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
Flags of the European Union outside the European commission headquarters in Brussels. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

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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Number of British citizens who move to Denmark at lowest in 15 years

Some 854 British citizens moved to Denmark in 2021, according to Statistics Denmark, the lowest number in 15 years.

Number of British citizens who move to Denmark at lowest in 15 years

The number of British citizens moving to Denmark in 2021 was 552 fewer than the year before in 2020 and 855 fewer than four years earlier, in 2017.

The figures from Statistics Denmark in the table below show the clear impact of Brexit. Britons voted in favour of Brexit in a June 2016 referendum and the UK’s exit from the EU was implemented at the end of 2020.

From this date onwards, British citizens have no longer been part of the EU and cannot live and work under the EU Freedom of Movement. Instead, they are subject to third-country rules, which involves stricter requirements to gain both temporary and permanent residency in Denmark, including the need for work permits.

READ MORE: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

Year Number of British citizens who moved to Denmark 
2021 854
2020 1406
2019 1584
2018 1682
2017 1709
2016 1575
2015 1370
2014 1230
2013 1136
2012 1028
2011 1009
2010 901
2009 876
2008 965
2007 880

Source: Statistics Denmark

Professor Peter Nedergaard from the Department of Political Science at Copenhagen University told The Local that he expects the lower figures are here to stay, because of the sheer amount of bureaucracy now needed to move to Denmark from the UK.

But he also pointed out that it will have affected the number of Danish citizens moving to the UK, which is also much harder to do after Brexit. 

Nedergaard attributed the lower figures of British people moving to Denmark between 2007 and 2010 to the business cycle in Denmark and how attractive it was to earn money in the country at the time.

Professor Marlene Wind from the Department of Political Science at Copenhagen University said she has noticed some effects of Brexit.

“In the universities, since Brexit we’ve seen a decrease in British citizens but an influx of other Europeans coming from the UK, who simply want to escape the UK and go for a job in Denmark, Sweden or Norway because we teach in English. Therefore getting out of the UK has increased enormously in the number of applicants for jobs in universities,” Wind told The Local.

“The general interchange in terms of highly-skilled labour has serious consequences and we see that everyday. I also have colleagues trying to move to the UK who have jobs there and it’s almost impossible to move because of the bureaucracy. Many have just given up,” she said.