prompted many EU workers to reconsider their future in the UK and had prompted a loss of trust towards British institutions and politicians.
Report main author Professor Nando Sigona, from the University of Birmingham, said Brexit remained an open scar for many, but those in Scotland and Wales had a slightly more optimistic outlook: “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.
I identify the EU as my homeland now, I identify as a EU citizen before I identify with any nationality” – Irish citizen living in UK
“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 found 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.
Overall, the survey showed that the EU citizens were a largely settled population with plans to stay put in the long-term. There was evidence of multi-generational settlement and changes to legal status to support long-term settlement in the country of residence.
However, people reported very hostile feelings to the events of 2016 and subsequently. One 64-year-old French-born naturalised British female respondent captured 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 said: “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.”
My feelings towards Scotland are unchanged, but my view of the UK is more negative” – dual citizen
A 35-year-old Irish citizen told researchers: “I identify the EU as my homeland now, I identify as a EU citizen before I identify with any nationality.”
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 were still primary concerns – affecting family relations and shaping thinking on future plans, particularly in mixed-status families.
Family and relationships were the main drivers for migration decision-making, both among those who had 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 asked 96 questions, took place between December 2021 and January 2022, a year after the end of the Brexit transition period.
Government figures show that the number of concluded applications to the EU Settlement Scheme up to 31 March 2022 was 6,271,240. Of those, 51% (3,200,980) were granted settled status and 41% (2,576,360) were granted pre-settled status. There were 251,860 refusals, 122,800 withdrawn or void outcomes and 118,970 invalid outcomes in the same period, representing, combined, 8% of total outcomes. Of the refusals, 99% were refused on eligibility grounds and less than 1% were refused on suitability grounds.