Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don’t want to return home

The majority of Britons who live in the EU, Norway, Iceland or Switzerland and are protected under the Brexit agreement feel European and intend to remain in Europe permanently, but many have concerns about travel problems, a new survey reveals.

Brexit: Brits in EU feel European and don't want to return home
Flags of the European Union outside the European commission headquarters in Brussels. Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

The research also shows that problems exist and “travel is where most issues relating to the new status currently occur”. For instance, border officials are still stamping passports of UK citizens with residence rights under the EU UK withdrawal agreement, even though they shouldn’t.

“There is constant confusion around passport stamping. I was ‘stamped in’ to France on a short trip… but could not find anyway to be ‘stamped out’ again. I think I can only spend 90 days in other EU countries, but have no idea how anyone can check or enforce that – until someone decides to try. It’s a mess,” was one of the answers left in an open question.

“Every time I go through a Schengen border control, I need to provide both my passport and Aufenthaltstitel card [resident permit in Germany] and watch to check that they don’t stamp my passport. As I am currently travelling a lot that’s been 20-odd times this year…” another respondent said.

The survey was carried out by Professor Tanja Bueltmann, historian of migration and diaspora at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, between October and November 2022. About 1,139 UK citizens replied.

Of these, 80 per cent found acquiring their new status easy or very easy, 60.7 per cent feel their rights are secure, while 39.3 per cent have concerns about their status going forward.

Staying permanently

More than three quarters (76.6 per cent) of respondents said they plan to live permanently in the EU or the other countries of the European Economic Area and Switzerland. In fact, 65.7 per cent said that Brexit has increased the likelihood of this choice.

For some, the decision is linked to the difficulty to bring non-British family members to the UK under new, stricter immigration rules.

“My German wife and I decided we no longer wanted to live in UK post Brexit referendum. In particular, we were affected by the impact of immigration law […] We cannot now return to UK on retirement as I cannot sponsor her on my pension. We knew it was a one-way journey. Fortunately, I could revive an application for German citizenship,” was a testimony.

“My husband is a US citizen and getting him a visa for the UK was near impossible due to my low income as a freelance journalist. We realized under EU law, moving to an EU country was easier. We settled on Austria as we had both lived there before… we could speak some German, and we like the mountains,” said another respondent.

Professor Bueltmann noted that the loss of free movement rights in the EU could be a factor too in the decision of many to stay where they are.

Citizenship and representation

Among those who decided to stay, 38.2 per cent are either applying or planning to apply for a citizenship and 28.6 per cent are thinking about it.

A key finding of the research, Bueltmann said, is that the vast majority of British citizens do not feel politically represented. Some 60 per cent of respondents said they feel unrepresented and another 30 per cent not well represented.

Another issue is that less than half (47.5 per cent) trust the government of their country of residence, while a larger proportion (62 per cent) trust the European Union. Almost all (95.6 per cent) said they do not trust the UK government.

Feeling European

The survey highlights the Brexit impacts on people’s identity too. 82.6 per cent of respondents said they see themselves as European, a higher proportion than those identifying as British (68.9 per cent).

“Brexit has really left me unsure of what my identity is. I don’t feel British, and I certainly don’t identify with the mindset of a lot of British people who live there. Yet, I am not Danish either. So, I don’t really know anymore!” said one of the participants in the survey.

Professor Bueltmann said the survey “demonstrates that Brexit impacts continue to evolve: this didn’t just stop because the transition period was over or a deadline for an application had been reached. Consequently, Brexit continues to shape the lives and experiences of British citizens in the EU/EEA and Switzerland in substantial, sometimes life-altering, ways.”

Considering the results of the study, Professor Bueltmann recommends policy makers in the EU and the UK to address the issue of lack of representation, for instance creating a joint UK-EU citizens’ stakeholder forum.

The report also recommends the UK government to rebuild trust with British citizens in the EU introducing voting rights for life and changing immigration rules to allow British-European families to return more easily. 

This article was prepared in cooperation with Europe Street News.

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Commission official: ‘Up to Sweden how strict it is on Brexit applications’

An official from the European Commission has defended its decision not to take action on Sweden's strict treatment of late applications for post-Brexit residency, arguing that it is up to member states how to apply the Withdrawal Agreement.

Commission official: 'Up to Sweden how strict it is on Brexit applications'

In an email sent to The Local, the official confirmed the latest data, published at the end of last year, which showed that 22 percent of residence applications from UK nationals under the Withdrawal Agreement had not been successful in Sweden. The official said this was similar to the rejection rate for Swedish citizens’ applications in the UK. 

“Through its regular monitoring in Annual reports under Article 159(2) of the Withdrawal Agreement, the European Commission is aware of the fact that Sweden has a high rate of refusal of residence applications under Article 18(1) of the Withdrawal Agreement,” the official said. 

But they said that this in itself did not indicate that Sweden was failing to apply the UK Withdrawal Agreement correctly. 

“As long as there is no indication that a Member State in question is incorrectly applying the Withdrawal Agreement rules, it is not for the Commission to tell Member States how strict or lenient they should be when processing late applications,” the Commission official said.

READ ALSO: Brits in Sweden still in limbo years after Brexit deadline

Two EU lawyers The Local spoke to earlier this summer said that they believed that the Swedish Migration Agency had not been correctly applying the proportionality test to late applications, and had been too narrow in its interpretation of what constitutes “reasonable grounds” for a late application.

They also said that they believed the Migration Agency had been overly strict on what level of employment or savings UK citizens were required to have to qualify as resident in Sweden under EU law, and to therefore be qualified for post-Brexit residency.

SEE MORE: Why did Sweden reject Brits for post-Brexit residency

But the Commission official said that when it came to the late applications at least, Sweden was entitled to take the position it had done. 

“If the host State authorities reach the conclusion that a late applicant did not have reasonable grounds for missing the application deadline, they do not have to deal with the application on substance,” the official said.

“This means that someone who would have qualified for the residence rights under the Withdrawal Agreement might not be granted those rights if they missed the application deadline and did not have a valid reason for doing so.” 

READ ALSO: Is Sweden getting EU law wrong on Brexit cases? 

An unusual high rejection rate, the official continued, did not mean that Sweden was breaking the terms of the EU Withdrawal agreement. 

“The fact that there are negative decisions being taken by Member States under Article 18 of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) does not, in itself, indicate that those Member States apply the Withdrawal Agreement incorrectly,” they said.

The Migration Agency had carried out a review of refusals, they said, checking a selection for “legal quality”, something The Local has previously reported on.

The Commission had received the Migration Agency’s review, they said, but had yet to complete its analysis of the findings.