Brexit has left ‘enduring scars’ on EU nationals living in UK, research finds

Six years on from the EU referendum, Brexit has left “enduring scars” on European nationals living in the UK, according to a new study.

Two-thirds of UK-resident EU and EEA citizens taking part in the survey said Brexit had “significantly – and mostly negatively – affected their feelings about Britain”, said researchers from the University of Birmingham and Lancaster University.

And many of the 364 people questioned said that Brexit had prompted them to reconsider their future in the UK and undermined their trust in British institutions and politicians.

In comments which researchers said reflected the experience of numerous participants, one 64-year-old French-born naturalised British female respondent said: “I will for ever remember that Thursday in 2016 when I woke up and saw the result.

“I cried. I had to go to work. I felt betrayed, unheard, uncared-for, left to wonder about my life in the UK and what had been the point.”

Respondents expressed a strong sense of attachment to the EU triggered by the referendum and the Brexit negotiations that followed.

One 55-year-old female with dual citizenship said she had only a “vague” understanding of the EU before the referendum, but added: ”I’ve learnt much more about the EU since 2016 and come to admire the project and its positive impact on EU citizens’ lives.”

A 35-year-old Irish citizen told researchers: “I identify the EU as my homeland now, I identify as a EU citizen before I identify with any nationality.”

Despite the majority of those questioned having settled status or British citizenship, legal status and right to residence remain primary concerns of the EU nationals questioned, affecting their thinking about future plans on whether to stay in the UK.

Launching the report on the sixth anniversary of the Brexit deal, main author Professor Nando Sigona, from the University of Birmingham, said: “While the public narrative suggests that Brexit is done and dusted, for EU citizens Brexit is still an open scar.

“Strong feelings of insecurity, unsettlement and sadness coexist with feelings of home and opportunity, with the latter prevailing in England, while more positive feelings are expressed by those living in Scotland and Wales.

“Rebuilding trust is challenging when the ramifications of Brexit still have such profound consequences of the lives of EU citizens in Britain.”

Questioning took place between December 2021 and January 2022, a year after the end of the Brexit transition period.

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