BrExpats - researching what Brexit means for UK citizens living in the EU27

**NEW** Are you a UK citizen living in the EU27 and want to take part in our research?

This innovative research project funded by the UK in a Changing Europe initiative is led by Dr Michaela Benson, a sociologist internationally renowned for her research with British populations living in France. It examines what Brexit, as it unfolds, entails for British citizens living and working in the EU-27, exploring in particular questions of citizenship, identity and belonging.

This project is organised around three interrelated research questions:

  • What will be the consequences of Brexit for the political rights, social and financial entitlements and citizenship of such populations; how will the consequences be understood, communicated, managed and mediated by institutional actors in Britain and Europe as they unfold?
  • How is Brexit experienced by Britons resident in Europe, across a range of national and local settings; in what ways will this cause them they re-evaluate their lives and citizenship, re-negotiate their identities, (re)position themselves in relation to shifting political realities of Europe, navigate and manage the changing structural conditions that shape the possibilities for their continued residence and/or repatriations?
  • When and in what ways do these populations feature within the Brexit negotiations, and how are their experiences in turn shaped by the ways they are represented in policy, media and decision-making?

France is home to the second largest British population in the EU27. Building on her previous research about the everyday lives of Britons resident in the Lot, our project lead, Dr Michaela Benson, is conducting in-depth interviews with Britons living and working in the southwest of France—the Lot and Toulouse. Since June 2017, she has been speaking to people of all ages, in diverse employment situations, as well as dual nationals.

The aim of these interviews is to develop an understanding of the key issues that Brexit presents for British populations living in France and how these migrant populations are managing these. However, to really develop such an understanding we also need to know a little bit about what brought people to France, their daily life, and hopes and plans for the future.

Although the research is ongoing, we have been working to produce some initial analyses, which you can consult here

Spain is home to the largest documented British migrant population in the EU27. Although this population has been dogged by stereotypical images—old age pensioners, living in English enclaves in the sun—as with other areas in Europe, this is a diverse population in terms of age. 

Professor Karen O’Reilly has been leading this element of the project, building on her past research. She has been conducting interviews with Britons living and working in southern Spain since October 2017, speaking to people of all ages, in diverse employment situations, as well as dual nationals. The project research intern, Mike Danby has been supplementing this research through his interviews conducted with 18-35 year olds living in Granada.

The aim of these interviews is to develop an understanding of the key issues that Brexit presents for British populations living in Europe and how these migrant populations are managing these. However, to really develop such an understanding we also need to know a little bit about what brought people to Spain, their daily life, and hopes and plans for the future.

Although the research is ongoing, we have been working to produce some initial analyses, which you can consult here.

The Republic of Ireland is home to the third largest British migrant population in the EU and yet 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. And while the rights of UK citizens living in Ireland rest on the principles of the Common Travel Area—a bilateral agreement between the UK and Ireland—rather than EU Freedom of Movement Directives. As such, their rights are not safeguarded by the Withdrawal Agreement but rest on common law. 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.

The project team are conducting research into what Brexit means for Britons living in Ireland, including in-depth interviews people living in Dublin, Galway and Donegal between October 2018 and February 2019. 

One of the central underpinnings of the project is to disturb taken-for-granted understandings of who the British who live in the EU27 are. Through our interviews in France and Spain and through the citizens’ panel we have recruited people at all stages in their lives, and in a variety of employment circumstances. However, it soon became apparent that to recruit British people of colour would require a more targeted approach. Chantelle Lewis, the project researcher, has been leading on this dimension of the research. The interviews follow a similar script to those we have conducted in France and Spain, but as her research shows, there are different emphases and concerns for these People of Colour.

These interviews are ongoing, but you can consult the initial analysis of this data in Chantelle’s archive on the webpage.

Dr Katherine Collins, the project research associate leads the citizens panel. This provides an opportunity for British citizens living across the EU27 to feed into the project on a regular basis and provides us with a way to keep our finger on the pulse of how Brexit interacts with the daily lives of these Britons.

To date, we have 190 people,  taking part in this element of the research, communicating how Brexit is impacting on their lives, identities and sense of belonging.

We have been in touch with people to tell us about their migrations, the places that they live, how they feel about the Brexit negotiations, freedom of movement, their sense of national identity and belonging. You can read some of their stories in our Conversations with #BritsinEurope feature.

We have been working with Migration Policy Institute to deliver this element of the research. It involves interviewing institutional actors in Britain (e.g. FCO, DWP, HMRC), within the European Commission, and in seven EU Member States—Spain, France, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Cyprus and Sweden—to capture how institutional actors with responsibilities for these British population understand, communicate, manage and mediate the effects of the Brexit negotiations on UK citizens living in the EU27. This element of the research keeps a finger on the pulse of the challenges Brexit presents for the formal support services regularly dealing with British overseas populations and maps and evaluates the solutions such institutional actors identify, develop and promote to overcome such challenges, including the management of potential return migration.

You can read the report we produced based on this element of the research here

The project also includes a close reading of how UK citizens living in the EU27 are represented in the Brexit negotiations, politics, and the media. Our aim with this element of the research is to draw out the frames of reference—who people think about when they consider the British abroad, the demographics of this population—commonly used by national media, politicians and policy makers and other key stakeholders, and how these feed into negotiations around the future rights and entitlements of Britons who have made their homes and lives in Europe (e.g. the right to vote, continued residence and access to welfare in European nation states).

It involves an extensive review of Hansard reports, newspaper coverage, policy documents, this element of the research pieces together what these representations reveal about Britain/Britons as they see their relationship to Europe and conceive of citizenship, also tracking Europe and European nation states’ changing attitudes towards Britain and the British within their borders. It takes this investigation for a start date of 2015, and tracks such representations over the duration of the project.

This website has been produced as part of the research project BrExpats: freedom of movement, citizenship and Brexit in the lives of British citizens resident in the EU27. It is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (Grant Number ES/R000875/1) through the UK in a Changing Europe Initiative.