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BREXIT

Why we are part of the Brexit problem – and what to do

It’s been a long night, and for those of us Brits who have made our lives elsewhere in Europe, it will be a long road ahead writes The Local's managing editor James Savage.

Why we are part of the Brexit problem - and what to do
Photo: AFP

While some people in Britain will rejoice at the country leaving the EU, we face an uncertain future.

We’ve been told by David Cameron that there will be no “immediate” consequences for us. Honestly, when a political decision affects your entire future, that’s not good enough.

But the problem is that the British people voted in large numbers to stop immigration from the European mainland. The way these things work, Europe will only grant rights to British citizens that Britain grants to other Europeans.

But for many of us, this result doesn’t just raise worries about our futures (though some of us have even secured dual nationality for just this eventuality).

No, this is a vote for a Britain that is turning in on itself and turning its back on globalisation, and that should concern us on another level entirely.

This is a vote for an island that sees people like us, living in a borderless, cosmopolitan world, as a problem in need of a solution. And for everyone who thinks this in Britain there are many across Europe and beyond who think in the same way.

And the truth is that there are losers in a globalised world. And in our rush towards our more cosmopolitan future, we all too easily forget those who lose out economically or who just find these changes frightening.

It’s no coincidence that older people were apparently overwhelmingly in favour of Brexit, while younger people wanted to stay.

So what to do now? The challenge is daunting: to stop our descent into a really ugly future, in which extremists like Farage, Trump and Le Pen are calling the shots in our once so free and liberal countries. 

I have no idea how this can be done, but I do know this: we, the winners of globalisation, have to understand why large parts of society detest us and the liberal society we live in.

And to find ways to work to a better future in which they, and we, have a stake. Part of this is economic, part of it is cultural.

Either way, it’s our job to work together to find a way through this, or our bright, prosperous future could evaporate more completely than we can comprehend.

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BREXIT

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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