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‘Embarrassed to be British’: Britons in the EU share views on Brexit

A new study has highlighted the concerns of UK citizens living in the EU regarding freedom of movement, settlement rights and identity

An image of an EU flag flying next to a British Union Jack

A new study has examined the effect of Brexit on British citizens living in the EU Pic: 2021 Photography / Shutterstock

Brexit has strongly affected the feelings of more than three quarters of British people living in Europe towards the UK, causing “deep shame”, “disappointment” and “embarrassment”, a new study has suggested.

The study, which asked 1,328 British nationals living on a long-term basis in the EU and EEA for their thoughts on how Brexit has affected their lives, also highlighted concerns over reduced freedom of movement, identity, settlement and voting rights. 

In general, its respondents formed part of a settled British population spread across EU and EEA states, many of whom had put down roots and built dual-nationality families in their country of residence. This included around 300 British people living in France.

“The long tail of Brexit is evident in its continuing impacts both on the way they live their lives, and in its lasting significance for their sense of identity and belonging,” Michaela Benson, who is a sociology professor at the University of Lancaster and who co-authored the study, told The Guardian.

‘Embarrassed to be British’ 

Some 80% of participants said that their feelings towards the UK had changed radically as a result of Brexit and the UK government’s handling of the pandemic. 

Responses including comments such as: “Deep, deep shame. Embarrassed to be British”, “shambolic”, “I feel disconnected, like it’s a completely different country” and “it’s embarrassing what’s happened in the UK...It’s like watching a house on fire”.

One respondent, who has been living in France for more than five years, commented: “The original plan was for my mother to come and live with me when [she] could no longer manage on her own. 

“That door is now effectively closed as the visa requirements will be too onerous. 

“We'd even bought our home with accommodation for her and completed adaptation work to allow for reduced mobility.”

A resident of Denmark said: “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”.

And while 31% said that they still felt very or extremely emotionally attached to the UK, a far greater percentage said this of the EU (75%) or their country of residence (59%). 

‘More immobile, stuck in place’ 

Two thirds of respondents had acquired permanent residency or citizenship in the EU since 2016, but 46% did not enjoy the same status, migration or settlement rights as all of their immediate family. Around 33% of these people said that their difference in status was a source of major concern.

“Those who did not share the same residence status and/or nationality as their close family members highlighted that Brexit had introduced significant concerns about their future rights to movement as a family, both within the EU and for repatriation to the UK,” the study report stated. 

This is because non-British family members would now be subject to UK immigration controls if they chose to move to the UK with their British relatives.

A British citizen who has been living in the Netherlands with his Dutch wife since 2012 but who still has a house in the UK, said: “I do not think that my wife could even relocate back to the UK (despite joint ownership of a house, having lived there for 15 years, due 15+ years of UK OAP, fluent in English, two dual nationality kids, etc).”

The study also explored British EU residents’ emotions with relation to the end of freedom of movement. 

“Those taking part told stories about how they experienced the removal of free movement as becoming more immobile, stuck in place in ways that they had not been previously and deep transformations in how they had been living their lives,” it stated.

“For many, the loss of this right to freedom of movement impacted their own and their children’s work, career and educational present and future, engendering new tensions as well as pain for the ensuing internal inequalities.”

“For many British citizens who live or have lived in the EU/EEA, Brexit has brought borders into the space of intimate relations in ways they had not previously experienced,” the report stated.

Around 27% of respondents said that Brexit had affected their future migration plans a great deal, with a further 14% saying it had affected them a lot.

One British-American citizen in his 40s said: “I moved to France in 2020 in order to protect my right to live and work in France post-Brexit. My migration is 100% a result of Brexit.”

Another British citizen in his 60s who is resident in France commented: “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.

People who moved to France before the end of the Brexit transition period were eligible for the ‘withdrawal agreement’ residency card, which entitles them to the same rights in France as they enjoyed before Brexit. 

Read more: We recap the rules for five-year residency cards in France

Who do British citizens in the EU turn to? 

The study’s respondents also expressed concerns about the winding down of the formal support mechanisms which they could turn to for help before Brexit. 

Some 42% of respondents said that they were unable to vote in the UK because they had lived abroad for more than 15 years, although this will soon change under the Elections Bill, which was passed by the UK government last week. 

The survey was carried out between December 2021 and January 2022 – marking a year after the end of the Brexit transition period – as part of a wider project led by Lancaster and Birmingham Universities. 

The full report can be found here. 

How do you respond to the opinions expressed in this study? Do you feel ‘embarrassed to be British’ following Brexit? Please share your thoughts by emailing Thank you

Related articles 

Votes for life for Britons abroad: ‘I’d use mine to reverse Brexit’

Post-Brexit travel healthcare: What is a UK ‘CRA’ Ehic card?

Britons in France: What is the benefit of EU long-term resident card?

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