Brexit, making migrants of citizens? The British in Europe beyond the illusion of Free Movement

Project lead Dr Michaela Benson presented this research paper at the University of Glasgow Sociology Seminars Series in January.

When: Wed, 23 January 2019, 16:00 – 17:30

Where: Room 513; Boyd Orr Building, Glasgow G12 8QR, UK (map)

Abstract: This paper focuses on the lesser known story of Brexit and its implications for British citizens living in Europe. It moves beyond Brexit as a legal process—the terms on which they are currently able to live in other European member states transformed, their European citizenship removed—tracing what is exposed once the illusion of Free Movement is shattered. Drawing on ongoing qualitative research with British citizens living in France conducted for the BrExpats research project (, I examine how proposed changes to their legal status and the current scrutiny of their lawful residence are experienced and mitigated by these Britons. In legal terms, Brexit marks a moment when these Britons are reclassified as migrants in the places they live and work, the structural privileges that they previously held as British citizens reframed. My focus on the real lives shaped through this transformation offer insights into the differential impacts of Brexit on their lives, in the process making visible the instabilities of such privileges. However, as I argue, these instabilities were always present but masked by the legal privilege of Free Movement, in practice overlooked as the lives of British citizens in France were rarely subjected to scrutiny by local authorities. Through this focus, I critically evaluate how Brexit interplays with questions of citizenship and migration to progress a theoretical and conceptual agenda that questions how research on migration and citizenship can work with and against governmental norms.

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