Survey of 364 people from mainland Europe reveals the long-term impact

Six years on from the referendum that saw the United Kingdom leave the European Union, a survey of EU citizens living in the UK has revealed how the experience has impacted their view of the country, and left many wondering if it is where they want to stay.

A study by the universities of Birmingham and Lancaster was carried out between December 2021 and January 2022, a year after the end of the post-Brexit transition period.

It had 364 respondents who are EU and European Economic Area citizens who currently live or have recently lived in the UK, answering 96 questions on a variety of topics including residential status, feelings of identity and belonging, and future plans.

Two-thirds of those questioned said Brexit had significantly affected their feelings about Great Britain, mainly for the worse.

“While the public narrative suggests that Brexit is done and dusted, for EU citizens Brexit is still an open scar,” said the report’s main author Nando Sigona, from the University of Birmingham.

“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.”

Out of about 33 million votes cast across the whole of the UK in the referendum, the campaign to leave the EU, led by future prime minister Boris Johnson, won by a margin of 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent.

In England, the vote was 53.4 percent to leave, in Wales it was 52.5 percent to leave, but Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain.

This has led to particularly strained relations between the authorities in Westminster and Edinburgh, which are mirrored in the survey replies.

“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,” said one respondent.

The handling of the pandemic also emerged as an issue which affected people’s impressions of the UK.

Many went back to their birth countries and have not returned, causing employment issues particularly in the service industries.

Brexit changes to employment law have also had a major impact, with Johan Lundgren, chief executive of budget airline EasyJet, specifically blaming Brexit for his company’s recent high-profile staffing problems.

According to data from the UK Home Office, naturalization applications by EU citizens in the UK increased from 4 per cent in 2007 to 35 per cent at the end of 2020, having been at 11 percent at the time of the referendum.

Between 2016 and the end of 2020, 158,000 EU citizens applied for naturalization, with the largest numbers coming from Polish and Romanian citizens.

However, the fastest rise in applications came from the group of countries known as the EU14, who were member states prior to 2004.This includes people from Italy, Spain, Germany and France.

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