‘We have to keep calm and carry on’: Concerned Brits in Denmark look beyond Brexit

For Britons living in Denmark as well as Danes who have a close relationship with the United Kingdom, Friday marks a significant day as the UK officially leaves the EU.

'We have to keep calm and carry on': Concerned Brits in Denmark look beyond Brexit
The exit to the Metro station at Rådhuspladsen in Copenhagen. Photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

Although life will largely continue as before – at least during the transition period, currently scheduled to end on December 31st – the symbolic significance of the UK leaving the EU today is clear.


We asked our readers in Denmark to send us their thoughts via email and social media on the day the UK leaves the EU.

“The uncertainty around Brexit is the thing I hate the most,” Rhys Sunderland wrote via Facebook.

“I don’t mind the fact people voted out or the result that we got. The problem I feel is nothing is black and white and everything is up in the air with no one supplying any answers to what should be very simple questions regarding our departure from the EU,” Sunderland explained.

Gavin M, who commented on Twitter, said he was “sad” but “ready to move on”.

“I want the best for the UK, Denmark and the EU, but it’s out of my control so why bother worrying. Ingen ko på isen [‘don’t panic', ed.],” he wrote.

“Desperately sad, experiencing growing sense of unknown about the future – pension rights, residence rights, freedom of movement, health care, EHIC coverage, all now up in the air. I moved to Denmark from UK in good faith, taking advantage of (freedom of movement), now everything is an unknown,” Alan Firth tweeted.

Danes with connections to the UK also offered their perspectives on the day’s events.

“The UK was my home for 6 years,” Rune Busk Damgaard wrote on Twitter.

“I fell in love with the country and its people. But the uncertainty caused by Brexit and the increasing anti-European and anti-immigration sentiment in the country meant that I had to leave. I could not see a future there. And it breaks my heart,” Damgaard said.

“I’m a Danish national studying and living in the UK,” Owen Purcell wrote on Facebook.

“(January 31st) is going to be a sad and sombre day for me as I wave goodbye to a lot of hopes and dreams which I hoped to achieve. Over the last few years I’ve noticed changes in attitudes here and a rise in the far-right movement, whether that be racism, homophobia or sexism. There is a real sense that the UK is moving backwards,” Purcell wrote.

Other Britons who live in Denmark expressed concerns over the potential impact on their businesses.

 “I am a UK national living and running my business, JOLT_, in Denmark. I won’t be marking the day in any way, but it does make me sad that this was the course of action chosen by some of those in the UK, so we have to keep calm and carry on and figure it out as we go,” Emma Roberts wrote on the same media.

“I just hope it doesn’t negatively affect the UK too much. I am already having to consider it another market in my company as EU licenses no longer extend to it, so it will affect my day to day life and others running international companies,” she pointed out.

What about British-Danish families who live in other EU countries?

“(I’m) British with a Danish wife and two kids living in Spain,” Paul Darwent, who runs a village bar in the Iberian country, wrote on Facebook.

“Gladly my family hold Danish passports. The only one that may have problems is myself. Can't get Danish nationality because I don't live there, might have to get Spanish though,” Darwent said.

“It is all complete madness so we have decided to mark the event with a ‘tongue in cheek’ celebration party in our bar. All are welcome. Even Tories,” he joked.

READ ALSO: The Local's view: Most Brits in Europe didn't ask for Brexit, but now we have to make it work

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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.