Long read: let’s ditch the stereotypes about Britons who live in the EU

Our images of Britons living in the rest of the EU are dominated by twin stereotypes: the sun-seeking, patriotic pensioner in Spain and the upper-middle-class English couple renovating a Dordogne property. Karen O’Reilly and Michaela Benson (Goldsmiths University of London) make a plea for the true complexity and diversity of the British diaspora to be recognised, and explain how these stereotypes feed into a wider notion of migrancy as deviant and problematic.

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Our new research with UK citizens in Ireland

Did you know that the Republic of Ireland is home to the third largest British migrant population in the EU?

According to Ireland’s Central Statistics Agency, in 2016 UK citizens living in Ireland numbered 103,113; their numbers are only exceeded by the Polish population (122,515). As Professor Mary Gilmartin explained in Episode 21 of our podcast there is very limited knowledge and understanding of this population in academic or political discourse. While concerns over the future of the Ireland/Northern Ireland border has been one of the most contested and protracted issues of the Brexit negotiations considered in relation to the peace process, trade and economics, and Northern Ireland, the impact of changes to the border for UK citizens who have made their homes and lives in the Republic of Ireland has not been part of this discussion.

From the practice of everyday lives made possible by the ease of travel across border, to reinvigoration of inter-ethnic tensions and sectarian affiliations through, for example, the hardening of the border, what happens with the border might have a range of outcomes for resident Britons. The rights of UK citizens living in Ireland currently rest on the principles of the Common Travel Area—a bilateral agreement between the UK and Ireland—rather than EU Freedom of Movement Directives, and are thus not safeguarded by the Withdrawal Agreement. Brexit thus has the potential to shape the experience of Britons in Ireland in markedly different ways to that of their compatriots elsewhere in the EU.

We have recently been given the go ahead by our funders to extend our research into the consideration of what Brexit means for UK citizens living in the Republic of Ireland. This new work package will consider the following set of questions:

  1. What implications do the ways in which Brexit articulates with the British-Irish relations have for the terms on which UK citizens resident in Ireland live their lives?
  2. How UK citizens living close to the border manage and negotiate these changing conditions? In what ways do they re-evaluate their lives and citizenship, re-negotiate their identities, and position themselves in relation to shifting political realities in Ireland and Europe?
  3. To what extent do the implications of Brexit for UK citizens living in Ireland converge and diverge with its implications for their compatriots in the EU-26?

Between October 2018 and February 2019, the project team are planning to conduct in-depth interviews people living in Dublin, Galway and Donegal. We are currently looking for UK citizens of all ages living in these areas to take part in the research, so whether you have strong feelings or not about Brexit and its impact on your life, please do get in touch using the contact form below.

Episode 30 – Bad Britain (and the bad British) in responses of British citizens in the EU27 to Brexit

In her early research with Britons living in Spain, Karen O’Reilly drew attention to the prevalence of a ‘Bad Britain discourse’ in the way they explained their decision to leave the UK and settle in Spain. Her key point was to highlight what this revealed about how these Britons understood themselves, particularly how they understood Britishness.

Fast forward to Brexit and ‘Bad Britain’ takes on a renewed significance for Britons living in the EU27. Indeed, this is a common trope in how those we have been speaking to for the Brexit Brits Abroad project account for Brexit and describe their reactions to it. Michaela talks with Dr Katie Higgins about how we can understand the ‘Bad Britain discourse’ emerging through these responses. Discussing the findings of Katie’s survey with British citizens living in the EU27, and her recently published articleon this topic, she explains what the embarrassment, shame and loss that characterise many of the responses might tell us about how they understand Britain, Britishness and belonging. As she highlights, these responses are far more nuanced and complicated that we might assume on first glance.

Episode 29 – Brexit, mobility and uncertainty in the lives of younger British citizens in Spain

When we think about British populations in Spain, our attention is most often drawn to the stereotypical images circulated by the media: pensioners living their retirement in the sun. But what about younger UK citizens living in Spain? What does Brexit mean for the terms on which they live their lives? Terms framed not so much by settlement, but by the ability to move; where Spain is home for today, but perhaps not for tomorrow.

This episode of the podcast focuses on the lives of these younger Britons living southern Spain as Michaela welcomes Mike Danby, into the studio to the latest Brexit Brits Abroad report ‘Talking Brexit with 18-35 year-old UK citizens living in Southern Spain’. Unsettling understandings of migration as a permanent one-off move, and talking about how Mike and his interviewees navigate the changing demands of the European labour market they highlight how Brexit is just one more challenge in their lives.

Our Latest Report is out now! Talking Brexit with 18-35 year old UK citizens in southern Spain

Talking Brexit with 18-35 yo British citizens in Spain coverOur latest report is based on in-depth interviews with 18-35 year old British citizens living in Granada and Seville. It forms part of our wider ambition to change the conversation about the British Abroad, in this case to highlight the diversity of the British citizens living in Spain in terms of age. The report reflects on how these younger Britons understand Brexit within the context of what brought them to Spain, their employment and economic circumstances, and relationships. In this way it considers  and its potential impact on their lives, highlighting what this reveals about their sense of identity and belonging, while also reflecting on what these interviews reveal about their capacity  to navigate broader structural shifts in the labour market. As the authors, Mike Danby and Karen O’Reilly highlight, the demands for these younger citizens to be flexible and mobile in pursuit of work frame their responses and reactions to Brexit in a perhaps surprising ways.


You can download the report from our website here.

You can also listen to Mike talking about the report with Michaela in Episode 29 of the Brexit Brits Abroad Podcast.