On the twelfth day of Christmas our panel sent to us …
7 Brits in Finland
6 in Scandinavia
3 in Austria
2 in Luxembourg
In Katherine’s contribution to our 12 days of Brexit Brits Abroad feature, she reflects back on the citizens’ panel and what this tells us about the experiences of UK citizens who have made their lives and homes in the EU27.
One of the key sources of information for the Brexit Brits Abroad Project is our Citizens’ Panel. The Panel includes a diverse range of UK citizens who live in the EU27. We run this part of the project primarily online, contacting panellists once or twice a month to ask them to respond to various issues.
So far we’ve asked panellists to tell us their stories about how they ended up living and working in another country. We’ve asked about where they live and what that means to them. We’ve asked about citizenship: whether people might apply to become a citizen (or dual citizen if that’s possible – the rules vary) of the country they live in now, and, if they’ve already made their decision to apply, what the process was like.
We’ve asked about what ‘British Expat’ myths and stereotypes people have come across, and how diverse their lives are in comparison. And we’ve been collecting panellists’ thoughts in response to the recent announcement that the negotiations will be moving to phase two. We’ll continue to explore that topic in January 2018.
We have 12 panellists who live in Belgium, but the three biggest destinations for British people in the EU27 – and by quite a long way – are Spain, Ireland, and France. Together, these three countries represent about 60% of all the British in Europe, according to The Office of National Statistics.
The next most popular places for British people to live and work are Germany, Italy, and The Netherlands, which represent around 20% of the total. The final 20% of Brits live all around the rest of the EU27, including Belgium, Sweden, Greece, Finland, and Portugal.
Among the 164 people active on our panel the picture looks fairly similar, with one significant exception: Ireland. Ideally, about 20% of our panel – around 30 people – should be British people living in Ireland, but at the moment we have just four. We’ve been trying to recruit more but so far, for some reason, it hasn’t worked. Making contact with British people in Ireland will be a big focus for us in early 2018; we’ll be planning to visit in person as well as using the Internet.
OK, so I’ll admit there is a tiny bit of poetic licence at play with this one: there are far more than 11 stories in our Conversations with the #britishinEurope feature.
Between them our panellists can speak a dazzling array of languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, Flemish, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Maltese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, and Welsh.
Our panellists in Amsterdam have been keeping us in the loop about what’s happening there. The Embassy in NL have twice now hosted Facebook Live sessions; they seem keen to reassure ‘British Amsterdammers’ of their continued welcome in the city.
The late Mayor of Amsterdam, Eberhard van der Laan, wrote to the British in Amsterdam shortly before his death. You can see his letter here.
Brexit Information Point | IN Amsterdam
Following the United Kingdom’s referendum on membership of the European Union, held in June 2016, the so-called Brexit decision has raised fresh questions for UK citizens living and working in the Netherlands, as well as for businesses in the Netherlands employing Brits.
Heléna in France, ‘We do not have jobs guaranteed but have both already lost the bulk of our work in the UK as a result of Brexit so we are taking our chances in Southwest France. We have bought a house in le Gers, a 19th century farmhouse with an acre of land – very different from our tiny suburban 3 bed semi in Manchester with postage stamp patch of grass – and much cheaper too! I am a teacher/ lecturer of languages and my partner is a decorator. Whilst he has already been offered some work locally in France with some builders, I have been picking up work online with some of the European open universities.’
Russell in Germany, ‘Brexit has the potential to ruin my life if the negotiations go badly i.e. if my wife can’t get a visa to live in the UK with me or I can’t get one to stay here with her. Although this situation sounds unlikely, I can quite easily imagine a situation in which people with our circumstances fall through the cracks or don’t tick all the right boxes. I have been out of the UK for a few years, not long enough to settle in Germany, my wife hasn’t even entered the UK yet, my daughter doesn’t yet have her British Citizenship.’
Jane in Andalucía, ‘a concern is that I have reached Spanish retirement age; in fact I will be over 65 when I finally retire. I am also entitled to receive money taken from my salary before I left England. It won’t be much, although I did work throughout my student years as well. A European cenvenio technically provides for my British pension to be added to what I will receive here, but with Brexit in the air it’s not at all certain. As a full-time author I am used to an unpredictable, haphazard income, but this does worry me.’
Freedom of movement
Mark in Germany, ‘as an academic and a musician, much of my life is built upon the circulation of people across borders, and the creative cross-fertilisation this makes possible. In some ways it is a position of privilege, but many within my network struggle to find work or positions to support them, often on low salaries. The referendum vote feels like a signal to say that people like me are no longer really welcome in Britain and that my European and international friends are no longer welcome either.’
Justin in Spain, ‘if the situation develops such that we can’t stay – and if we were to lose our access to free healthcare, that would very likely be the end for us – we would have to come back to the UK, in our mid-fifties, without jobs to go to, without prospects.’
Oliver in Frankfurt, ‘Likely there will be extra paperwork to fill out and different queues to join when travelling or visiting the city hall. But I doubt that there will be a major impact short-term on where I live or work and the UK passport will still provide excellent travel and migration opportunities globally.’
Trust in the UK Government
Will in France, ‘I trust the EU to protect its citizens; I just wish I could say the same about the UK government. My hope is Brexit will never happen. My fear is the UK crashing out without any deal. I honestly don’t know what will happen to my parents in that situation.’
Lin in Bretagne ‘my Home here is now at risk if Brexit happens… so I’m fighting in every way I can… No, not self interest!!…I won’t live long enough to see this mess sorted!! But for my Dad and the millions who died… My Dad was one of the “Little Ships” at Dunkirk… glad he is no longer alive to see what has been done… 70 years of Peace at risk, and for the young who couldn’t vote and those yet to be born! I want them all to have the same chances I had! I want them to live in Peace in Europe as I have…’
‘We are not pensioners… got quite a few years to go yet! We are Heléna aged 35, Phill aged 34 and two children aged 4 and 2’, Heléna in France.
‘I am still working a 36-hour week. Live in rented accommodation; speak Dutch and work for a Dutch firm’, Caro in the Netherlands.
The British in Europe don’t integrate in their communities
‘I have been living here for over forty seven years and up until recently, I had only briefly come into contact with four other fellow countrymen… my friends here come from different Italian regions, different countries in Europe or farther afield’, Jacqueline in Italy.
‘We live in an almost exclusively Canarian town away from the coast, where no one speaks English. We belong to the community association and the older people’s Centre and join in activities there. We take 4 classes of Canarian folk dance a week – run by and attended by Canarians – and have danced in public at religious celebrations and fiestas with the groups. We have an extensive wardrobe of Canarian costume and are assumed by watchers at Romerias etc to be local. Although we know other British people, most of our friends are Canarian and our lifestyle is ordinary. We hardly ever go to the beach and we usually eat at home!’ Lili in Tenerife.
‘In the fifteen years here I have only met about five other British residents… I worked here, my wife is Spanish, my children were educated here and my daughter is setting a business here,’ Alan in Spain.
The British in Europe don’t learn the local language
‘Our kids go to the local school, speak fluent Danish, and have friends who were born and brought up here. Our friends are a mixture of locals and expats, but not all Brits, and we celebrate local traditions as well as our British ones.’ Emma in Denmark.
The British in Europe are all wealthy and privileged
‘I have met 1,000s of British in the EU – military families commuting between Britain and Germany on the ferries; short-contract employees living in Sweden; British students and researchers studying and working in Denmark; mixed-nationality families using cheap-airlines to keep contact with their British parents and grandparents. None of them wealthy, neo-liberal, nor elite; all of it about ordinary British people living ordinary lives in other EU countries.’ Ian in Sweden.
‘We live on shoestring and work hard! Contribute to society try to integrate as much as possible,’ Lin in Bretagne.
That everyone lives in the sunshine!
‘Not all of us live on the Coast, some like me live inland where often it’s colder than many parts of the UK in wintertime,’ Maggie in Andalucía.
There is a long and troubled history of conflict and oppression between Britain and Ireland; and one of the thorniest questions of the Brexit negotiations is what will happen regarding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
There isn’t a great deal of research into the British in Ireland (and by ‘not a great deal’ I mean I’m yet to find any at all) which seems very strange, especially given how much research has been done about the British in France and Spain. There are actually more British people living in Ireland than there are in France according to The Office of National Statistics, so you’d think that there’d be at least a smattering of books and articles about the British in Ireland.
There are a few newspaper articles, like the one below which reports that the greatest concentration of Brits can be found in West Cork. To address what seems to be an obvious gap in what we know about the British population in the EU27, we’re planning to conduct some research in Ireland in 2018.
British expats in Ireland: You can’t be a ‘stuck-up Brit’
British expats in Ireland: You can’t be a ‘stuck-up Brit’
West Cork is home to the greatest concentration of British people living in Ireland. What do they think of Ireland – and Brexit?
Musa in Germany says, ‘This is a photo of my local football team, SFC Friedrichshain Internazionale, in 2016; in this picture, we’d just won a penalty shoot-out to be promoted to the city’s top amateur league. The club is truly diverse; its 25 squad members are drawn from 14 different nationalities, and its founding charter speaks out against homophobia, racism, sexism and fascism.’