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BREXIT

‘Ashamed, embarrassed, disappointed’ – How Brits in the EU feel about the UK

A new in-depth survey on British nationals living in the EU has revealed the impact that Brexit has had upon their lives, and their attitudes to their country of origin.

Photo by PHILIPPE HUGUEN / AFP

The study, conducted by academics at Lancaster and Birmingham universities, provides a snapshot of how Brits in the EU live – their age, family, work and education – and how they feel about the UK in the six years since the Brexit vote.

Unsurprisingly, it revealed that Brexit has had a major practical impact on the lives of Brits living in the EU – who are now subject to third-country rules and require residency cards or visas and face restrictions on voting and onward movement within the EU.

But the survey’s 1,328 respondents were also asked about their emotions towards the country of their birth.

Eighty percent of respondents said it had changed their feelings towards the UK.

A British woman living in Norway said she felt: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British, ashamed that I didn’t try hard enough, or appreciate my EU citizenship.”

“Since Brexit I am disappointed in the UK. I am worried, and no longer feel like I have the same affinity for the country. It’s a shame because I love ‘home’ but the country feels so polarised,” added a British woman in her 30s living in Denmark.

An Austrian resident with dual British-Irish nationality said: “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country from how I left it.

“So much so I feel more connected with my second nationality (Irish) despite the fact I never grew up in Ireland. It’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK and what continues to happen. It’s like watching a house on fire from afar.”

The experience of living abroad during the pandemic also affected people’s feelings towards the UK, with 43 percent of people saying the UK’s handling of the Covid crisis affected their feelings towards the county.

A British woman in her 50s living in Spain said: “It was shambolic. Too late, too little, mixed messaging, lack of seriousness. So many deaths after what should have been a head start.”

A British man living in Greece described it simply as “a shit show”.

In addition to the Brexit effect, the survey also provided interesting and detailed data on the lives and profiles of Brits who live in the EU;

  • 69 percent had degree-level education
  • 77 percent worked in a professional or managerial role
  • 53 percent are of working age
  • 59 percent have been living in their country of residence for more than five years
  • 78 percent said it was very unlikely that they would move countries in the next five years 
  • The most common reasons for moving country were retirement (40 percent), family reasons (35 percent) and work (30 percent)

Almost all respondents said that Brexit had impacted their lives, with the loss of freedom of movement being the most common effect mentioned.

One man said: “My original plan (pre-2016) was to move to France on retirement, due in 2026. Brexit caused me to move sooner, in order to retain my European citizenship rights. The pandemic helped (indirectly) in that I got locked down in France in 2020, which enabled me to earn residence under the pre-Brexit rules. I had been talking to my employer about doing something similar before the pandemic broke.”

“I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100 percent a result of Brexit,” said one American-British dual national.

Other respondents talked about the post-Brexit admin necessary to gain residency status in their country, financial losses due to the weakening of the pound against the euro and the loss on onward freedom of movement – meaning that Brits resident in one EU country no longer have the right to move to another.

The report also highlighted that only 60 percent of respondents had changed their legal status by security residency since Brexit.

For some Brits in the EU this is not necessary if they already have citizenship of their country of residence (or another EU country such as Ireland) but the report’s author highlighted that: “It may also offer an early indicator that within this population there are some who may find themselves without legal residence status, with consequences in the future for their right to residence, and access to healthcare, welfare and work (among other services).”

READ ALSO What to do if you have missed the Brexit deadline in France 

In total 42 percent of respondents were completely disenfranchised – the 15-year rule means they can no longer vote in the UK, while the loss of EU citizenship means that they cannot vote in European or local elections in their country of residence.

The British government has recently announced the ending of the 15-year rule, giving voting rights to all UK nationals, no matter how long they live outside the UK. 

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BRITS IN FRANCE

‘So grateful for opportunities in France’ – from new arrival with no French to police high-flier

She moved to France at the age of five with her British parents, not speaking a word of French but now Georgia Ellis has completed her education and been accepted onto a fast-track programme for high fliers in the French police.

Georgia Ellis, 24, came to Charente, in 2002, at the age of five, when her detective parents decided to swap the busy UK capital for a quieter, slower, life in the rural south west of France.

And now the naturalised French citizen is following in her parents’ footsteps – becoming one of just 35 people to qualify for a place on a fast-track scheme in the French police.

Georgia didn’t always plan on a career in the police, but said: “I’d got to the end of my studies – and I think with everything going on with Covid as well, I thought it’s interesting to do something that helps society and that has a direct impact on the community.” 

Understandably proud mum Maggie said that Georgia knew next to no French when the family arrived in 2002: “Bonjour, au revoir, merci and s’il vous plaît – that was about it,” she said.

“We’d come on holidays together over a period of about 18 months together with her – and she always seemed to communicate with children on the beach … kids just get on, don’t they?”

READERS TIPS: How to raise bilingual children in France

Georgia, she said, was thrown into the deep end with learning the language just about from day one.

“When she got to school on the first day, the headteacher had changed from the one we had meetings with earlier – and they had no idea who this child was who had turned up… They found one teacher in the school who spoke a bit of English and it all fell into place.”

But, like many young children before and after her, Georgia soon picked up the language. “It was about six months before she could fully understand what was being said to her, and about 12 months before she was fully fluent.

“She was lucky in that she was the only English child in the tiny school she was at – she had to speak French, there was no alternative.”

Several years later, after passing through collège, Georgia moved away to board at a lycée Angoulême because she wanted to learn Chinese, where she studied a language bac.

“She did find it quite easy to pick up languages,” Maggie said, “and she got a mention très bien in her bac.”

READ ALSO How learning a language as a child opened up France and the world to me

From there, she studied languages and law at Nantes, including a six-month Erasmus period at Grenada, Spain. She was accepted into an international law and global governance Masters at the Sorbonne – and spent six months in Melbourne, returning to France shortly before the Covid-19 lockdown. 

It was about this time that Georgia’s French nationality came through. She had applied shortly after the Brexit vote in the UK, and had been approved in 2018, but her time in Australia followed by the health situation delayed the formalities for some time.

“She wanted to do something to give a bit back to her adopted country – and this was more or less the first time she thought of a career with the police.”

Maggie added: “Georgia has achieved all this through her own hard work, determination and perseverance, and the education system here in France that has rewarded her endeavours with the chance to study abroad, and to obtain her degrees and Masters, without having to incur student debts.

“She has worked in hospitality when her study workload allowed, in order to make a little extra for living expenses but both she and we are so grateful for the opportunities and lifestyle that France has afforded us.”

To get to this stage, Georgia had to go through an intensive preparatory course, including physical and written examinations. 

And the hard work starts again in September, when the fast-track course begins in Lyon.

Georgia explained that she could end up working anywhere in the country once her training period ends. “When you finish your training period, a list of postings comes out, and where you can go depends on your ‘rank’ at the end of the training period.

“Most of it’s in ‘securite publique’ – which is mainstream policing. You can choose to go to Paris, or what they call the Provinces – other towns. For the beginning of my career, maybe going to Paris will be a good idea.”

Even then, her life will not be exactly settled. “We have to move about a lot. The first posting is two years, and then we have to move every four years. You can do that a lot more easily in Paris, because you can move to different places in bigger police stations.”

But she’s hoping her placement period during training will be rather closer to home. “For the placement, we get to choose where we do that – I’m hoping to do that in Bordeaux because it’s not too far away, but I don’t know the city that well … and the south of France would be nice at some stage!”

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